Major economies raise red flags over Facebook’s Libra

Major economies raise red flags over Facebook’s Libra
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the proposed French tax on tech giants would stand until the G7 reaches an agreement on taxing digital business. (AP)
Updated 19 July 2019

Major economies raise red flags over Facebook’s Libra

Major economies raise red flags over Facebook’s Libra
  • Facebook has proposed creating Libra as a cryptocurrency that is pegged to existing currencies to make it more stable than the likes of Bitcoin

CHANTILLY: Top finance officials from the Group of Seven rich democracies are warning that cryptocurrencies such as Facebook’s Libra should not come into use before “serious regulatory and systemic concerns” are addressed.

The chairman’s concluding summary from the G7 meeting in Chantilly, France, says the officials agreed that so-called stablecoins — cryptocurrencies pegged to real currencies — will have to meet “the highest standards” of financial regulation to prevent money laundering or threats to the stability of the banking and financial system.

The statement says finance ministers, including French host Bruno Le Maire and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, agreed that those concerns must be addressed “before such projects can be implemented.”

Facebook has proposed creating Libra as a cryptocurrency that is pegged to existing currencies to make it more stable than the likes of Bitcoin, so that it can used as a way to pay for things. Governments around the world are rushing to assess how that would affect the economy.

Le Maire said that the G7 officials noted that while stable cryptocurrencies such as Libra could reduce costs for transfers and help provide financial services to underserved communities, they would need to be accountable to governments, not just corporations. Libra could, for example, facilitate money laundering and terrorist financing and influence the value of established currencies.

The views echo criticism from US lawmakers this week, who in hearings in Washington said they cannot trust Facebook with a big project such as Libra after recent data privacy scandals.

The G7 summary says that the countries also expect the outlines of a global agreement on taxing digital business by next January. It said the agreement would allow companies to be taxed in countries where they have no physical presence and provide for an arbitration forum.

The US and France in particular are at odds on the issue after Paris said it would put a 3 percent tax on tech giants like Facebook and Google that are typically based in the US. Mnuchin objected to the plan when meeting with Le Maire.

Le Maire said that the current agreement needed to result in a final decision before France could withdraw its tax, but that the process was moving “in the right direction.”

The G7 finance meeting will set the stage for a summit of the countries’ heads of state and government in August. Beyond the US and France, the G7 includes Germany, Britain, Italy, Japan, Canada and representatives from the EU.


Bitcoin tops $41,000 as cryptocurrencies rally after weeks-long downtrend

Bitcoin tops $41,000 as cryptocurrencies rally after weeks-long downtrend
Updated 9 min 20 sec ago

Bitcoin tops $41,000 as cryptocurrencies rally after weeks-long downtrend

Bitcoin tops $41,000 as cryptocurrencies rally after weeks-long downtrend
  • Bitcoin is currently trading above $41,000 and up more than 15 percent over the past week

RIYADH: Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency in trading internationally, traded higher on Sunday, rising by 0.02 percent to $41,447.73 at 4:41 p.m Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, traded at $2,580.98.76, up 5.33 percent, according to data from Coindesk.

Here is a rundown of major crypto news:

Bitcoin is currently trading above $41,000 and up more than 15 percent over the past week. The uptrend continues after the massive sell-off in May and two months of consolidation above the $30K support level, according to CoinDesk.

Germany plans to allow some institutional funds to invest billions of dollars in crypto assets for the first time, Bloomberg has reported.

A law effective Monday will allow so-called Spezialfonds with fixed investment rules to put up to 20 percent of their holdings in Bitcoin and other crypto assets. The funds, which can only be accessed by institutional investors, currently manage about $2.1 trillion.

“Most funds will initially stay well below the 20%,” said Tim Kreutzmann, an expert on crypto assets at BVI, Germany’s fund industry body.

In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky has signed the Law on Payment Services adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on June 30, the President's administration announced this week.

The new legislation aims to “modernize and further develop” the payment services market, and encourage innovation in the financial sector, according to a press statement.

The National Bank of Ukraine has also given the power to issue its own digital currency.

In an interview with Bloomberg on Thursday, Henri Arslanian, crypto leader at accounting and financial services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), explained that crypto firms have high valuations due to the entry of major investors.

He mentioned investment firms and family offices are backed by major venture capitalists, private equity funds, and even some pension funds, and noted smaller venture capital firms are not satisfied with the trend.

Over to the US, Lael Brainard, a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, highlighted the urgent need to develop a digital dollar, speaking to the Aspen Institute’s Economic Strategies Group on Friday.

He cited several reasons for creating a digital version of the US dollar, while the central bank agreed that it will have both international and domestic applications.


Saudi Arabia’s real estate price index rises by 0.4% in Q2

Saudi Arabia’s real estate price index rises by 0.4% in Q2
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi Arabia’s real estate price index rises by 0.4% in Q2

Saudi Arabia’s real estate price index rises by 0.4% in Q2
  • The report said a 1 percent hike in the prices of residential plots jacked up the prices of residential properties

RIYADH: The real estate price index in Saudi Arabia rose by 0.4 percent in the second quarter of 2021 compared to the same period of the previous year, official data showed on Sunday.
The statistics issued by the General Authority for Statistics showed a 0.8 percent increase in the residential real estate prices in the second quarter while prices of commercial and agriculture properties declined by 0.5 percent and 0.2 percent respectively.
The report said a 1 percent hike in the prices of residential plots jacked up the prices of residential properties.
Meanwhile, the Wafi program, which regulates off-plan property activity in the Kingdom, issued a report highlighting its performance during the first half of the year.
Wafi issued 55 licenses for off-plan sales projects providing 24,328 housing units during the first half of 2021.
Off-plan property sales represent a growing sector of the Saudi real estate market, but some consumers are still wary of developers’ abilities to deliver quality homes on time.
The sector has been steadily increasing its share of total residential sales and data from the Wafi program.
According to real estate consultancy company, Knight Frank, off-plan units represent around 9 percent of total existing housing stock, but a massive 60 percent of total future supply in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s real estate sector is a key and effective economic driver for the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and is connected to at least 120 industries.
Mortgage lending in Saudi Arabia increased 27 percent this year through May, as interest rates decreased to between 1 percent and 4.9 percent, compared to about 6 percent early last year.
Residential real estate financing contracts offered to individuals by local banks reached 133,006 through May, with a value of SR69.5 billion ($18.5 billion), according to data from the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA).
Real estate financing grew by 50 percent compared with the same period in 2020 when SR46.6 billion was lent via 104,000 contracts.


Saudi net foreign assets jump in June, central bank data shows

Saudi net foreign assets jump in June, central bank data shows
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi net foreign assets jump in June, central bank data shows

Saudi net foreign assets jump in June, central bank data shows
  • Data from the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) showed the assets rising by 34 billion riyals ($9.1 billion)

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s net foreign assets rose over 2 percent in June, as the global oil industry gradually recovers from the impact of COVID-19.

Data from the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) showed the assets rising by 34 billion riyals ($9.1 billion) to 1.65 trillion riyals in June from the month before.

Total assets increased by 16.18 billion riyals to 1.842 trillion riyals, the central bank said.


Saudi Arabia’s economy likely to grow in 2021 and 2022, says report

Saudi Arabia’s economy likely to grow in 2021 and 2022, says report
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi Arabia’s economy likely to grow in 2021 and 2022, says report

Saudi Arabia’s economy likely to grow in 2021 and 2022, says report
  • Capital Economics' forecast a further evidence that the Saudi economic recovery has taken off in 2021

RIYADHH Saudi Arabia’s economy is poised to grow from 2.2 percent to 4.8 percent in 2021 and from 4.1 percent to 6.3 percent in 2022, said a Capital Economics report.

The new forecasts are further evidence that the Saudi economic recovery has taken off in 2021.

At the start of the year, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Finance said that it expected 3.2 percent growth this year — reversing the pandemic-driven downturn of 2020. The International Monetary Fund forecast just 2.1 percent growth two months ago.

The Saudi economy is expected to maintain growth in the second half of the year. The expansion is also backed by higher oil output amid an OPEC+ agreement.

The Kingdom’s finance, insurance, real estate, and business sectors are likely to expand by 9 percent annually and their relative share to overall economic activity will grow by 12.7 percent.

Meanwhile, the services sector is also likely to grow about 10 percent annually on average, implying that its relative gross domestic product (GDP) share will climb to almost 40 percent in 2030.

 


Saudi shoppers helping high-end sector rebound to new peaks

Saudi shoppers helping high-end sector rebound to new peaks
Updated 01 August 2021

Saudi shoppers helping high-end sector rebound to new peaks

Saudi shoppers helping high-end sector rebound to new peaks
  • GCC retail giant aiming to double revenues in the Kingdom, become dominant player by 2022

DUBAI: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) luxury retail sector has recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with high-end brands performing particularly well, as shoppers splash the cash they saved by not spending on entertainment or travel during the last year, according to one of the region’s biggest retailers.

Consultancy firm Bains & Company in April reported that the GCC luxury goods market declined 16.6 percent year on year to $7.4 billion in 2020, with Saudi Arabia down 8 percent and the tourist-dependent UAE declining 25 percent.

However, Michael Chalhoub, president of strategy, growth, innovation and investment and vice-president joint ventures at the Chalhoub Group, which has 559 stores across the GCC and manages brands such as Dior, Swarovski, Fendi and Louis Vuitton, told Arab News that the market has bounced back.

“I think the luxury market, and fashion in particular, has recovered in 2021, at levels even higher than in 2019,” he said.

“Local consumers are traveling less. And so, consumption has been repatriated. And we estimate that, in normal time, between one-third to 50 percent of the luxury consumption of GCC nationals happens abroad in London, Paris and Geneva. But now, because of the pandemic, they’ve had to stay, in particular in Saudi Arabia, where the borders were blocked for most of the first half of the year,” he added.

With gyms, restaurants, entertainment venues and travel off limits for a long period, Chalhoub said that shoppers now had more disposable income and were feeling free to spend their savings.

“I would say that average income has gone higher because of a lack of entertainment expenses. What people aren’t spending in restaurants and travel, they are probably spending it on taking care of themselves,” he said.

Michael Chalhoub

However, Chalhoub said that the rebound differed across retail segments. Very high-end luxury brands are performing much better than premium or affordable brands. Jewelry, fragrances and beauty brands are seeing strong growth, but he observed that makeup was still down, mainly due to consumers wearing masks and not leaving the house as often.

“With fashion, I think that we’re up by 5 to 7 percent in the region versus 2019, mainly with luxury fashion and even more so with high-end luxury,” he said, looking at the industry as a whole.

Many retailers have seen triple-digit growth in their online sales during 2020, and the Chalhoub Group accelerated its digitalization strategy in line with the wider industry. “If we were to compare 2021 numbers to 2019, we’re probably talking about 100 percent growth for the industry. And this is incredible. I think the numbers I had were plus 96 percent in the GCC as a whole and even 138 percent just in the UAE,” he said.

However, while online sales might be popular for grocery or food outlets, high-end fashion consumers still like to feel, touch and try on clothing before buying.

For this reason, Chalhoub said that the company expects a higher percentage of returns when it comes to online high-end fashion. “We’re inviting our customer to say try it on and then send it back if you need to,” he said.

With Saudi Arabia less dependent on international tourists for retail sales, the Kingdom largely avoided the slump in sales last year. Chalhoub Group has operated in the Kingdom since 1975, where it has six offices, 215 stores and about 3,600 employees.

It now controls 38 percent of the Saudi market, 48 percent of fashion and 55 percent of beauty, but it is aiming to become the largest player in the sector by the end of next year.

“We’ve made Saudi Arabia a main focus for ourselves; we want to make sure that we cater for the new Saudi customers as much as possible. We have a population there that is young and really enthusiastic about some of the transformation that is happening there,” Chalhoub said.

“We’re investing a lot into Saudi Arabia. The objective that we had set ourselves about six months ago was to double our revenues there in eighteen months. And that means investing more and catering to those customers spending more locally rather than internationally,” he added.

One of the ways the group is aiming to capture more of the Saudi market is by tapping into the Kingdom’s local fashion talent. In early July, the company launched Fashion Lab, a first-of-its-kind initiative in the Kingdom, offering local entrepreneurs the chance to win $15,000 in funding to help establish their fashion brands.

Successful participants will get to take part in a two-week “boot camp,” which will help them navigate through the different elements of developing their brand, including marketing, supply chain management, content creation and media exposure.

Looking forward, the Bain & Company report said: “With about 40 percent of the population aged under 25, Saudi Arabia will likely remain the biggest engine of growth for the regional luxury industry in coming years.”