Saudi Arabia to start first phase of Neom project

Saudi Arabia to start first phase of Neom project
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NEOM Bay will have white beaches with a "temperate climate" and designed to be eco-friendly and generate energy from renewable sources. (File/Supplied)
Saudi Arabia to start first phase of Neom project
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NEOM Bay will have white beaches with a "temperate climate" and designed to be eco-friendly and generate energy from renewable sources. (File/Supplied)
Saudi Arabia to start first phase of Neom project
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NEOM Bay will have white beaches with a "temperate climate" and designed to be eco-friendly and generate energy from renewable sources. (SPA/File)
Saudi Arabia to start first phase of Neom project
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NEOM Bay will have white beaches with a "temperate climate" and designed to be eco-friendly and generate energy from renewable sources. (File/Supplied)
Updated 18 January 2019

Saudi Arabia to start first phase of Neom project

Saudi Arabia to start first phase of Neom project
  • Construction work is expected to start in the first quarter of 2019 and will be completed in 2020
  • Homes in NEOM Bay, part of $500bn mega-city, to be marketed to international buyers

LONDON: Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday that it will start developing the first urban area of NEOM, the Kingdom’s planned $500 billion mega-city.

The founding board, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, approved the masterplan concept for NEOM Bay, which will include homes, lifestyle and tourist facilities, and “innovation centers.”

The development is expected to focus on luxurious living, and will include high-end hotels and villas.

Homes in the development will be marketed to both regional and international buyers, Arab News has learned. 

Construction work is expected to start in the first quarter of 2019 and will be completed in 2020. Arab News understands that contractors have not yet been appointed but that this is due before April. Discussions with investors are said to be ongoing. 

The total value of the NEOM Bay development has not been disclosed. 

It is expected that a number of facilities will be completed by the end of this year including the current airport at Sharma, which will offer regular flights to Riyadh, a statement said.

“We are now preparing for the development of NEOM Bay area, which will provide a new concept of urban living that will enable it to become a platform for attracting the world’s top minds for creating advanced economic sectors,” Nadhmi Al-Nasr, NEOM chief executive, said.

NEOM, which was announced in 2017 and is in a pristine position on the Red Sea coast, has financial support of over $500 billion from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.

The launch of its first urban project is expected to provide an economic impetus, experts said.

“The start of NEOM Bay will offer unique opportunities for investors and tourists alike that will provide impetus for new sector growth going forward,” said John Sfakianakis, chief economist at the Gulf Research Center, based in Saudi Arabia.

Rashid Aboobacker, director at TRI Consulting in Dubai, said there was “significant potential” for tourism in Saudi Arabia.

“The area earmarked for the NEOM project offer excellent prospects for leisure tourism, combining the Red Sea, beautiful beaches and islands and unspoiled natural beauty. If planned and developed well, it can be a major tourism destination in the future.”

But Aboobacker said much more needs to be done before the Saudi tourism industry can thrive. 

“There are several challenges including the lack of tourism infrastructure, policy and regulation related issues, and cultural and social related issues,” he told Arab News.

“The government is already channeling significant investments into developing the infrastructure as part of the Vision 2030, and have rolled out new visa policies etcetera. 

“There is lot more to be done before we can expect a major flow of international leisure tourists to the country, however we believe that more reforms will follow in due course to achieve the Vision 2030 goals.

“While developing destinations and tourism sector in general, Saudi Arabia is likely to focus on attracting niche markets whose interests and expectations will not conflict with Islamic values and cultural traditions of its society.”

Aboobacker said the Saudi market has opportunities for “all types of investors and operators within the tourism industry.” These include hotel, resort and tour operators, theme park developers, event companies and restaurant chains, he said.

John Podaras, a partner at hospitality consultancy Hotel Development Resources in Dubai, said visa regulations need to be relaxed before the Saudi tourism industry can thrive.

“The tourist visa has been introduced but the number issued is relatively small and quite restrictive,” Podaras said.

“We’ve already seen a lot of relaxation (of rules and customs), but if you want the big numbers then all the restrictions have to be removed and that requires a lot of changes.”

It was previously announced that NEOM will have its own authority, which might help in reducing many bureaucratic hurdles, including visa requirements.

Podaras pointed to the need to build infrastructure and bring in specialist companies to the development. 

He expects hotel groups to show interest in the NEOM development. 

“They’ll sign up to the project and it will be delivered or it won’t. But the point is they lose nothing by having their name associated with it,” Podaras said. 

“PR wise, it’s great. I will bet my bottom dollar that all of them are on planes to Riyadh.” 


Changan sees boom in demand as Saudis fall in love with Chinese car brands

Changan sees boom in demand as Saudis fall in love with Chinese car brands
Updated 28 July 2021

Changan sees boom in demand as Saudis fall in love with Chinese car brands

Changan sees boom in demand as Saudis fall in love with Chinese car brands
  • ‘Prices and technology are among the factors behind rise in popularity’

DUBAI, RIYADH, JEDDAH: A decade ago, if you would have asked a Saudi whether he would consider buying a Chinese car, the answer most likely would have been no, but this has now changed.

Saudi Arabia is emerging as one of the most attractive markets overseas for Chinese car brands as they grab the attention of dealers and drivers in the Kingdom.

Car sales in China, the world’s biggest market, were down 3 percent year-on-year to 2.13 million in May, ending a streak of 13 months of growth, mainly due to a global chip shortage and increased raw material prices. Last year, despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-10) pandemic, the data showed that sales continued to surge, and at the end of 2020, Changan’s share of the market had risen to 4.3 percent, moving it two places up in the annual car brand rankings to eighth most popular.

Mohammed Ramady, an independent economist and former professor of finance and economics at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, believes Chinese cars are proving popular because they appeal to medium- and lower-income families. He said the data showed that last year, around one in 10 Chinese cars were shipped to Saudi Arabia. A clear example of the growing popularity of Chinese cars in the Kingdom is the experience of the Changan brand. According to sales data compiled by Bestsellingcarsblog.com, the carmaker, which is owned by the Chinese state, captured 2.3 percent of the Saudi market in 2019, making it the 10th most popular car brand in the Kingdom just a few years after it was introduced to Saudi drivers.

Similarly, data from Google showed that searches for the term Changan increased nearly 50 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2021, peaking in January when the brand opened its service center in Riyadh. 

Riyadh-based Wafi Al-Ghanim, marketing communication manager at Almajdouie Changan, the official distributor of the brand in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News there are three reasons the brand has quickly proved so successful: “Prices, quality, and warranty periods.”

“When you think about quality and specifications compared to the price in the car sector, you will definitely find that Chinese cars are far ahead of their counterparts in general, Japanese and Korean cars in particular,” Al-Ghanim said.

Looking to the future, he believes that Chinese cars across the board will continue to see strong growth and by 2022 will have captured 15 percent of the Saudi market, which “in a huge regional market is very good.”

One of the ways to boost sales is physical visibility. In January, Almajdouie built a 2,640-square-meter service center in Riyadh.

“We have had to raise the level of our services to match the high level of Changan cars, as well as to enhance the growing demand for Changan cars in the local market,” Yousef bin Ali Almajdouie, president of Almajdouie Group, said in a press statement at the time.

A report by the China Daily newspaper estimated that around 55,000 Changan cars have been sold in Saudi Arabia up to May this year, but it is not the only Chinese brand that has captured the attention of drivers in the Kingdom.

FASTFACTS

• Last year, despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-10) pandemic, the data showed that sales continued to surge, and at the end of 2020, Changan’s share of the market had risen to 4.3 percent, moving it two places up in the annual car brand rankings to eighth most popular.

• According to data, the carmaker, which is owned by the Chinese state, captured 2.3 percent of the Saudi market in 2019, making it the 10th most popular car brand in the Kingdom just a few years after it was introduced to Saudi drivers.

• An example of the growing popularity of Chinese cars in the Kingdom is the experience of the Changan brand.

Hongqi, one of China’s oldest luxury car brands, this month opened its first sales center in Riyadh, with plans to expand the network to Jeddah and Dammam.

“The market in the Middle East is key for Hongqi. And the Saudi market is crucial in the region,” Ma Zhenduo, general manager of Hongqi’s Middle East division, told Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency. “The sales have exceeded all our expectations across all the models,” said Mohammed Abduljawad, chairman of Universal Motors Agencies, Hongqi’s local partner in Saudi Arabia.

Hatem Khattab, the first marketing manager for FAW Bestune in Saudi Arabia, which sells the Chinese brands FAW, Bestune and Hongqi, told Arab News that the secret to the success of Chinese brands was the combination of price and technology.

“The manufacturers are very good at incorporating the latest technology in their cars. These are economic cars with state-of-the-art technology,” Khattab said. “The reason behind their popularity is their features, and now that they are seen more commonly on the streets, it has had a domino effect. Seeing the cars makes people think they are more reliable. They are affordable as well; we recently had a customer who bought 10 cars just for his family,” he added.

In addition to increased visibility on the roads, Khattab pointed out that Chinese brands also offer more options in terms of the range of models on offer.

“The competition in the automotive market here is huge, and I feel like the Chinese brands stepped up their game to meet the requirement of this cut-throat market. Currently, in Saudi Arabia, we have almost 20-25 Chinese brands as compared to brands of other countries that offer up to 10,” he said. Ramady said engine size was another big catalyst. Western, American, Japanese and South Korean models in the 2,500 to 3,000 cc engine sector still dominate the market, Chinese brands have positioned themselves in the 1,000 to 2,000 cc engine range, which is a growing segment in Saudi Arabia. He believes these models appeal “to a low to middle-income Saudi consumer market, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and economic uncertainties, as well as a new niche market for Saudi female drivers owning their first cars.”

The statistics also back this up, according to Motory.com, one of the largest specialized car websites in Saudi Arabia. “Over the last few years, we have seen Chinese cars become increasingly popular with consumers, especially in Saudi Arabia. Online searches for Chinese cars on our Motory.com website have increased by around 400 percent between 2018 and 2020,” a spokesperson told Arab News.

Chinese carmakers saw exports increase by 103 percent year-on-year in the first five months of this year, according to a report by the South China Morning Post, citing data from the China Passenger Car Association. The way trends are going, many will find their way into Saudi garages and carparks, as the Kingdom continues to be a dominant source market. Fahad Al-Arjani, a member of the Saudi Chinese Business Council, echoed the view that technology was at the key factor, as Chinese brands have been “injecting investments in clean energy cars supported by the smartest technologies.” He pointed to the partnership between technology giant Huawei and the state-owned Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co., Ltd. (BAIC) as an example.

“In addition to developing a highly efficient battery system, as well as emerging technologies, Huawei and BAIC’s first car will offer level three autonomous driving and will include 5G connectivity, which isn’t necessarily surprising given the Chinese company is a leader when it comes to the rollout of this new standard, which will make Chinese cars highly likely to lead the future of this sector for ages,” he told Arab News.


Lucid is ‘key step’ in PIF’s strategy after market debut

Lucid is ‘key step’ in PIF’s strategy after market debut
Updated 28 July 2021

Lucid is ‘key step’ in PIF’s strategy after market debut

Lucid is ‘key step’ in PIF’s strategy after market debut
  • PIF is believed to hold more than 60 percent of the stock after its 2018 cash injection into the start-up, giving it a paper profit of at least $15 billion

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has already made billions of dollars in profit on its investment in Lucid Motors, the California upmarket electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer, and could earn many billions more over the next five years.

PIF announced its first investment of SR3.75 billion ($1 billion) in Lucid in September 2018.

The sovereign wealth fund congratulated Lucid on its market debut and said on Twitter: “Our investment in Lucid Motors and the production of Lucid Air is a key step in the strategy for long term growth opportunities, supporting innovation and technology development, and doing revenue and sectoral diversification in Saudi Arabia.” Shares in Lucid raced to an 11 percent premium on the opening day of trading on New York’s Nasdaq Global Select Market on Monday, valuing it at more than $24 billion.  

PIF is believed to hold more than 60 percent of the stock after its 2018 cash injection into the start-up, giving it a paper profit of at least $15 billion.

This could go significantly higher if Lucid follows the model of rival EV maker Tesla. Elon Musk’s high-flying company reported better than forecast profits earlier this week, and saw its share price leap 2 percent, giving it a market value of $633 billion.

Lucid is at a much earlier stage of the EV road, but projections made by its management foresee a big rise in sales and profits ahead.

The company sees revenues of $2.2 billion next year after it has begun selling cars in substantial numbers, rising to $22.8 billion in 2026. By then, it will be selling 250,000 cars a year, making a profit of nearly $3 billion and generating free cash of $1.5 billion, according to the forecasts.

Peter Rawlinson, CEO and CTO of Lucid Group, who was a former chief engineer at Tesla, said that the company was “on track” to meet its projections after the Nasdaq debut.

“Lucid Air (the launch model) represents the next generation of electric vehicles and creates new standards for interior comfort, range, efficiency, and power,” Rawlinson said. 

“We are on track to meet our projected deliveries for the next two years, and we look forward to delighting our customers around the world with the best electric vehicles ever created.”

Lucid is likely to face more intense competition in the EV space than Tesla did when it launched its first model more than a decade ago, with other “legacy” manufacturers across the world launching electric products.

But Rawlinson is confident that superior design will give it an edge in the premium market segment. 

“We have got the best car in the world,” he told Arab News earlier this year.

Success for Lucid will be a big boost for PIF’s investment strategy, but it could also have significant industrial and commercial implications for the Kingdom. Lucid is likely to open a showroom in Saudi Arabia and there has been intensifying speculation that it will eventually build a production plant in the Kingdom, too.

Rawlinson said of PIF: “They put their faith in us, that is why we are here today thriving.”


Amazon denies plans to accept bitcoin payments

Amazon denies plans to accept bitcoin payments
Updated 27 July 2021

Amazon denies plans to accept bitcoin payments

Amazon denies plans to accept bitcoin payments
  • The electric carmaker’s balance sheet for the second quarter of 2021 showed a net digital asset value of $1.311 billion as of June 30

RIYADH: Bitcoin traded higher on Tuesday, rising 0.55 percent to $38,379.02 at 5:02 p.m. Riyadh time. Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, was down 1.3 percent to $2,298.85, according to data from CoinDesk.

Below is the latest cryptocurrency news:

Amazon has denied a British newspaper report that it plans to accept bitcoin payments this year. “Notwithstanding our interest in the space, the speculation that has ensued around our specific plans for cryptocurrencies is not true,” an Amazon spokesperson said on Monday. “We remain focused on exploring what this could look like for customers shopping on Amazon.”

According to a report from Bloomberg, the popular stablecoin Tether is under criminal investigation by the US Justice Department. Prosecutors are looking into whether Tether’s executives committed bank fraud, a development with potentially seismic consequences for the broader crypto market. Tether released a statement saying that the Bloomberg report follows a pattern of repackaging old claims as news, but did not deny awareness of the pending charges, according to CoinDesk.

Goldman Sachs is liquidating and settling cryptocurrency traded products for some of its hedge fund clients in Europe, it was reported last week. The investment banking giant has submitted an application to the US Securities and Exchange Commission for an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that would showcase public companies in decentralized finance and blockchain around the world. The filing indicated that the fund plans to invest at least 80 percent of its assets in companies that are developing blockchain technology and digitizing funding. The Securities and Exchange Commission is currently reviewing more than a dozen Bitcoin ETF applications and has approved decisions on several of them, CoinDesk reported.

Tesla released its second quarter earnings report on Monday. The electric carmaker’s balance sheet for the second quarter of 2021 showed a net digital asset value of $1.311 billion as of June 30. It also showed that Tesla owns $1.311 billion in bitcoin. The company did not buy or sell any bitcoin during the second quarter, but it did report a bitcoin depreciation of $23 million. Tesla’s action reaffirms Musk’s prior statement that neither he nor Tesla had sold their coins, according to Bitcoin News.

A survey conducted by the cryptocurrency exchange of the Independent Reserve Asia Pacific found that 43 percent of respondents said they own cryptocurrency, while 46 percent plan to purchase digital assets in the next 12 months.

The survey of 1,000 Singaporeans from a representative background of gender, age and location, also found that two-thirds of respondents in the 26-45 age group said they own cryptocurrency. Nearly 40 percent of respondents described bitcoin as an investment asset and 25 percent described it as a store of value. Three-quarters of respondents aged between 26 and 35 said they believe that cryptocurrency will become more widely accepted. Singapore’s financial authorities have confirmed that they are working with their French counterparts to explore cross-border applications of central bank digital currencies, according to a report by Cointelegraph.


Fitch revises Saudi Aramco’s outlook to stable, affirms IDR at ‘A’

Fitch Ratings, the leading global credit rating agency, has revised its Saudi Aramco outlook to stable from negative. (Reuters/File Photo)
Fitch Ratings, the leading global credit rating agency, has revised its Saudi Aramco outlook to stable from negative. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 27 July 2021

Fitch revises Saudi Aramco’s outlook to stable, affirms IDR at ‘A’

Fitch Ratings, the leading global credit rating agency, has revised its Saudi Aramco outlook to stable from negative. (Reuters/File Photo)

RIYADH: Fitch Ratings, the leading global credit rating agency, has revised its Saudi Aramco outlook to stable from negative while affirming the company’s long-term issuer default rating (IDR) at ‘A.’

The revision of the outlook on Saudi Aramco’s IDR is driven by a similar action on the sovereign, the rating agency said in its new report published on Tuesday.


Fitch lifts 6 Saudi banks outlooks to stable from negative

Fitch lifts 6 Saudi banks outlooks to stable from negative
Updated 27 July 2021

Fitch lifts 6 Saudi banks outlooks to stable from negative

Fitch lifts 6 Saudi banks outlooks to stable from negative
  • These ratings follow a similar action on Saudi Arabia’s sovereign rating on 15 July 2021 that was attributed to better fiscal management and an increase in oil prices

RIYADH: Ratings agency Fitch has revised six Saudi banks’ credit outlooks to stable from negative and affirmed their international ratings at BBB+.

The banks are Arab National Bank (ANB), Banque Saudi Fransi (BSF), Alinma bank (Alinma), Saudi Investment Bank (SAIB), Bank Aljazira (BAJ) and Gulf International Bank - Saudi Arabia (GIB SA).

These ratings follow a similar action on Saudi Arabia’s sovereign rating on 15 July 2021 that was attributed to better fiscal management and an increase in oil prices.

“Fitch’s assessment considers the authorities’ strong ability to support the banking system, given large, albeit reduced from their historical levels, external reserves,” Fitch said in the statement.

“It also reflects a long record of support for Saudi banks, irrespective of their size, franchise, funding structure and level of government ownership.”