Saudi private sector rebounds with growth at 10-month high

An easing of pandemic restrictions in the Kingdom and hopes of a breakthrough in the development of a vaccine helped strengthen the business outlook for the year ahead. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 04 December 2020

Saudi private sector rebounds with growth at 10-month high

Saudi private sector rebounds with growth at 10-month high
  • Steep rise in sales and growing business confidence spark jump in purchasing, hiring activity

RIYADH: Business activity in Saudi Arabia has risen to its highest level since January this year, showing the Kingdom’s economy is beginning to overcome the worst effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to IHS Markit’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) Survey, the acceleration of output growth in the Saudi economy in November was driven by a steep rise in sales and strengthening business confidence.

The survey found that input purchasing rose, while employment growth also returned for the first time since January. Input cost inflation also quickened, leading to a stronger increase in average output charges.

The index has now registered above the 50.0 no-change mark for three months in a row, highlighting a sustained recovery after the economic downturn due to the pandemic.

The Saudi PMI rose to 54.7 in November from 51 the previous month — the strongest improvement since January. The indices vary between 0 and 100, with a reading above 50 indicating an overall increase compared with the previous month, and below 50 an overall decrease.

Both domestic and foreign sales rose last month, marking only the second upturn in new export orders since February.

Business confidence for the year ahead also improved notably during the month. In particular, firms were encouraged by the Saudi government’s easing of lockdown curbs and news of a breakthrough in the development of a vaccine.

Accelerated rises in output and new orders led Saudi firms to sharply expand purchasing activity during November. In addition, hiring activity turned positive and a number of companies linked increased employment to rising demand.

Commenting on the latest survey, David Owen, an economist at IHS Markit, said: “A third successive rise in the Saudi Arabia PMI pointed to an economy getting back on its feet in November. Supported by output and new business growth reaching 10-month highs, the data suggests a strong end to the year for the non-oil private sector. Notably, employment started to rise, while business confidence strengthened in the wake of encouraging vaccine news and sharper demand growth.”

Saudi economist and financial analyst Talat Zaki Hafiz told Arab News: “The improvement is due to many factors, such as the reopening of the market with the ease in lockdown and, finally, the lifting of the curfew. The return to normality has had a significant impact on private sector performance.”

Hafiz added: “Things will get much better by the next year. We have also noticed an improvement in oil prices recently and this will improve things significantly.”


Saudis dominate Forbes Middle East’s 2021 list of top CEOs

Saudis dominate Forbes Middle East’s 2021 list of top CEOs
Updated 13 min 47 sec ago

Saudis dominate Forbes Middle East’s 2021 list of top CEOs

Saudis dominate Forbes Middle East’s 2021 list of top CEOs
  • Aramco chief Amin Nasser emerged as this year’s number one
  • Saudi Arabia had the most entries at 18, followed by the UAE and Egypt with 16 entries each

DUBAI: Saudi executives dominated Forbes Middle East’s ranking of the best corporate leaders in the region, with Aramco chief Amin Nasser emerging as this year’s number one.

The Middle East counterpart of American business magazine Forbes recognized business icons “making significant contributions to the region’s economies.”

Some 100 CEOs from around the region were featured, and 24 nationalities were represented. Saudi Arabia had the most entries at 18, followed by the UAE and Egypt with 16 entries each.

Four out of the top five chief executives were from the oil and gas industry.

Aramco’s Nasser, who was ranked first, was followed by Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

SABIC’s Yousef Abdullah Al-Benyan, Kuwait Petroleum Corporation’s Hashem Hashem and Sonatrach’s Toufik Hakkar were also in the top 10.

Executives from the banking and financial services sector accounted for almost a third of the names, with Abdulla Mubarak Al-Khalifa of Qatar National Bank emerging as the leader in the field.

The magazine used various measures to come up with the list, including company size, individual accomplishments, as well as the executives’ impact on the wider industry.


Restructuring: How can Saudi companies progress from COVID survival mode?

Restructuring: How can Saudi companies progress from COVID survival mode?
Updated 15 min 47 sec ago

Restructuring: How can Saudi companies progress from COVID survival mode?

Restructuring: How can Saudi companies progress from COVID survival mode?
  • Alvarez and Marsal has been advising companies in the Kingdom on how best to pivot out of the tough times

Alvarez and Marsal (A&M) is a New York-headquartered global professional services firm known in the industry as “the turnaround guys.” Legend has it that co-founder Bryan Marsal was one of the first people called when Lehman Brothers looked set to become be the first major casualty of the global financial crisis in 2008.

A&M was founded in 1983 and now has representatives in 25 countries, including Dubai, from where it is now attempting to help Middle Eastern clients restructure their businesses after the challenges of 2020. As demand for its services grows, the company is aiming to increase its staff in the Middle East to 150 over the next five years, from ten in 2015.

According to Paul Gilbert, head of A&M’s Turnaround and Restructuring practice in the Middle East, two of the most important steps management can take to overcome crises are to take total control over cash flow and to put in place a 12-month contingency plan to help the business stay afloat. Gilbert is currently working on the restructuring of Abu Dhabi’s NMC Health and has previously advised on rescue proceedings for South African Airways.

“Continue with cash preservation and cost control. Talk to your suppliers and landlords — those guys are suffering too, but they still want your business to come out of the other end,” Gilbert told Arab News. “These guys want to talk to you because they want to know that you’re going to be around at the end of it to help them rebuild their own businesses.”

According to Dr. Saeeda Jaffar, managing director and head of the Middle East at A&M, the pandemic has impacted companies in three major ways. There were companies that understood what was going on immediately and took “advantage of discontinuity” to find ways to succeed. Those companies already had a digital business model that supported their shift to digital, or had reacted nimbly to acquire a digital solution, so the transition was not as drastic as it has been for others.

The second group went into what Jaffar calls “hibernation mode,” by opting to minimize losses by decreasing costs, conserving cash, restricting loans and balances and generally steering away from bold decisions until the uncertainty passes.

The companies in the third group, Jaffar said, had weak business models and were unattractive to investors, so were bound to face difficulties.

One of the sectors that has suffered most has been retailers, according to Gilbert. “We’ve helped them across Europe with negotiations with landlords, with other creditors and helped them pivot from bricks-and-mortar stores to digital, and concentrated on helping them retain their customer base for when they come out,” he said. “Many of them are coming out of that period with a balance sheet that is either extremely stretched or has been restructured in a way that a number of lenders have now had to take equity back.”

Other sectors, including travel, tourism, aviation and real estate, have suffered tremendous losses during the pandemic as well.

In the Kingdom, Jaffar said that domestic tourism numbers exceeded expectations at the end of 2020. “I think that’s a trend that will continue. That’s very much in line with the Vision 2030. We continuously see that there is a lot of development happening in the Kingdom, new resorts, new places, new developments that help continue to grow the tourism sector,” she said.

Jaffar believes it will take longer for aviation to recover than many industries, perhaps three to four years, she said.

On the other hand, technology — which Jaffar said has been the “backbone” for many other sectors — and health care — which has witnessed considerable investment in pharma consumables — have both prospered during the pandemic. A trend that Jaffar expects to continue in the near future.

Both A&M consultants suggest that as companies emerge from the pandemic, many will be looking at potential consolidation. Therefore, they said, mergers and acquisition activity will see a spike in 2021.

“There are a lot of strategic investors from the region that have learned over the last few cycles that investing now, when the valuations are more affordable, is probably a good time in terms of financial attractiveness,” said Jaffar.


Weekly energy recap: March 5, 2021

Weekly energy recap: March 5, 2021
Updated 41 min 19 sec ago

Weekly energy recap: March 5, 2021

Weekly energy recap: March 5, 2021
  • Many market participants were expecting that OPEC+ would restore as much as 1.5 million barrels a day of output in April
  • Many analysts had not taken into account the fact that global oil inventories remain well above the five-year average

Oil prices have escalated to the highest levels since October 2018. The Brent crude price is shyly approaching the vital $70 per barrel mark and closed the week at $69.36 per barrel. WTI closed the week at $66.09 per barrel.

Though global oil markets had anticipated an output increase from OPEC+, claiming the market can absorb one to two million additional barrels per day (bpd), OPEC+ took the market by surprise when it decided to roll over its quota, given the still-fragile global oil demand recovery.

The move is not about OPEC+ protecting the current price levels that have exceeded the pre-pandemic levels, it is not about refusing to bring more oil production online, it is not about dismissing any concerns about inflation and market overheating. The current oil price levels are not at astronomical high levels to add inflationary pressure to the global economy as it emerges from the pandemic.

Many market participants were expecting that OPEC+ would restore as much as 1.5 million barrels a day of output in April. However, they were only looking at the tip of the iceberg, focusing on high fuel demand in India, depleting global inventories, the rollout of vaccine programs and the financial stimulus packages that helped to improve market sentiment.

Many analysts had not taken into account the fact that global oil inventories remain well above the five-year average. Or, most importantly, the upcoming spring refineries maintenance season in Asia during the second quarter will further dampen crude oil supply.

On top of that, there has been a massive drop in the US refinery utilization rate, which has seen oil inventories jump by 21.6 million barrels, the biggest weekly rise since records began in 1982.

All these bearish developments make oil demand recovery uncertain in the short-term. Despite the fact that oil prices have rallied by about 30 percent since the start of 2021, OPEC+ producers are working tirelessly to drain the glut that built up during the pandemic last year, one of the worst periods in the history of the industry.


Saudi entertainment shares jump on easing of restrictions

Saudi entertainment shares jump on easing of restrictions
Updated 07 March 2021

Saudi entertainment shares jump on easing of restrictions

Saudi entertainment shares jump on easing of restrictions
  • The stock gained 5 percent in early trade

DUBAI: Saudi entertainment and retail shares gained on Sunday after the government said it would end most coronavirus-related restrictions, including resuming indoor dining and reopening cinemas, entertainment activities and events.

The sector has been one of the worst affected by a year of restrictions which has forced restaurants, cinemas and other venues to close their doors.
Entertainment giant Abdul Mohsen Al Hokair Group for Tourism and Development said all of its entertainment venues and cinema joint ventures would re-open on Sunday.
However, it said that the suspension of party and meeting halls as well as some other hotel facilities would continue until notified otherwise by the government.
The stock gained 5 percent in early trade.
Saudis will also be allowed to exercise in gyms following the relaxation of restrictions. Leejam Sports Company said it would re-open all of its facilities from Sunday.
Its stock rose 3.5 percent.


Saudi Ground Services slashes costs after year of worldwide flight disruption

Saudi Ground Services slashes costs after year of worldwide flight disruption
Updated 59 min 3 sec ago

Saudi Ground Services slashes costs after year of worldwide flight disruption

Saudi Ground Services slashes costs after year of worldwide flight disruption
  • The company services 28 airports across the Kingdom and processed more than 690,000 flights a year before the pandemic

DUBAI: Saudi Ground Services said it had slashed operating costs as it posted a loss caused by the collapse in global air travel.

The company which services 28 airports across the Kingdom and processed more than 690,000 flights a year before the pandemic, reported a total comprehensive loss of SR446.7 million ($118.9 million) for last year, it said in a Tadawul stock exchange filing.

“Despite the challenges faced by the company in light of the pandemic, Saudi Ground Services has executed several initiatives aimed at increasing the efficiency of operation and thus reducing the impact of the pandemic on the company’s profitability,” it said in the statement.

Companies that specialize in baggage handling, cargo and other airport services have been among the hardest hit over the last year as global air travel collapsed. Swissport, the world’s largest provider of ground and cargo handling services in the aviation industry, has axed thousands of jobs in response to the crisis in aviation. Smaller operators such as Hong Kong-based Jardine Aviation have also cut jobs.

Despite the challenges faced by Saudi Ground Services over the last year, it said that it had executed several strategies aimed at boosting efficiency which limited what would otherwise have been a much bigger hit to its business.

As a result, it reduced operating costs by some SR581 million in the current year, it said.
“In addition to cost reduction initiatives, the company has taken certain initiatives such as the opportunity to increase sales by providing disinfection services for aircraft in addition to other services which also contributed to reducing the impact of the pandemic on the company’s profitability.” it said.