What is in store for equities, fixed income and commodities in 2021?

Global equity markets ended 2020 on a bang fueled by the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, a last-minute signing of the $900 billion coronavirus relief and spending bill by US President Donald Trump and the successful conclusion of the Brexit deal. (AFP/File Photo)
Global equity markets ended 2020 on a bang fueled by the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, a last-minute signing of the $900 billion coronavirus relief and spending bill by US President Donald Trump and the successful conclusion of the Brexit deal. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 01 January 2021

What is in store for equities, fixed income and commodities in 2021?

What is in store for equities, fixed income and commodities in 2021?
  • As the economy recovers and cross-border travel resumes, there will be upward pressure on the oil price

DUBAI: Global equity markets ended 2020 on a bang fueled by the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, a last-minute signing of the $900 billion coronavirus relief and spending bill by US President Donald Trump and the successful conclusion of the Brexit deal. All three major US stock markets broke records, the Nikkei 225 reached the highest levels in 30 years and copper reached heights not seen since 1994.

This was a nice setup for 2021. So, what lies in store for equities, bonds and commodities? As vaccines are rolled out, the global economy is set for a recovery. The IMF predicts global gross domestic product to grow by 5.2 percent, while advanced economies and emerging economies will advance by 3.9 percent and 6 percent, respectively, according to the fund’s October 2020 forecasts.

However, we are far from out of the woods: IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath warned that the road toward recovery would be long and uneven. She is joined in this sentiment by most central bank governors, all of whom stress that the first few months of 2021 will remain challenging.

The 2008-09 global financial crisis marked the heyday of central bankers whose quantitative easing programs averted a collapse of the global financial system. In 2020, it became obvious early on that central banks could not do the heavy lifting alone and that fiscal stimulus was needed. It came in the form of trillions of dollars of fiscal programs across the globe.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde and their cohorts never tire of impressing on their respective governments the need to continue fiscal stimulus well into 2021.

Base rates are at all-time lows between 0.25 percent and zero in the US and well below zero percent in the euro zone and Japan. They are expected to remain low for the foreseeable future. In the US, they will not be raised until the end of 2023 or until inflation is consistently above 2 percent and unemployment at pre-pandemic levels. (The latter nearly doubled from 3.5 percent in February to 6.7 percent in November.)

Interest rates and inflation have ramifications on investment strategies. Low interest rates dampen fixed income returns, which, according to the Bloomberg Barclays global bond index, have been compressed to 0.84 percent for nine-year maturities compared with the means of 2.79 percent over the past decade.

This explains a drive toward equities. Blue-chip stocks with solid returns have for some time taken the erstwhile place of bonds in investment portfolios. As work, play, consumption and life in general moved online due to the pandemic, 2020 saw investors piling into technology growth stocks. The S&P 500 was driven by the FANNGs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google.) During the last quarter we have seen a mild rotation out of growth stocks to value stocks and cyclicals, which may continue at pace as economies loosen up from pandemic lockdowns and borders reopen.

Airlines and hospitality will take time to recover, but will resume their activities in 2021 albeit from a very low base. A lot will depend on how effective vaccines are at keeping the virus in check and allowing international travel to resume in a meaningful way.

While the pandemic has accelerated the dominance of the tech sector, toward the year-end governments in the US, Europe and China have become increasingly concerned about inordinate market power of Big Tech — a trend that is set to continue. In 2020, it culminated in the Chinese government accusing Alibaba of monopolistic behavior and blocking the IPO of Ant Group, which is now reported to be restructuring in order to avoid being forced to break up.

The incoming Biden administration’s trade policy is likely to be more predictable than that of the Trump government. However, we should expect skepticism toward China to prevail. At the same time global investment flows into China are set to rise as the country is giving foreign investors greater access to its capital markets.

Inflation has been much written about. While it is not on the agenda during the first few months in 2021, when liquidity is starting to chase post-pandemic constrained supply in goods and services, things may change down the road.

In that context we should watch commodities: As the economy recovers, demand for oil will grow. In its December update, the International Energy Agency sees oil demand in 2021 3.1 million barrels per day (bpd) below 2019 levels. The overall dent in oil demand for 2020 is expected to come in at 8.8 million bpd. The oil price has recovered remarkably during the year, surpassing the $50 per barrel level for Brent and WTI flirting with the $50 mark.

This is a far cry from the minus $40.30 for WTI in April and could only be achieved because OPEC+ (an alliance of OPEC and 10 friendly nations) managed supply, starting with production cuts of 9.7 million bpd in April, which have been lowered to 7.2 million bpd as of January 2021. The OPEC+ decision to meet on a monthly basis — to add or take off barrels as and when required — will help avoid inordinate price volatility. Recent statements by Saudi Arabia and Russia emphasized a strong commitment by OPEC+ to continue its efforts to balance oil markets.

As the economy recovers and cross-border travel resumes, there will be upward pressure on the oil price. Some analysts see oil as the reflation trade of 2021. It will probably take time until we see price levels comparable to those at the end of 2019. However, higher price levels and less volatility will be important for oil exporters, especially in the GCC. In 2021, we will still see budget deficits, but these will be smaller compared with 2020.

Other commodities, such as copper, nickel, silver and cobalt, will also be in high demand and see rising price levels. This is driven by a recovering global economy and a renewed push toward energy transition. The Biden administration will have the US rejoin the Paris agreement on climate change and has announced that it intends to spend $1.7 trillion on clean energy technologies over the next 10 years. The moral weight and leadership by the US should not be underestimated.

There is growing consensus behind the importance of combating climate change and, with it, the need to accelerate energy transition. The EU aspires to become the first climate neutral continent. South Korea and Japan have announced their intention to achieve net zero by 2050 and China by 2060. These aspirations, as well as an increasing reluctance of financial institutions to finance carbon-based sources of energy, will effect the standing of Big Oil, and influence attitudes toward petroleum-exporting nations such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

This brings us to the last trend to watch in 2021. Environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) has become the hot investment proposition. We can expect this trend to continue on an accelerated basis, especially as the Biden administration takes office.

Deloitte expects ESG investment to grow by 300 percent between 2020 and 2025 in the US. It predicts the share of ESG investment of professionally managed money in the US will reach 50 percent by 2025, making ESG one of the most important asset classes.


Global chip shortage offers silver lining to KSA’s local industry

Global chip shortage offers silver lining to KSA’s local industry
Updated 01 March 2021

Global chip shortage offers silver lining to KSA’s local industry

Global chip shortage offers silver lining to KSA’s local industry
  • The shortage has pushed chip stocks to record highs, and analysts expect that chips will continue to be in short supply at least through the end of 2021

RIYADH: A global semiconductor chip shortage as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has increased the need for the Kingdom to boost its local production so it is less dependent on foreign manufacturers, a Kingdom-based IT expert said.

The shortage has pushed chip stocks to record highs, and analysts expect that chips will continue to be in short supply at least through the end of 2021.

Maribel Lopez, principal analyst at San Francisco-based Lopez Research, told MarketWatch the chip industry is facing “a perfect storm” of demand and supply issues that is unlikely to resolve soon.

“Unless we have a major economic meltdown, which is obviously possible, one of the things that’s happening right now is that almost anything you buy is going to have a chip in it,” Lopez said.

Reuters reported that chip prices could increase by up to 6 percent this year, but the delay has also seen production cut short. Carmaker Ford said it could see production cut by 20 percent as a result of the shortage of supply. Last week, US President Joe Biden announced $37 billion in funding to address the situation.

“The importance of semiconductors cannot be ignored due to their massive need in the Internet of Things, computers, smartphones, and consumer electronics devices. However, the global semiconductor scarcity and its unprecedented demand amid the pandemic have aggravated the situation for a wide array of industries. It has forced automotive, defense, industrial and other manufacturers to cut production and even shut down assembly lines,” Dr. Muhammad Khurram Khan, professor of cybersecurity at King Saud University and founder and CEO of the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research in Washington, told Arab News.

He added: “If the current situation persists for the next few months, there are higher chances that the Kingdom may also observe a price hike for electronic items. So, it is better for local importers, businesses, and consumers to plan accordingly.”

The professor said that the current global supply shortage could be the catalyst for Saudi Arabia to invest more in this sector and develop its local capabilities.

“This would reduce dependence on imports, meet the local manufacturing demands, boost the economy, and create job opportunities in the Kingdom as per Saudi Vision 2030,” he added.


Saudi Arabia to allow Boeing 737 MAX to return to service

Saudi Arabia to allow Boeing 737 MAX to return to service
Updated 28 February 2021

Saudi Arabia to allow Boeing 737 MAX to return to service

Saudi Arabia to allow Boeing 737 MAX to return to service
  • Boeing 737 MAX aircraft was grounded globally in March 2019
  • National carriers do not operate the Max model

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority announced on Sunday that the Boeing 737 MAX plane would be allowed to return to service in the Kingdom.
The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) said the decision came after completing a review, taking the necessary measures, and completing all required tests by the US Federal Aviation Administration, the European Aviation Safety Agency and other civil aviation authorities around the world.
Boeing’s top-selling MAX was grounded globally in March 2019 after two fatal crashes involving the same model in five months.
The authority said that national carriers do not operate the Max model, but several foreign airlines operate flights to and from Saudi airports, and several flights cross their airspace with the same model.
GACA said the temporary suspension was lifted after “close coordination with the international civil aviation community, regarding changes, licensing and training, to ensure the highest level of safety.”
The civil authority also published a navigational notice permitting the MAX model to return to service. 
(With Reuters)


KPMG: 98% of Saudi CEOs set to invest in cloud technology in 2021  

KPMG: 98% of Saudi CEOs set to invest in cloud technology in 2021  
Updated 28 February 2021

KPMG: 98% of Saudi CEOs set to invest in cloud technology in 2021  

KPMG: 98% of Saudi CEOs set to invest in cloud technology in 2021  
  • Artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and 5G also set for more investment, according to survey
  • 88% of Saudi-based CEOs see technological transformation as an opportunity rather than a threat

JEDDAH: Senior company executives in Saudi Arabia are embracing the digital revolution, with 98 percent planning to raise their investments in cloud computing this year, according to a new survey.
Cloud computing is at the top of the technology agendas for CEOs in the Kingdom, with investments in artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and 5G also popular, according to the global consultancy firm KPMG’s 2020 CEO Outlook survey.
While technological advances can bring security challenges, 88 percent of Saudi-based CEOs see technological transformation as an opportunity rather than a threat.
“The pace of technological adoption has quickened this year as organizations react to the new working reality. Most of the CEOs believe the pandemic has accelerated the creation of a seamless digital customer experience and [that the] creation of new digital revenue streams has advanced during the pandemic,” said Mazhar Hussain, chief disruption officer at KPMG in Saudi Arabia.
“Nonetheless, the pandemic has seen an uptick of cyberattacks, which has increased awareness and investment into cybersecurity. The number of vulnerabilities in most organizations’ operations has increased with remote work. Hence, companies must resist the urge to direct budget cuts toward preventative cyber measures and [view] the sharp increase in global cybercrime as a reason to keep advancing their cyber defenses,” he added.
At the same time, the pandemic has shaken CEO confidence in global economic growth, according to the KPMG survey. Almost 32 percent said they are less confident about global growth prospects in the next three years than they were at the beginning of the year.
While cloud computing investment is a priority, a survey in January by German business software company SAP found that while more than four-fifths (89 percent) of Saudi senior public sector executives agreed that data sharing helped them to improve on how they connected with citizens, many had not invested in training to implement this.
SAP found that while 83 percent of respondents said data sharing improved their innovation in current goods or services, only 22 percent did this with partners. And when it came to training, only 33 percent of respondents had retrained employees on how best to analyze data. This skills shortage was cited by 61 percent of respondents as being a barrier to meeting strategic change initiatives.


Saudi fast-food chain Herfy expands in Bangladesh

Saudi fast-food chain Herfy expands in Bangladesh
Updated 28 February 2021

Saudi fast-food chain Herfy expands in Bangladesh

Saudi fast-food chain Herfy expands in Bangladesh
  • Herfy inaugurated its first branch outside the Middle East under a franchise system in Bangladesh in December 2017
  • Herfy Food Services Company was established in 1981, and the first Herfy restaurant opened in Riyadh that same year

JEDDAH: Herfy Food Services Company, Saudi Arabia’s largest fast-food chain, has opened its fifth restaurant in Bangladesh, following the success of previous branches in the capital city.
The financial impact from the opening will reflect in the first quarter of 2021, the company said in a Tadawul statement.
Herfy inaugurated its first branch outside the Middle East under a franchise system in Bangladesh in December 2017. 
According to an agreement signed with Bangladeshi private-sector company Greenland Services Ltd. in 2016, Herfy aims to open 30 outlets within “a few years.”
In 2020, Herfy reported an estimated annual net profit after zakat and tax of SR 53.6 million ($14.29 million), a drop of 73 percent year-on-year, as revenue for the year fell 16.6 percent to SR 1.074 billion.
Herfy was hit by the closure of its restaurants in malls and shopping centers. Moreover, working hours at stores had been reduced while administrative and general expenses had increased.
At its Bangladesh branches, Herfy offers training for employees and provides its franchisees with its own products, including meat, chicken and sauces — all made in its Saudi-based factories.
Herfy Food Services Company was established in 1981, and the first Herfy restaurant opened in Riyadh that same year. As of September 2020, the company owns a total of 40 restaurants and leases 345.


Huge surge in GCC demand for Ivy League university coaches

Huge surge in GCC demand for Ivy League university coaches
Updated 28 February 2021

Huge surge in GCC demand for Ivy League university coaches

Huge surge in GCC demand for Ivy League university coaches
  • Companies like Crimson Education coach students on how to improve their chances of being one of the few who receive an offer letter
  • Demand can differ from country to country, with those in the UAE preferring British institutions

DUBAI: Getting into a prestigious Ivy League university is no easy task. 
According to the latest figures, California’s Stanford University was especially picky, with a 2019 acceptance rate of just 4 percent. Columbia and Harvard followed with 5 percent, while Princeton and Yale were slightly easier with 6 percent of applicants getting offers.
The race to get these coveted places is also getting harder as the number of applicants has gone up and universities have become even stricter. Dubai-based Crimson Education has reported a surge in clients looking for help to gain access to institutions in the US, as well as into Oxford and Cambridge.
“The number of students who joined Crimson Education in the region over the past six months was 200 percent up from the same period the previous year,” Soraya Behesti, regional director for the Middle East and Africa at Crimson Education, told Arab News. “The company had a big push to hire new strategists in order to meet the surging demand. Crimson grew 250 percent from 2019 to 2020 and is projected to grow more than 150 percent this year.” 
The demand makes sense. 
A 2015 report from the US Department of Education found that the average salary of Ivy League graduates a decade after they finished university was $70,000 a year, compared to the average salary for non-Ivy League graduates of $34,000.
Companies like Crimson Education coach students on how to improve their chances of being one of the few who receive an offer letter, and Behesti said the acceptance rate among their clients was three times the global average.
There are also a number of trends which has seen demand for such services skyrocket in recent years.
“The number of students who applied early to Ivy League colleges skyrocketed in 2020, although the acceptance rate reached record lows,” Behesti added. “Applications to Columbia and Harvard’s early rounds increased from the previous year by 49 percent and 57 percent, respectively. Applying early to their top-choice university usually gives students an advantage but last year, the early round acceptance rate was closer to that of the regular round, with Harvard admitting just 7.4 percent of early applicants, from 13.9 percent in the previous year.”
Students have started enrolling for help earlier because of the increased competition, and Behesti said Crimson had seen a rise in demand from clients as young as nine.
“When we work with students from a young age, our sessions and objectives are not focused on universities per se, but building really strong foundations, developing a growth mindset, cultivating good study habits, learning entrepreneurial thinking and even developing core skills such as coding, debate or languages.”
Demand can differ from country to country, with those in the UAE preferring British institutions, while Saudi students show a preference for US ones, especially Columbia, Harvard and Yale. 
Having the right aptitude is good, but money also really counts. Crimson said that studying at an Ivy League university cost between $30,000 and $45,000 per year, although between 40 and 60 percent of students received some form of financial aid.
“For GCC students, governments offer attractive scholarships — but usually only for students who gain admission to the top 100 universities. We have worked with Emirati and Saudi students of all abilities, from A-grade academics to students struggling at school, to ensure their admission to the top 100 schools through academic tutoring, admissions support and extra-curricular coaching, thereby allowing them to receive government scholarships,” Behesti said.