Saudi Arabia sees first budget surplus since 2014

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Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed al-Jadaan speaks during financial sector conference in Riyadh on April 24, 2019. (Reuters)
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The Saudi minister of energy said global oil inventories are continuing to rise. (SPA)
Updated 25 April 2019

Saudi Arabia sees first budget surplus since 2014

  • Saudi Arabia plans to increase state spending in 2019
  • The country will work on stabilizing the global oil market

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia achieved its first budget surplus since 2014, at about $7.41 billion in the first quarter, the country’s minister of finance said on Wednesday.

The surplus was on the back of a jump in oil and non-oil revenues, after Saudi Arabia's finances were hit hard by a slump in oil prices almost five years ago.

Foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia increased by 28 percent in the first quarter, Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said.

The country is also launching a $3.33 billion initiative to support the growth of the private sector, including SMEs, he said.

“We are committed to the reform, this is not about the oil, this is about an economy that needs to be diversified,” Al-Jadaan said.

“If we have higher oil prices, I’ll be happier. I will have stronger reserves and that will provide a buffer for the down cycle,” he added.

Saudi Arabia plans to increase state spending by 7 percent this year, in an effort to spur economic growth that has been hurt by low oil prices, according to its 2019 state budget.

Average non-oil GDP grew at a faster 2.1 percent last year, compared with 1.3 percent in 2017, Al-Jadaan said.

The minister's remarks come during the first day of Financial Sector Conference in Riyadh, organized by the Ministry of Finance and Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA).

Saudi Arabia does not see a need for any immediate action as global oil inventories continue to rise, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told the conference.

“We will not leave our customers scrambling to find the oil they need, we will make sure the oil market remains balanced at global level,” the minister said.

In other news from the Saudi capital, the stock exchange Tadawul announced the listing of Al-Moammar Information Systems Company, the first IT-related entity in the bourse’s roster of 201 listed companies.

The company held a five-day public offering last March and opened for subscription 4.8 million ordinary shares, at an offer price of 45 Saudi riyals per share, representing 30 percent of its paid-up capital.

Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers also issued a new banking license to Swiss lender Credit Suisse.


Japan’s Uniqlo pulls ad after South Korean fury

Updated 21 October 2019

Japan’s Uniqlo pulls ad after South Korean fury

  • South Korean and Japanese relationship is deeply strained by the legacy of Tokyo’s 20th-century expansionism
  • Seoul and Tokyo are currently locked in a bitter trade and diplomatic row stemming from historical disputes
SEOUL: Japanese retail giant Uniqlo has pulled a commercial featuring a 98-year-old US fashion figure from South Korean screens, it said Monday after it was accused of whitewashing colonial history.
South Korea and Japan are both US allies, democracies and market economies faced with an overbearing China and nuclear-armed North Korea, but their relationship is deeply strained by the legacy of Tokyo’s 20th-century expansionism.
The latest example is an advert for Uniqlo fleeces showing elderly fashion celebrity Iris Apfel chatting with designer Kheris Rogers, 85 years her junior.
The last line has the white-haired Apfel, asked how she used to dress as a teenager, innocuously responding: “Oh my God. I can’t remember that far back.”
But Uniqlo’s Korean arm subtitled its version of the ad slightly differently, reading: “I can’t remember things that happened more than 80 years ago.”
That would put the moment as 1939, toward the end of Japan’s brutal colonial rule over the Korean peninsula, where the period is still bitterly resented, and some South Koreans reacted furiously.
“A nation that forgets history has no future. We can’t forget what happened 80 years ago that Uniqlo made fun of,” commented one Internet user on Naver, the country’s largest portal.
The phrase “Uniqlo, comfort women,” in reference to women forced to become sex slaves to Japanese troops during the Second World War, was among the most searched terms on Naver at the weekend, and demonstrators protested outside Uniqlo shops on Monday.
Seoul and Tokyo are currently locked in a bitter trade and diplomatic row stemming from historical disputes, and South Korean consumers have mounted boycotts of Japanese products.
Uniqlo — which has 186 stores in South Korea — has itself been one of the highest-profile targets, while Japanese carmakers’ sales dropped nearly 60 percent year-on-year in September.
The company denied the allegations in a statement, saying the text was altered to highlight the age gap between the individuals and show that its fleeces were for people “across generations.”
“The ad had no intention whatsoever to imply anything” about colonial rule, a Uniqlo representative said on Monday, adding the firm had withdrawn the ad in an effort at damage control.
Analysts said the controversy demonstrated the politicization of the neighbors’ complex history.
The reaction was excessive, said Kim Sung-han, a former foreign affairs vice minister who teaches at Korea University, involving a “jump in logic” that “assumes everything Uniqlo does is political as a Japanese company.”
“I don’t see how her remark could be linked to the comfort women issue,” he added. “This is overly sensitive.”