Saudi exports rebound as plastics lift trade from pandemic lows

Saudi exports rebound as plastics lift trade from pandemic lows
A SABIC technician at work. The plastics sector helped lift Saudi exports in January. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 March 2021

Saudi exports rebound as plastics lift trade from pandemic lows

Saudi exports rebound as plastics lift trade from pandemic lows
  • Plastics and petrochemicals lead exports
  • Global trade rebounds as consumers spend

DUBAI: Non-oil exports from Saudi Arabia rose 15.6 percent year-on-year in January to SR18.9 billion ($5.04 billion) as sales of plastics and chemicals surged.
Total exports slid 13.4 percent to SR71.9 billion as the value of oil exports dropped 20.5 percent to SR13.7 billion, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics said in a data release. Brent crude started January 2021 at $52.80 a barrel, down from $68.16 a year earlier.
Plastics exports increased 24.5 percent to SR6.1 billion, while sales of chemicals rose 3.3 percent to SR5.2 billion.

A flurry of recent data has suggested that global trade is rebounding more quickly than anticipated as the rollout of vaccines encourages people to spend, especially in the world's biggest economies.
The Kingdom’s trade surplus narrowed to SR24 billion in January from SR43.3 billion a year earlier as imports jumped 20.7 percent to SR47.9 billion, led by a 525 percent increase in arms and ammunition to SR4.9 billion and a SR17.9 percent gain in base metals to SR4 billion. The biggest category of imports, machinery and mechanical appliances, increased 4 percent to SR9.3 billion.
China was Saudi Arabia’s biggest destination for exports, including oil, in January with SR14 billion of goods, followed by India with SR7.8 billion and Japan with SR7.6 billion. South Korea, the UAE, US, Egypt, Bahrain, Singapore and Belgium round out the top 10 destinations, which collectively account for SR50.2 billion, or 69.8 percent, of exports.
Saudi Arabia imported SR9.6 billion of goods from China in January, the biggest source of imports for the Kingdom followed by the US and UAE with SR8 billion and SR3.7 billion respectively.

Oman adjusts electricity tariffs to ease burden on citizens

Oman adjusts electricity tariffs to ease burden on citizens
Updated 12 min 44 sec ago

Oman adjusts electricity tariffs to ease burden on citizens

Oman adjusts electricity tariffs to ease burden on citizens
  • Oman has been pushing through reforms to ease pressure on public finances

DUBAI: Oman has adjusted its electricity tariffs structure to offer consumers on lower rates more supply, a government official said on Monday, following consumer complaints about steep summer bills.
Household energy costs are sensitive in a country that recently saw protests over unemployment.
The government also wants to keep the public onside as the Gulf state’s ruling sultan, who assumed power last year, continues to push through reforms to ease pressure on public finances in the debt-burdened state. They include a value-added tax, introduced in April, and overhauling an expensive subsidies system.
A Public Services Regulation Authority official told a news briefing that after receiving over 5,000 complaints, authorities had decided to expand consumption categories for households in a move that would be applied retroactively to cover May and June.
Under the adjustment, consumers paying a tariff of 12 baisas ($0.03) per kilowatt/hour (kw/h) will now be able to get up to 4,000 kw/h of electricity, up from a previous cap of 2,000 kw/h.
Consumers paying a tariff of 16 baisas per kw/h will now be able to get up to 6,000 kw/h, against up to 4,000 kw/h previously.
“Most citizens fall under these two segments,” Authority head Mansoor Al-Hinai told reporters.
He said the body has instructed licensed firms to restore services cut off due to late bill payments during the summer.
Protests in May by hundreds of Omanis seeking employment had subsided after Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al-Said, facing his biggest challenge yet, ordered acceleration of government plans to create thousands of jobs and amid a security crackdown.

Cryptocurrency promise for UAE’s unbanked migrants — but not yet

Cryptocurrency promise for UAE’s unbanked migrants — but not yet
Updated 31 min 1 sec ago

Cryptocurrency promise for UAE’s unbanked migrants — but not yet

Cryptocurrency promise for UAE’s unbanked migrants — but not yet
  • Migrants face high fees, long wait times to send money
  • Regulations on crypto assets still needed, experts say

DUBAI: Every month, 24-year-old parking attendant Ramesh Giri waits outside a money transfer office in Dubai to send $600 in cash to support his parents and two brothers in Nepal.
He dreads the routine, which costs him up to $7 each time and is keeping him from saving enough to fulfil his aspiration of becoming a restaurateur – but that could all change in the weeks ahead.
Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is moving closer to opening licensed cryptocurrency exchanges, a step that could boost financial inclusion for the millions of expatriates who make up most of the region’s workforce.
Using online wallets, migrants could one day be able to send remittances home with smaller fees — or none at all — and within minutes, skipping the long waits in the Gulf’s heat and humidity.
“It’s free,” said Giri, who has been learning about cryptocurrencies and, along with the speed and savings, sees the added potential of letting him keep track of his finances more easily on his smartphone.
“I hope it can help me see what’s happening with my money and be able to save — because I can’t right now,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

According to the World Bank, about 1.7 billion adults around the world did not have bank accounts as of 2017 – more than a quarter of them in India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Many of those countries are among the top senders of migrant workers to the Gulf, where they work in construction, the hospitality industry or domestic work to send money back home to their families.
Government data show that out of the UAE’s population of more than 9 million, nearly 80 percent are expats.
Last year, the region sent $43 billion in remittances, making it the world’s second-highest sender after the United States, according to the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD).
The global think tank said the remittance industry makes up about 12 percent of the Emirates’ gross domestic product.
The UAE’s path toward digitising the industry began last year, when its Securities and Commodities Authority stipulated that anyone offering crypto assets in the Emirates must be formally licensed and comply with a range of anti-money laundering, cybersecurity and data protection laws.
So far, six companies have qualified under the regulations to create crypto exchanges, with two reaching the first stages of going live.
One of those, MidChains, is a crypto asset trading platform based in Abu Dhabi and is preparing to launch for trading.
Technically, the platform will be open to everyone. “There is no earnings threshold,” said MidChains co-founder and chief executive officer Basil Al Askari.
But he acknowledged that the documentation clients need to provide to meet regulations, including proof of residence, income and secure assets, means migrant workers will likely be shut out.
Askari said he hoped remittances will one day be a regular feature of the UAE’s cryptocurrency services.
“If you’re talking about finance and banking for the unbanked ... that’s where we want the technology to lead,” he said.
For now, though, access to cryptocurrency in the region will mainly be limited to trading firms, hedge fund investors and high-net-worth individuals. “It doesn’t really help (migrant workers) because they might not be able to go through the compliance requirements in order to open accounts,” Askari said.

Before cryptocurrency takes hold in the UAE, authorities need to boost awareness among users on how to safeguard their digital assets, said George Kuruvila, a partner at Fotis International Law Firm.
So far this year, Dubai residents have lost nearly $22 million in cryptocurrency scams, according to figures from the Dubai Police.
Kuruvila, whose firm advises clients in Dubai on financial technology regulations, says younger generations will be the first to learn how to trust cryptocurrencies and use them more securely.
“That same change is going to happen with migrant workers, but it’s not going to happen as fast,” he said, describing the demographic as more cautious with their money.
“It will happen in the next five to 10 years,” he added.
Part of that is due to one risk the UAE cannot mitigate, he said — the volatility of digital currencies.
Bitcoin, for example, had one of its most volatile months in May 2021, first increasing steadily before losing 35 percent of its value.
“Let’s say somebody puts all of their savings into bitcoin today. No one can guarantee that it won’t crash tomorrow. There is no regulator for that,” said Kuruvila.
Such highs and lows could be disastrous for anyone sending small amounts in remittances.
“When it comes to migrant workers, it’s their everyday bread and butter,” he said.
That volatility has already put off Emma Ogode, a Kenyan working in the hospitality industry in Dubai.
“I see it as betting money — you have to put in a certain amount. Then maybe you win, (but) if you don’t, you will have to put in more. Then, all your finances will go away,” said Ogode, 32.
She said she spends about a day every month calling different remittance offices to find the best exchange rates and transfer fees, before inevitably waiting in a long line to send money home.
But for her, cryptocurrency is not the answer.
“I don’t trust it,” she said.

Qatar sovereign fund discloses 4.69% stake in Gates-backed battery startup Quantumscape

Qatar sovereign fund discloses 4.69% stake in Gates-backed battery startup Quantumscape
Updated 03 August 2021

Qatar sovereign fund discloses 4.69% stake in Gates-backed battery startup Quantumscape

Qatar sovereign fund discloses 4.69% stake in Gates-backed battery startup Quantumscape
  • Size of stake down from 6.5% in November after shares diluted
  • Quantumscape backed by Bill Gates and Volkswagen

DUBAI: Sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) holds a 4.69 percent stake in Quantumscape Corp, which is developing batteries for electric cars, a Securities and Exchange Commission filing by the company showed.
QIA was an early investor in the company before its IPO and had a stake of 6.5 percent as of November last year, based on a previous filing.
However the new filing does not show any change in the number of shares it owns, but a dilution in its stake due to an increase in the number of shares outstanding. QIA’s stake in Quantumscape is worth around $446 million at the company’s current market value of $9.5 billion, according to Refinitiv Eikon data on Monday.
Quantumscape was listed last year after a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC).
Shares of Quantumscape are down over 70 percent year-to-date. It closed up 0.7 percent at $23.08 on Monday.
Volkswagen AG is the company’s biggest shareholder with a 26 percent stake.
San Jose-based Quantumscape is a 2010 spin-out from Stanford University whose early investors included Bill Gates-backed venture funds. It formed a joint venture with VW to produce solid-state battery cells, starting in 2024, for VW’s electric vehicles, and eventually for other carmakers.
Gulf sovereign funds have stepped up investments in electric cars, new technologies and renewables, as they diversify their investments away from fossil fuel.
The Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of neighboring Saudi Arabia, recently made huge gains through the listing of Lucid Group after it initially invested in the company in 2018. PIF owns 62.7 percent of Lucid.

Emirati-Swiss consortium creates MENA remittance giant with Bahrain acquisition

Emirati-Swiss consortium creates MENA remittance giant with Bahrain acquisition
Updated 03 August 2021

Emirati-Swiss consortium creates MENA remittance giant with Bahrain acquisition

Emirati-Swiss consortium creates MENA remittance giant with Bahrain acquisition
  • Prism Group and Royal Strategic Partners to acquire BFC Group Holding
  • BFC to be merged with Finablr and rebranded WizzFinancial

DUBAI: An Emirati-Swiss consortium is acquiring Bahrain’s BFC Group Holding, which owns the Gulf country’s largest money transfer and exchange company.

Switzerland’s Prism Group AG and Abu Dhabi’s Royal Strategic Partners have signed a deal to acquire BFC and its subsidiaries – BFC Bahrain, BEC Exchange (Kuwait), BFC Payments and BFC Forex and Financial Services (India).

BFC will be merged with WizzFinancial, formerly Finablr, the Abu Dhabi-based payments company acquired by the same consortium in December.

The deal creates one of the largest remittance and currency exchange groups in the Middle East and North Africa region, home to millions of migrants who regularly sending money home and vice versa.

“The acquisition creates a regional powerhouse with licenses to operate in over 30 countries,” the consortium said in a press statement.

The move comes amid a period of intense change for the financial sector as it adopts new technologies to create better user experiences.

“Everybody in the financial services arena is embarking on a digital transformation of some kind,” Anthony Wagerman, an adviser at Prism Group told Arab News. “It’s not really a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, and it’s a matter of how long that takes and ensuring your customers are with you.”

While a large part of the remittance market continues to rely on “tried and tested methodology,” the traditional money-sending sector has been disrupted by COVID-19, which “undoubtedly acted as a form of catalyst or accelerator for this digital journey,” he said.

The consortium’s investment in the businesses it is acquiring will help speed their digital transformation, but it is important to recognize that some customers will continue to use traditional methods, said Wagerman.

“We want to create a seamless service that’s completely omnichannel, from walk-up to online to mobile, because that is really the way the market is going now,” he said.

The deal comes amid evidence of impressive resilience in the sector during the COVID pandemic with remittance flows of $540 billion in 2020, just 1.6 percent below 2019 levels, according to World Bank data. That compares with a 4.8 percent decline during the global financial crisis.

Moreover, the remittance industry is set to almost double to $930.44 billion by 2026, according to Allied Market Research.

“The reports we’re seeing of the first coming up to the first half of 2021 is really quiet encouraging, and have shown a lot of businesses snapping back rather more quickly than people originally envisaged,” Wagerman said.

Asked how blockchain technology plays a role in the remittance industry’s digital journey, he said there is still a strong need for regulation in this area given the variation in countries’ different rules.

“There’s an overall attractiveness about having frictionless payments that avoided intermediaries, of course there is. The reality however is not so simple, not least because when money crosses borders, there’s all kind of issues particularly from a regulatory perspective,” Wagerman explained.

Saudi Arabia sees record IPOs requests, 50% rise in managed assets, says CMA chief

Saudi Arabia sees record IPOs requests, 50% rise in managed assets, says CMA chief
Updated 03 August 2021

Saudi Arabia sees record IPOs requests, 50% rise in managed assets, says CMA chief

Saudi Arabia sees record IPOs requests, 50% rise in managed assets, says CMA chief
  • Elkuwaiz says assets under management by financial institutions have increased by 50 percent

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is seeing a record interests from companies to sell shares to the public, while the size of the assets under management by financial institutions increased by 50 percent to SR600 billion over 3 years, the chairman of the country’s capital market authority said.

The increase in the volume of assets under management (AUM) had impact on the financial market and has contributed to opening new investments areas such as the launch of financial derivatives market, which made a debut last year, Mohammed Elkuwaiz said in panel hosted by the Financial Academy.

The authority received recently 30 requests to sell shares in initial public offerings and this is the highest number the authority, known as CMA, got since its establishment, he added. 

Mohammed Elkuwaiz, CMA chairman

Saudi Arabia is implementing a huge program to modernize and develop its financial sector under the country’s vision 2030 plan. Under this program the CMA had a target to list 20 new companies in 2021 on the Saudi index through public offerings, and the authority had achieved half of this target by the end of the first half of the year, Elkuawiz said.

Interests from companies to sell shares to the public increased over the past few years with the introduction of the parallel market, known as Nomu. Elkuwaiz explained that the main market, Tadawul, targets larger and more mature companies with the ability and willingness to bear big loads in terms of disclosure data, governance, while smaller companies prefer to list on Nomu.

“Listing on Nomu is an exciting window for the small and medium size and entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia as we see the increase in IPOs interest and this is the result of the CMA strategy,” said Mohammed Ramady, an independent economic analyst and former senior banker told the Arab News in comments on Saudi financial development.

Another area where Saudi Arabia is venturing and advancing is Fintech. “We have more than 15 companies licensed as financial technology companies, which facilitates the availability of other types of financing that did not exist in the past, such as crowdfunding, which has become a boost for the financial market,” Elkuwaiz added.

The chairman of CMA also noted that foreign investments in the Saudi stock market have been positive and steady since they were allowed several years ago, with more than SR20 billion has entered Tadawul market since it was included in global indexes.

“The system of governance and disclosure in the financial market has been developed, making the Kingdom one of the world’s top 4 countries in terms of governance – something we are very proud of,” he added.