Saudi insurance stocks soar as female drivers take to the road

Saudi Majdoleen Mohammed Alateeq, a newly licensed Saudi driver, gets out of her car in Riyadh on Sunday. The insurance sector is just one segment of the economy set to benefit from the lifting of restrictions on women drivers in the Kingdom. AFP
Updated 25 June 2018

Saudi insurance stocks soar as female drivers take to the road

LONDON: Saudi insurance stocks surged on Sunday, with investors expecting the sector to reap significant dividends following the lifting of the ban on female drivers.
Insurance stocks — one of the worst performing sectors on the Saudi bourse for the year to date — outperformed other classifications on Sunday, ending 2.4 percent higher, compared with a 1.8 percent rise for the Kingdom’s headline index.
Amana Insurance and AlRajhi Takaful were the best performers of the day, gaining 9.9 percent each. Tawuniya, the Kingdom’s largest insurer, ended Sunday 1.1 percent higher, with only one of the country’s 33 listed insurance providers closing lower for the day.
The lifting of restrictions on female drivers — which came into effect on Sunday after first being announced in September — is part of a series of wide-ranging reforms introduced as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 economic transformation program, designed to diversify the economy away from a reliance on oil revenues.
The advent of women drivers is forecast to benefit the economy by significantly increase female participation in the workforce, and stimulating financial, insurance and retail sectors among others.
The insurance sector is set to draw particular benefit from the move, but may remain under pressure, according to rating agency S&P.
“We anticipate that efforts of the local authorities to tackle the large number of uninsured drivers, combined with the arrival of women drivers … and the introduction of additional benefits under the unified medical policy from July 1, will support further premium growth in the industry in the medium term,” said S&P in a research note in April.
“However, these factors may be offset by the large number of foreign workers that have already left or will be leaving the Kingdom in 2018.”
In spite of yesterday’s price surge, insurance stocks are 8.4 percent lower for the year to date. Tadawul as a whole is up 15.6 percent so far this year, making the bourse one of the world’s best performers for 2018.
Investor sentiment on Sunday was also boosted by investor optimism after index provider MSCI announced last week that it would upgrade Saudi stocks to its Emerging Markets Index from next year.
The widely anticipated upgrade — which puts Saudi equities on an index tracked by around $2 trillion worth of global assets — is expected to attract up to $40 billion of international funds, Tadawul CEO Khalid Al-Hussan told Arab News last week.
MSCI’s upgrade came after a similar move by fellow index provider FTSE Russell in February, which is also scheduled to come into effect from next year.
Banks were among the other bright performers on Tadawul on Sunday. Arab National Bank led gains, closing up 4.2 percent, while blue-chip names NCB and AlRajhi rose 1.6 percent and 2.3 percent respectively.
Some petrochemical companies also added value, Reuters reported, following a rise in oil prices after OPEC decided on only modest increases in crude production last week.
Outside Saudi Arabia, Gulf markets posted minor gains. In Dubai, where the index was flat, Air Arabia was unchanged. Shares in the airline have declined by more than 10 percent since early last week, when the company said it had hired experts to protect its business interests in private equity firm Abraaj, which has filed for provisional liquidation. The airline said its exposure was around $336 million.
Last week, the UAE’s securities regulator asked listed companies to declare their exposure to Abraaj.


US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

Updated 10 December 2019

US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

  • Two years after starting to block appointments, the US will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body
  • Two of three members of Appellate Body exit and leave it unable to issue rulings

BRUSSELS: US disruption of the global economic order reaches a major milestone on Tuesday as the World Trade Organization (WTO) loses its ability to intervene in trade wars, threatening the future of the Geneva-based body.
Two years after starting to block appointments, the United States will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body, which acts as the supreme court for international trade, as two of three members exit and leave it unable to issue rulings.
Major trade disputes, including the US conflict with China and metal tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump, will not be resolved by the global trade arbiter.
Stephen Vaughn, who served as general counsel to the US Trade Representative during Trump’s first two years, said many disputes would be settled in future by negotiations.
Critics say this means a return to a post-war period of inconsistent settlements, problems the WTO’s creation in 1995 was designed to fix.
The EU ambassador to the WTO told counterparts in Geneva on Monday the Appellate Body’s paralysis risked creating a system of economic relations based on power rather than rules.
The crippling of dispute settlement comes as the WTO also struggles in its other major role of opening markets.
The WTO club of 164 has not produced any international accord since abandoning “Doha Round” negotiations in 2015.
Trade-restrictive measures among the G20 group of largest economies are at historic highs, compounded by Trump’s “America First” agenda and the trade war with China.
Phil Hogan, the European Union’s new trade commissioner, said on Friday the WTO was no longer fit for purpose and in dire need of reforms going beyond just fixing the appeals mechanism.
For developed countries, in particular, the WTO’s rules must change to take account of state-controlled enterprises.
In 2017, Japan brought together the United States and the European Union in a joint bid to set new global rules on state subsidies and forced technology transfers.
The US is also pushing to limit the ability of WTO members to grant themselves developing status, which for example gives them longer to implement WTO agreements.
Such “developing countries” include Singapore and Israel, but China is the clear focus.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Reuters last week the United States wanted to end concessions given to then struggling economies that were no longer appropriate.
“We’ve been spoiling countries for a very, very long time, so naturally they’re pushing back as we try to change things,” he said.
The trouble with WTO reform is that changes require consensus to pass. That includes Chinese backing.
Beijing has published its own reform proposals with a string of grievances against US actions. Reform should resolve crucial issues threatening the WTO’s existence, while preserving the interests of developing countries.
Many observers believe the WTO faces a pivotal moment in mid-2020 when its trade ministers gather in a drive to push through a multinational deal — on cutting fishing subsidies.
“It’s not the WTO that will save the fish. It’s the fish that are going to save the WTO,” said one ambassador.