Saudi Arabia sees surge in credit for SMEs in 2020: SAMA

Official figures showed that in the third quarter of 2020 the total amount of credit awarded to SMEs was SR176.2 billion ($46.99 billion), up from SR115 billion in Q3 2019 and SR106.7 billion in Q3 2018. )Shutterstock)
Official figures showed that in the third quarter of 2020 the total amount of credit awarded to SMEs was SR176.2 billion ($46.99 billion), up from SR115 billion in Q3 2019 and SR106.7 billion in Q3 2018. )Shutterstock)
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Updated 07 February 2021

Saudi Arabia sees surge in credit for SMEs in 2020: SAMA

Saudi Arabia sees surge in credit for SMEs in 2020: SAMA
  • Micro companies — those with less than five staff — see the biggest increase in funding

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia saw a surge in financing awarded to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in 2020 by the Kingdom’s banks and financial companies despite the constraints of the economic impact of the coronavirus, according to recent official data.

Figures released by the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) in late January showed that in the third quarter of 2020 the total amount of credit awarded to SMEs was SR 176.2 billion ($46.99 billion), up from SR115 billion in Q3 2019 and SR 106.7 billion in Q3 2018.

While the total figure rose 8.3 percent in 2019, it surged 52.4 percent in 2020.

Amount the four categories of companies monitored by SAMA, the biggest increase was for micro companies — classed as those with less then five employees — which saw an 89 percent rise in the total credit awarded to them.

The figure for small and medium companies rose by 58.9 and 48.4 percent, respectively.

BACKGROUND

Small companies are classed as those with six to 49 employees and medium-sized are those with 50 to 249 staff members.

Small companies are classed as those with six to 49 employees and medium-sized are those with 50 to 249 staff members.

The SAMA data also showed that credit from banks accounted for 93.6 percent of credit for SMEs, with the remainder coming from other financial companies.

The SAMA report said that SMEs also account for 8 percent of banks’ lending in Q3 2020, up from 5,8 percent in Q3 2018.

Commenting on the results, Wassim Basrawi, managing director for Wa’ed, the entrepreneurship arm of Saudi Aramco, told Arab News: “These new statistics confirm the growing confidence we also share at Wa’ed in the dynamic resilience that is being demonstrated by Saudi start-ups during the COVID pandemic.

Earlier this year, Wa’ed reported that it had tripled the amount of money loaned to startups in the Kingdom last year. The Dhahran-based initiative gave out 12 loans to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), up from four in 2019, with the value surging to SR31 million, up from SR10 million in 2019. In venture capital funding, Wa’ed deployed SR43 million to SMEs, up 34 percent year-on-year.

“In 2020, we also experienced rising demand for our loan, venture capital and incubation services at Wa’ed . . . The demand was there . . . We are doing this because we have full confidence and trust in our entrepreneurs and are deeply committed to supporting new ideas, solutions and products that fill critical gaps in the Kingdom’s economy and promote economic diversification.”

Basrawi also confirmed that Wa’ed is planning to double its deal volume over the next three years to meet this increasing demand for financing by SMEs. Since Wa’ed was established in 2011, it has deployed more than SR375 million startups in the Kingdom.

Last month, a new industry report also revealed that Saudi Arabia recorded a 35 percent year-on-year increase in the number of investment deals in the technology startup sector in 2020. A study by data research platform Magnitt found that the Kingdom accounted for 18 percent of the 496 investment deals across the Middle East and North Africa last year.

When it comes to the monetary value of the deals, the UAE and Egypt still dominated overall, but Saudi Arabia recorded a surge of 55 percent year-on-year to $152 million. By comparison the value of deals in the UAE rose 5 percent and Egyptian funding increased 31 percent.

Despite the SAMA figures for the surge in credit for micro companies, the Magnitt study identified a change in the allocation of capital away from early-stage ventures. Pre-seed investments — deal sizes of less than $100,000 — represented 47 percent of transactions in 2019, while in 2020 it fell to 27 percent. This revealed that last year investors were showing a preference for bigger-ticket Series A investments, or deals of between $100,000 and $3 million.


Saudi bank mortgage portfolios to expand 30 percent annually says S&P

Saudi bank mortgage portfolios to expand 30 percent annually says S&P
Updated 16 May 2021

Saudi bank mortgage portfolios to expand 30 percent annually says S&P

Saudi bank mortgage portfolios to expand 30 percent annually says S&P
  • The credit ratings agency expects mortgage portfolios in the banking sector to expand by about 30 percent annually over the next couple of years

DUBAI: Strong housing demand and the government’s commitment to meet Vision 2030 targets is expected to support Saudi credit growth over the next two years, S&P said.
The credit ratings agency expects mortgage portfolios in the banking sector to expand by about 30 percent annually over the next couple of years as total growth is expected to top 10 percent in 2021-2022.
“Our assessment of economic risk reflects our view that the Saudi Arabian economy recently started to rebound, with global economic conditions and oil markets improving and the global economy emerging from the pandemic,” S&P said in a report on Sunday. “We expect government efforts to meet Vision 2030 targets and strong demand for housing from Saudi nationals will support solid mortgage and retail loan growth.”
S&P said it expects credit costs to be elevated as the government phases out pandemic-related support packages. However the Kingdom’s central bank has consistently encouraged banks to build strong loan loss provisions, it said.
Lenders in the Kingdom also benefit from a low-cost and stable core deposit base, with limited reliance on external debt. Low cost of funds and better-than-average cost of risk have supported the banking sector’s profitability, said S&P.
“We continue to see banks’ healthy funding and liquidity profiles as a key differentiator when compared with most other banking systems in the region and globally,” it said.
Despite the jump in mortgage lending, house price growth has been muted in the Kingdom because of a strong supply pipeline and the absence of speculation.
“We expect only modest growth in prices in real terms over the next few years,” said S&P. “We also note that commercial real estate prices performed much weaker than residential ones. Changes in customer behavior and a shift toward online deliveries and more widespread remote work could put pressure on this segment of the market.”


Dubai’s Amanat profit surges on strong health unit performance

Dubai’s Amanat profit surges on strong health unit performance
Updated 16 May 2021

Dubai’s Amanat profit surges on strong health unit performance

Dubai’s Amanat profit surges on strong health unit performance
  • The Dubai-listed company saw a 449.9 percent year-on-year increase in net profit

DUBAI: Healthcare and education investment company Amanat has reported a fivefold increase in net profit to 31.5 million dirhams ($8.6 million) in the first three months of the year.
The Dubai-listed company saw a 449.9 percent year-on-year increase in net profit, as it managed to bring down its expenses by 30.7 percent.
The increase was driven by the company’s health care portfolio, with its most recent acquisition, the Cambridge Medical and Rehabilitation Center (CMRC).
The CMRC contributed up to 6.2 million dirhams to Amanat’s income from its health care investments.
“The start of 2021 we began to reap the benefits of the strategic decisions taken during 2020 and we are also taking important steps to further optimize our portfolio,” Amanat chair Hamad Alshamsi said.
Amanat’s education portfolio also delivered steady growth on the back of higher enrollments. Income from the company’s education investments in the first quarter reached up to 8.8 million dirhams — up from 2.5 million dirhams last year.
It also boosted its operational efficiency throughout the year, bringing total expenses down. Staff costs declined by 24 percent, general expenses by 42 percent, and project expenses by 78.5 percent.


Royal Caribbean cancels new cruise line from Israel over unrest

Royal Caribbean cancels new cruise line from Israel over unrest
Updated 16 May 2021

Royal Caribbean cancels new cruise line from Israel over unrest

Royal Caribbean cancels new cruise line from Israel over unrest
  • The ship will spend its inaugural season in Florida

JERUSALEM: Cruise operator Royal Caribbean is canceling a new line that had been scheduled to run from Israel to Greece and Cyprus from next month, citing regional security concerns.
The sailings out of Haifa port would have been the first for Royal Caribbean’s new ship “Odyssey of the Seas” and were intended to exploit a travel corridor being set up among the three countries for travelers vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Due to the unrest in Israel and region, Odyssey has not been able to complete the preparations required,” the company said late on Saturday in what appeared to be a reference to fighting over Gaza and tensions on Israel’s border with Lebanon.
The ship will spend its inaugural season in Florida, the statement said, adding that it “remains hopeful to return to this popular destination (Israel) with its ships in the future.”


Dubai’s Union Properties swings to profit

Dubai’s Union Properties swings to profit
Updated 16 May 2021

Dubai’s Union Properties swings to profit

Dubai’s Union Properties swings to profit
  • Dubai-listed Union Properties focused on improving key operational activities across the group

DUBAI: The developer of Motor City in Dubai has reported a 5.6 million dirhams ($1.5 million) net profit in the first quarter of 2021 – recovering from a net loss of 121.9 million dirhams in the same period last year.
Dubai-listed Union Properties focused on improving key operational activities across the group, including a significant reduction in direct and administrative costs of 6.4 percent and 14.2 percent respectively.
The group also settled a large portion of its debt, reducing finance costs by 42.1 percent year-on-year, it said in a stock exchange filing.
“We have sought out to optimize our cash flows by adopting a flexible policy to adapt to the economic changes,” board chairman Khalifa Hassan Al-Hammadi said.
He noted the UAE government’s effective management of the COVID-19 pandemic, which helped the real estate sector gradually recover from its impact.
Other UAE developers have also been seeing positive indicators during the first three months of the year, as buyers regain confidence in the country’s post-pandemic real estate market. However a glut of new homes remains to be absorbed after years of rampant construction.


Flared natural gas powers Bitcoin mining

Flared natural gas powers Bitcoin mining
Updated 16 May 2021

Flared natural gas powers Bitcoin mining

Flared natural gas powers Bitcoin mining
  • Backlash has formed against the digital assets’ energy usage
  • Ethereum and dogecoin see meteoric price spikes since pandemic

WASHINGTON: As the value of bitcoin soars and concerns rise about the energy-intensive process needed to obtain it, cryptocurrency entrepreneurs in the United States believe they have found a solution in flared natural gas.
Profitably creating, or mining, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies requires masses of computers dedicated to solving deliberately complicated equations — an endeavor that globally consumes more electricity than entire nations, but for which these start-ups say the jets of flaming gas placed next to oil wells are perfect power sources.
“I think the market is enormous,” said Sergii Gerasymovych, CEO of EZ Blockchain, which has six different data centers powered off natural gas in the US states of Utah and New Mexico, as well as in Canada.
Across the country, companies like EZ Blockchain are setting up shipping containers where racks containing hundreds of computers mine cryptocurrency, fueled by natural gas from oil wells that otherwise would be burned in the open.
Interest in their work has grown over the past year. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies like ethereum and dogecoin have seen meteoric price spikes since the Covid-19 pandemic turned the global economy on its head and mainstream companies began to embrace the technology.
But a backlash has formed against the digital assets’ energy usage, fueled by concerns it relies on carbon-emitting power sources that contribute to climate change.
This week, Tesla boss Elon Musk criticized bitcoin’s power consumption, particularly of energy produced from coal, and said he would no longer accept the cryptocurrency as payment for his electric cars.
While entrepreneurs in the fledgling industry say using natural gas that is otherwise wasted represents a solution to these concerns, its ability to actually cut emissions remains to be seen, said Tony Scott, managing director of analysis at oil and gas research firm BTU Analytics.
“In the grand scheme of things and relative to other load, yes, it’s small,” Scott said. “They are creating economic value (but) they’re not necessarily significantly changing the emissions profiles.”
Huge numbers of processors worldwide are dedicated to the task of mining bitcoin. The activity uses 149.6 terawatt-hours per year, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index (CBECI). That is slightly less than all the electricity consumed by Egypt.
As the most popular cryptocurrency, bitcoin is undoubtedly valuable, trading at around $50,000 in mid-May from less than $10,000 a year ago, giving miners incentive to find the cheapest source of power to increase their margins.
Enter flared natural gas.
Oil producers flare natural gas if they can’t find a way to process it, which, with prices low and pipelines complicated to build, can be the case worldwide.
“Miners tend to be based around areas where there tends to be surplus power. What is new... is this whole concept of taking gas flaring,” said Jason Deane, bitcoin analyst at Quantum Economics.
Flaring combusts many of the greenhouse gases in natural gas, but the International Energy Agency said the approximately 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas flared worldwide in 2019 put out about the same amount of carbon dioxide as Italy.
Using flared gas to power the application-specific integrated circuits that mine bitcoin does not end emissions entirely, but is more efficient than flaring it and puts energy that is otherwise wasted to use.
“We come in, they’re making zero for their gas, we say, hey, we’ll come in (and) take the gas off your hands, give you a little something,” said Matt Lohstroh, co-founder of Giga Energy Solutions.
“We’ll be able to reduce your emissions you’re putting out, combust it, create economic value on our end.
Natural gas’s edge is in the cost of power. CBECI estimates the average global power cost for bitcoin mining is about $0.05 per kilowatt hour. Lohstroh said natural gas power can bring the kilowatt hour cost to below $0.018.
Interest has grown in diverting flared gas to cryptocurrency mining, and not just because the digital assets are growing in value.
“There’s more scrutiny on issuing new flare permits and I think these producers are realizing that,” said Britt Swann, who is leading holding company Ecoark’s expansion into cryptocurrency mining.
“They are willing to play ball and figure out a way to use that gas without necessarily wanting any value for it.”
Where companies differ is over what to do with bitcoin and other digital assets once they get it.
Ecoark intends to convert it into dollars, but Lohstroh plans to hold the bitcoin he mines, which he believes will one day underpin a new global financial system.
“No need to sell the most valuable asset in the world that’s underpriced,” he said.