Expat remittances from Saudi Arabia rise 19% to $39.9bn in 2020

Expat remittances from Saudi Arabia rise 19% to $39.9bn in 2020
Accordingly, the expat remittances record the first annual rise since 2015. (Argaam)
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Updated 02 February 2021

Expat remittances from Saudi Arabia rise 19% to $39.9bn in 2020

Expat remittances from Saudi Arabia rise 19% to $39.9bn in 2020

Remittances from expatriates in Saudi Arabia increased by 19 percent, or SR 24.2 billion ($6.45 billion), year-on-year (YoY) to SR 149.7 billion in 2020, compared with SR 125.5 billion a year earlier, data issued by the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) showed.

Accordingly, the expat remittances record the first annual rise since 2015. In December 2020, the expat remittances rose 16 percent YoY to SR 13.4 billion.

Personal remittances of Saudis declined 16 percent YoY to SR 48.6 billion in 2020. In December 2020, Saudis’ remittances fell 3 percent to SR 4.8 billion, compared to the same period last year


Gulf Islamic insurers face tough competition, pressure on profits – S&P

Gulf Islamic insurers face tough competition, pressure on profits – S&P
Updated 28 July 2021

Gulf Islamic insurers face tough competition, pressure on profits – S&P

Gulf Islamic insurers face tough competition, pressure on profits – S&P
  • S&P expects more capital raises mergers to improve profitability

RIYADH: Islamic insurers in the GCC may see profitability wane in the second half of 2021 as they face a tough competitive environment amid weak performance in some sectors hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, according to S&P Global Ratings.

Some smaller Takaful companies will need to raise capital or merge, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where losses have persisted, S&P credit analyst Emir Mujkic wrote in a report.

“Our outlook on the sector for the next 12 months remains stable,” he said. “However, given that risks related to the pandemic persist, we could take rating actions in the event of a sharp decline in asset prices, unexpected and severe technical losses, or governance and internal control failures.”

Takaful insurers recorded modest growth of about 1.5 percent in 2020 and about 1.0 percent in first-quarter 2021 according to S&P Global Ratings calculations.

The Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) in January reiterated the need for insurance companies to look at M&A deals since the sector was a key driver of the Kingdom’s economy and a pillar of the Financial Sector Development Program, one of 12 executive programs launched by the Council of Economic and Development Affairs to achieve the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.

The sector has witnessed a number of agreements and mergers this year, including between Walaa Cooperative Insurance Co. and Metlife AIG ANB Cooperative Insurance Co., and between Al-Ahlia Insurance and Gulf Union National.

Profit in the Kingdom’s insurance sector, including conventional insurers, rose 96.1 percent in the first nine months of 2020 to SR1.32 billion, according to KPMG.

“Despite a recent material improvement in profitability in Saudi Arabia’s insurance sector, more than one third of insurers continue to report losses,” said Mujkic. “Pressure on solvency and certain regulatory incentives have led to a number of mergers in Saudi Arabia over the past year and we expect this trend to continue throughout 2021.”

A new insurance law in Kuwait that requires higher reserve requirements is due to come into force over the next year, putting pressure on small and unprofitable Takaful players in Kuwait, S&P said.

The pandemic did not only affect Islamic Insurance companies in the Kingdom, but also non-Islamic companies, and they are doing great efforts by attracting new subscriptions or new customers, to get a customer with a low risk level that will have a good profit return by the end of the year,” Faiz Alhomrani, a financial market analyst told Arab News.” Many companies and sectors have been greatly affected by the pandemic, thus it became very tough to collect mandatory premiums for these companies, which pressured insurance companies to put financial provisions for non-performing debts.”

Growth in the sector will be unevenly spread, with larger conventional insurers taking more of the gains, said Mujkic.


Saudi Arabia edges out Russia in Chinese oil market as high prices dim Urals demand

Saudi Arabia edges out Russia in Chinese oil market as high prices dim Urals demand
Updated 28 July 2021

Saudi Arabia edges out Russia in Chinese oil market as high prices dim Urals demand

Saudi Arabia edges out Russia in Chinese oil market as high prices dim Urals demand
  • Spread between Urals and Middle East benchmark is widest on record
  • India has also cut purchases of Russian oil

MOSCOW: Russia’s flagship Urals crude oil has mostly been used in Europe so far this year due to relatively low output and high prices, while Asian markets have shunned the blend, data showed on Wednesday.
As a result, Russia has lagged behind Saudi Arabia in China’s energy market, one of the world’s largest.
According to Refinitiv Eikon data, the port of Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest oil hub, received 9.7 million tons of Urals in the first half of this year, up from 7.3 million tons in the same period last year.
At the same time, supplies of seaborne Urals cargoes to China plunged to 1.8 million tons from 7.86 million in the first half of 2020.
This year, the spread between Brent — to which Urals is linked — and the Middle Eastern Dubai blend has reached an all-time high of more than $4 per barrel, making Russian oil uncompetitive in Asia.
India has also cut purchases of Urals, while South Korea and Thailand have completely stopped intake of the blend.
Some European countries, notably Finland, have also reduced purchases of seaborne Urals amid the move to greener economies.
Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania have kept inflows of Urals steady this year, while Poland and Germany have increased imports of the seaborne blend.
According to Refinitiv Eikon, the port of Gdansk in Poland imported 2.7 million tons of Urals in January-June, up from 1.7 million in the first half of 2020.
Seaborne supplies have also risen amid reduced flows via the Soviet-built Druzhba pipeline as some companies have failed to agree supply deals. For example, Poland’s Grupa Lotos has not extended a contract with Russia’s Rosneft.
The United States also increased imports of Urals to 500,000 tons in the first half of the year from 100,000 tons in the same period of 2020.
Some traders believe Russia will increase supplies of Urals as the OPEC+ group of oil producers, of which it is a member, eases production curbs.


Egyptians the biggest winners among Dubai property buyers

Egyptians the biggest winners among Dubai property buyers
Updated 28 July 2021

Egyptians the biggest winners among Dubai property buyers

Egyptians the biggest winners among Dubai property buyers
  • Dubai house prices were up 1 percent in the second quarter of 2021
  • 128 sales of homes worth over $5.45 million in the first half of 2021

DUBAI: Egyptians have been the biggest winners when it comes to buying property in Dubai over the last few years when currency fluctuations are taken into account, according to research by real estate consultancy Knight Frank.

While the overall Dubai market is 26.3 percent down from its peak, house prices were up 1 percent in the emirate during the second quarter of 2021, the report said. That’s the biggest quarterly gain since the summer of 2014, according to Reuters.

However, the value of properties over the last six years differs depending on the nationality of buyers, or the currency they paid in, with Egyptians and Pakistanis the big winners and Europeans and Jordanians the biggest losers.

“Egyptian pound purchasers for instance have seen their investments appreciate by an impressive 51.4 percent, while Pakistani rupee buyers are currently enjoying gains of over 12 percent,” Faisal Durrani, partner and head of Middle East research at Knight Frank, said in a press statement of the valuations for different currency buyers compared to 2015.

“And if we rewind further back in time to the heady days of 2007, Egyptian and Pakistani buyers would have seen their investments increase in value by a staggering 200 percent plus,” he said. “European buyers meanwhile would be looking at gains of 20.5 percent since 2007, while for British buyers, it would be nearer 68 percent. The flipside to the story is of course some of those who held off, or were unable to step onto the property ladder, relative prices are much more attractive today than they were in 2015.”

Knight Frank’s research found that for euro buyers a home in Dubai is now 32.3 percent cheaper than in 2015, followed by British sterling (19 percent cheaper) and Indian rupee buyers (14 percent cheaper).

Earlier this week, the UAE press was awash with reports of a $30 million sale of a villa on Palm Jumeirah, the most expensive ever sold on the manmade island. Moreover, research by Knight Frank showed there has been an increase in sales of high-end luxury homes in Dubai.

The data showed there were 128 sales of homes worth over 20 million dirhams ($5.45 million) in the first half of 2021, the highest level since 2015 when 137 deals were recorded and compared with just 75 last year and 71 in 2019.

“Rather than subdue super prime sales activity, the pandemic has accelerated it,” Durrani said. “Families are looking for larger homes, with more outdoor space and even room for a home office as many are hedging their bets on greater remote working going forward, echoing what we have been seeing elsewhere in the world. And what’s more, they are willing to spend more for the privilege.”


Gazprom to pay $412m in advance to use Saudi-built Bulgarian pipeline

Gazprom to pay $412m in advance to use Saudi-built Bulgarian pipeline
Updated 28 July 2021

Gazprom to pay $412m in advance to use Saudi-built Bulgarian pipeline

Gazprom to pay $412m in advance to use Saudi-built Bulgarian pipeline
  • Bulgartransgaz to use $278 million of proceeds to make advance payments to Saudi-led group Arkad

SOFIA: Russia’s state gas company Gazprom has agreed to pay 349 million euros ($412 million) in advance for capacity on the Bulgarian extension of the TurkStream gas pipeline, Bulgarian state network operator Bulgartransgaz said on Tuesday.
Bulgartransgaz said it would use 461 million levs ($278 million) of the proceeds to make advance payments to Saudi-led group Arkad, which built the pipeline for 1.1 billion euros.
Gazprom’s export unit Gazprom Export has agreed to pay upfront for booked capacity from July 1, 2021 until June 30, 2023, Bulgartransgaz said in a statement.
Bulgaria’s 474 km gas pipeline, which transports Russian gas from its southern border with Turkey to its western border with Serbia — providing a link to the Russia-backed TurkStream twin pipeline to Serbia and Hungary, became operational in January.
The Bulgarian gas network operator will also use the money to cover 65 million euros in loans to commercial banks.
Bulgaria meets most of its gas needs with supplies from Gazprom.


Changan sees boom in demand as Saudis fall in love with Chinese car brands

Changan sees boom in demand as Saudis fall in love with Chinese car brands
Updated 28 July 2021

Changan sees boom in demand as Saudis fall in love with Chinese car brands

Changan sees boom in demand as Saudis fall in love with Chinese car brands
  • ‘Prices and technology are among the factors behind rise in popularity’

DUBAI, RIYADH, JEDDAH: A decade ago, if you would have asked a Saudi whether he would consider buying a Chinese car, the answer most likely would have been no, but this has now changed.

Saudi Arabia is emerging as one of the most attractive markets overseas for Chinese car brands as they grab the attention of dealers and drivers in the Kingdom.

Car sales in China, the world’s biggest market, were down 3 percent year-on-year to 2.13 million in May, ending a streak of 13 months of growth, mainly due to a global chip shortage and increased raw material prices. Last year, despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-10) pandemic, the data showed that sales continued to surge, and at the end of 2020, Changan’s share of the market had risen to 4.3 percent, moving it two places up in the annual car brand rankings to eighth most popular.

Mohammed Ramady, an independent economist and former professor of finance and economics at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, believes Chinese cars are proving popular because they appeal to medium- and lower-income families. He said the data showed that last year, around one in 10 Chinese cars were shipped to Saudi Arabia. A clear example of the growing popularity of Chinese cars in the Kingdom is the experience of the Changan brand. According to sales data compiled by Bestsellingcarsblog.com, the carmaker, which is owned by the Chinese state, captured 2.3 percent of the Saudi market in 2019, making it the 10th most popular car brand in the Kingdom just a few years after it was introduced to Saudi drivers.

Similarly, data from Google showed that searches for the term Changan increased nearly 50 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2021, peaking in January when the brand opened its service center in Riyadh. 

Dammam-based Wafi Al-Ghanim, marketing communication manager at Almajdouie Changan, the official distributor of the brand in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News there are three reasons the brand has quickly proved so successful: “Prices, quality, and warranty periods.”

“When you think about quality and specifications compared to the price in the car sector, you will definitely find that Chinese cars are far ahead of their counterparts in general, Japanese and Korean cars in particular,” Al-Ghanim said.

Looking to the future, he believes that Chinese cars across the board will continue to see strong growth and by 2022 will have captured 15 percent of the Saudi market, which “in a huge regional market is very good.”

One of the ways to boost sales is physical visibility. In January, Almajdouie built a 2,640-square-meter service center in Riyadh.

“We have had to raise the level of our services to match the high level of Changan cars, as well as to enhance the growing demand for Changan cars in the local market,” Yousef bin Ali Almajdouie, president of Almajdouie Group, said in a press statement at the time.

A report by the China Daily newspaper estimated that around 55,000 Changan cars have been sold in Saudi Arabia up to May this year, but it is not the only Chinese brand that has captured the attention of drivers in the Kingdom.

FASTFACTS

• Last year, despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-10) pandemic, the data showed that sales continued to surge, and at the end of 2020, Changan’s share of the market had risen to 4.3 percent, moving it two places up in the annual car brand rankings to eighth most popular.

• According to data, the carmaker, which is owned by the Chinese state, captured 2.3 percent of the Saudi market in 2019, making it the 10th most popular car brand in the Kingdom just a few years after it was introduced to Saudi drivers.

• An example of the growing popularity of Chinese cars in the Kingdom is the experience of the Changan brand.

Hongqi, one of China’s oldest luxury car brands, this month opened its first sales center in Riyadh, with plans to expand the network to Jeddah and Dammam.

“The market in the Middle East is key for Hongqi. And the Saudi market is crucial in the region,” Ma Zhenduo, general manager of Hongqi’s Middle East division, told Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency. “The sales have exceeded all our expectations across all the models,” said Mohammed Abduljawad, chairman of Universal Motors Agencies, Hongqi’s local partner in Saudi Arabia.

Hatem Khattab, the first marketing manager for FAW Bestune in Saudi Arabia, which sells the Chinese brands FAW, Bestune and Hongqi, told Arab News that the secret to the success of Chinese brands was the combination of price and technology.

“The manufacturers are very good at incorporating the latest technology in their cars. These are economic cars with state-of-the-art technology,” Khattab said. “The reason behind their popularity is their features, and now that they are seen more commonly on the streets, it has had a domino effect. Seeing the cars makes people think they are more reliable. They are affordable as well; we recently had a customer who bought 10 cars just for his family,” he added.

In addition to increased visibility on the roads, Khattab pointed out that Chinese brands also offer more options in terms of the range of models on offer.

“The competition in the automotive market here is huge, and I feel like the Chinese brands stepped up their game to meet the requirement of this cut-throat market. Currently, in Saudi Arabia, we have almost 20-25 Chinese brands as compared to brands of other countries that offer up to 10,” he said. Ramady said engine size was another big catalyst. Western, American, Japanese and South Korean models in the 2,500 to 3,000 cc engine sector still dominate the market, Chinese brands have positioned themselves in the 1,000 to 2,000 cc engine range, which is a growing segment in Saudi Arabia. He believes these models appeal “to a low to middle-income Saudi consumer market, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and economic uncertainties, as well as a new niche market for Saudi female drivers owning their first cars.”

The statistics also back this up, according to Motory.com, one of the largest specialized car websites in Saudi Arabia. “Over the last few years, we have seen Chinese cars become increasingly popular with consumers, especially in Saudi Arabia. Online searches for Chinese cars on our Motory.com website have increased by around 400 percent between 2018 and 2020,” a spokesperson told Arab News.

Chinese carmakers saw exports increase by 103 percent year-on-year in the first five months of this year, according to a report by the South China Morning Post, citing data from the China Passenger Car Association. The way trends are going, many will find their way into Saudi garages and carparks, as the Kingdom continues to be a dominant source market. Fahad Al-Arjani, a member of the Saudi Chinese Business Council, echoed the view that technology was at the key factor, as Chinese brands have been “injecting investments in clean energy cars supported by the smartest technologies.” He pointed to the partnership between technology giant Huawei and the state-owned Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co., Ltd. (BAIC) as an example.

“In addition to developing a highly efficient battery system, as well as emerging technologies, Huawei and BAIC’s first car will offer level three autonomous driving and will include 5G connectivity, which isn’t necessarily surprising given the Chinese company is a leader when it comes to the rollout of this new standard, which will make Chinese cars highly likely to lead the future of this sector for ages,” he told Arab News.