Experts confident of Saudi construction sector returning to normal soon

Experts confident of Saudi construction sector returning to normal soon
Figures in the USSBC report revealed that the majority of the awarded contracts during Q3 were in the transportation, power, and real estate sectors. (SPA)
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Updated 08 December 2020

Experts confident of Saudi construction sector returning to normal soon

Experts confident of Saudi construction sector returning to normal soon
  • Coronavirus causes slump in contracts but recovery predicted

JEDDAH: The total value of construction contracts awarded in Saudi Arabia during the third quarter (Q3) of this year collapsed by 84 percent on figures for the same period in 2019 as the economic impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continued to bite.

Despite the large drop, industry experts remained upbeat, pointing out that the Q3 figure was a statistical anomaly, as 2019 was a record year, and predicting that once the short-term impact of the global health crisis had passed the construction sector would bounce back.

According to the latest Contract Awards Index (CAI) produced by the US-Saudi Business Council (USSBC), the total value of construction contracts awarded in the Kingdom during July, August, and September declined by SR40.4 billion ($10.8 billion) to SR7.4 billion.

Within the quarter itself, the figure also gradually declined, going from SR2.958 billion in July to SR2.613 billion in August, and SR1,842 billion in September. One of the main reasons for the slump was budgetary constraints, as the Ministry of Finance looked to absorb the economic impact of the pandemic and reined in capital expenditure.

Looking back on the year as a whole, the data compiled by the USSBC found that during the first three quarters of 2019 construction contracts worth a total of SR161.8 billion were handed out. By comparison, during the same period this year the figure fell to SR63.6 billion, a drop of 60.69 percent.

Albara’a Alwazir, economist and author of the USSBC report, told Arab News that he was confident the sector would rebound, just as it had done after the downturn between 2016 and 2018.

“The Kingdom was pursuing a market share leadership strategy as an oil producer in 2016 whereby oil prices decreased as a result of high global oil inventories. 

The slowdown in global demand for oil led to the reduction in the Kingdom’s budgetary spending, with a particular slowdown in capital expenditures,” he said.

He pointed out that the current downturn was somewhat similar in that lower oil revenues necessitated a revaluation of the Kingdom’s expenditures in the face of reduced global oil demand, but the long-term impact would be minimal, as the sector returned to normal after the COVID-19 slowdown. 

“The Saudi economic outlook appears promising as the number of COVID-19 cases have sharply decreased coupled with the recent news that vaccines are showing promising results and are reported to be available by the middle of 2021.

“Furthermore, while numerous projects have been delayed because of the pandemic, the government has stated that there will be a continued focus on megaprojects especially those that relate to Vision 2030,” he added.

Alwazir was also optimistic that decisive government actions would also mean the long-term impact had been reduced. “The recent announcement that the Public Investment Fund (PIF) will inject SR150 billion annually into the economy in 2021 and 2022 is a positive development.

“The PIF’s role in keeping the economy buoyant in the face of a global downturn will be pivotal in progressing through Vision 2030’s mandates,” he said.

Taimur Khan, an associate partner at real estate consultancy Knight Frank, noted that the dramatic year-on-year drop in Q3 was mainly down to statistics and the fact that the figures were being compared to a record-breaking 2019.

The PIF’s role in keeping the economy buoyant in the face of a global downturn will be pivotal in progressing through Vision 2030’s mandates.

Albara’a Alwazir, Economist

“It is important to note that the total value of contracts awarded in 2019 was the highest level since 2015 and 95.4 percent higher than total awards in 2018, so we are comparing against a high base,” he said.

“Whilst the total value of new contracts has decreased, the level of activity underway in Saudi Arabia still remains high compared to previous years and considering new financing agreements signed during the course of 2020, particularly those relating to urban and real estate development, we expect new contracts activity levels to begin to return to pre-pandemic highs in 2021,” he added.

Figures in the USSBC report revealed that the majority of the awarded contracts during Q3 were in the transportation, power, and real estate sectors, which jointly accounted for 59 percent of the total. The transportation sector registered the highest value of contract awards with SR1.7 billion to three major road development projects linked to the Red Sea Development, Qiddiya, and Amaala megaprojects.

The largest Q3 contract was for SR938 million, awarded by the Red Sea Development Co. to Almabani, and Nesma and Partners for the construction of a 3.7-km runway and taxiways at the Red Sea International Airport. In terms of geography, the Eastern Province continued to be the focus for activity, accounting for SR2.3 billion worth of deals, or 32 percent of all contracts awarded, including a new chlorine derivatives plant and an industrial wastewater processing plant in Jubail.

Makkah Province accounted for 20 percent of contracts, primarily in the power and real estate sectors, followed by Tabuk province with 19 percent.

According to Alwazir, the Saudi Contractors Authority has maintained that the government’s megaprojects related to Vision 2030 would continue to be its focal point in the near-term, with investments continuing into these strategically important areas.


Emirati, Greek firms launch joint venture to tackle maritime waste

Emirati, Greek firms launch joint venture to tackle maritime waste
Updated 12 June 2021

Emirati, Greek firms launch joint venture to tackle maritime waste

Emirati, Greek firms launch joint venture to tackle maritime waste
  • The joint venture, EvoGreen, will provide advanced maritime waste management services to preserve the region’s oceans

DUBAI: UAE waste management company Bee’ah and Greek sustainability firm Polygreen has launched a new company that will offer marine and environmental management solutions.

The joint venture, EvoGreen, will provide advanced maritime waste management services to preserve the region’s oceans, the UAE state news agency has reported.

“Evogreen will take the lead in promoting best practices in the maritime waste management industry and achieve remarkable outcomes for the UAE and wider region,” Salim bin Mohamed Al-Owais, Bee’ah chairman, said.

The new company has already established an alternative raw material facility in Bee’ah’s Sharjah complex. It processes maritime waste and marine-related hazardous waste to produce alternative materials for industrial use.

EvoGreen is currently building another facility that can process waste streams and convert materials into alternative fuel.

Both facilities will collect, recycle and recover hazardous and non-hazardous waste from ships visiting ports in the UAE.

“The launch of Evogreen is a milestone regarding the global effort to protect the environment and address the challenge of climate change,” Polygreen chief, Athanasios Polychronopoulos, said.

The company will also offer oil spill response services and management of distressed vessels, as well as recycling and recovery solutions.


Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan

Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan
Updated 12 June 2021

Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan

Abu Dhabi to invest nearly $100m in projects in Turkmenistan
  • The deal allocates 275 million dirhams ($74.9 million) for the construction of an airport in Jebel in the Balkan region
  • About 92 million dirhams will be used to build a 10-megawatts hybrid power plant

DUBAI: The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) has signed deals worth $99.91 million to build an airport and a power plant in Turkmenistan.
The deal allocates 275 million dirhams ($74.9 million) for the construction of an airport in Jebel in the Balkan region of the country.
It aims to improve airport infrastructure in the area and enhance air connectivity in central Asia.
The project includes building Jebel airport terminal with a capacity of 100 passengers per hour.
About 92 million dirhams will be used to build a 10-megawatts hybrid power plant that will provide clean energy for the people in Altyn Asyr.
Earlier this year, the ADFD signed agreements with the government of Turkmenistan for projects including including an investment company.


G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official
Updated 12 June 2021

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official

G7 to counter China’s clout with big infrastructure project: senior US official
  • China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme that Xi launched in 2013
  • More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure

CARBIS BAY: The Group of Seven will seek to rival China’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative on Saturday by announcing a global infrastructure plan to help developing nations, a senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration said.
The G7 is trying to find a coherent response to the growing assertiveness of President Xi Jinping after China’s spectacular economic and military rise over the past 40 years.
The US official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said the United States would also push the other G7 leaders for “concrete action on forced labor” in China, and to include criticism of Beijing in their final communique from a three-day summit in southwest England.
“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” the official said. “But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.”
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme that Xi launched in 2013, involving development and investment initiatives that would stretch from Asia to Europe and beyond.
More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure.
Critics say Xi’s plan to create a modern version of the ancient Silk Road trade route to link China with Asia, Europe and beyond is a vehicle for the expansion of Communist China. Beijing says such doubts betray the “imperial hangover” of many Western powers that humiliated China for centuries.

China’s rise
The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.
China in 1979 had an economy that was smaller than Italy’s, but after opening to foreign investment and introducing market reforms, it has become the world’s second-largest economy and is a global leader in a range of new technologies.
Leaders of the G7 — the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Japan — want to use their gathering in the seaside resort of Carbis Bay to show the world that the richest democracies can offer an alternative to China’s growing clout.
The US official said until now, the West had failed to offer a positive alternative to the “lack of transparency, poor environmental and labor standards, and coercive approach” of the Chinese government that had left many countries worse off.
“So tomorrow we’ll be announcing ‘build back better for the world,’ an ambitious new global infrastructure initiative with our G7 partners that won’t just be an alternative to the BRI,” the official said.
According to a Refinitiv database, as of mid-last year, more than 2,600 projects at a cost of $3.7 trillion were linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, although the Chinese foreign ministry said last June that about 20 percent of projects had been seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, Biden said he had suggested to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, hosting the G7 summit, that democratic countries should develop their own rival scheme.

Forced labor
In talks, Biden will also press the other leaders to make clear that they believe forced labor practices are an affront to human dignity and “an egregious example of China’s unfair economic competition.”
“We’re pushing on being specific on areas like Xinjiang where forced labor is taking place and where we have to express our values as a G7,” the official said of the final communique to be issued at the end of the summit on Sunday.
China denies all accusations of abuse in the Xinjiang region.
There were no specifics on how the global infrastructure scheme would be funded. The plan would involve raising hundreds of billions in public and private money to help close a $40 trillion infrastructure gap in needy countries by 2035, the official said.
The aim was to work with the US Congress to supplement existing development financing “with the hope that, together with G7 partners, the private sector and other stakeholders, we soon be collectively catalyzing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low and middle income countries that need it.” (Reporting by Steve Holland and Michael Holden Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Frances Kerry)


Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion
Updated 12 June 2021

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion

Germany buys Dubai data to track possible tax evasion
  • Der Spiegel Magazine first reported the purchase of a CD containing details of assets in Dubai

BERLIN: Germany has bought a trove of data that could help treasury officials track down possible tax evasion by wealthy German citizens, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said on Friday.
“The data will now be evaluated by the regional tax authorities,” Scholz said in Berlin. “Tax evasion is not a minor offense it is a crime.”
Der Spiegel Magazine first reported the purchase of a CD containing details of assets in Dubai such as tracts of land and real estate owned by German nationals.
It said an anonymous informant approached German officials and offered to pass on the data, for which the Federal Tax Office paid about 2 million euros ($2.42 million), Spiegel said.
Scholz did not confirm or deny the details reported by Spiegel about how the CD was purchased or the price.
Tax authorities in Germany’s 16 states had in the past sought information from countries like Switzerland to unearth possible tax evasion by wealthy Germans.
Scholz, who leads the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has made fair taxation a major election pledge before an election in September forecast to deal his center-left party its worst-ever result.


US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures
Updated 12 June 2021

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures

US university completes funding round led by UAE’s Global Ventures
  • Nexford is a tech-enabled online university, which focuses on making education accessible
  • The university will use the proceeds for its expansion plans in Asia, and to improve its offerings

DUBAI: Washington DC-based Nexford University has completed a $10.8 million Pre-Series A funding round, led by UAE-based venture capital (VC) firm Global Ventures.
Nexford is a tech-enabled online university, which focuses on making education accessible despite the students’ physical location.
Other participating investors included Future Africa’s education fund, as well as angel investors, family offices and other VC firms from the US, UK, France, Dubai, Switzerland, Qatar, Nigeria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
The university will use the proceeds for its expansion plans in Asia, and to improve its offerings.
“Learners want high-quality, yet affordable education relevant to today’s business environment, whilst retaining the flexibility remote learning provides,” the university CEO Fadl Al-Tarzi said.
He added: “Now, with additional funding, we can invest in the technology and teams required to address these challenges.”
Nextford recorded a 300 percent increase in revenue in 2020 with learners enrolling from over 65 countries. It has formed partnerships with tech giants Microsoft, LinkedIn and IBM.