Saudi non-oil economy climbs back to growth

Saudi non-oil economy climbs back to growth
Downtown Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 18, 2017. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 May 2021

Saudi non-oil economy climbs back to growth

Saudi non-oil economy climbs back to growth
  • With oil output now being eased, the vaccine program gathering pace, GDP growth should get back on track
  • International Monetary Fund: Vision 2030 reforms helped Saudi Arabia navigate the pandemic recession

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s non-oil economy — the key focus of the Vision 2030 diversification strategy — has shown its first year-on-year growth since the beginning of the pandemic recession.

“Flash estimate” figures released by the Kingdom’s General Authority for Statistics (GAS) revealed that, after a strong start to 2021 in non-oil activities, that sector of the economy grew by 3.3 percent year-on-year, its first positive outcome on an annualized basis since last March, when the coronavirus pandemic hit the global economy.

Despite the robust performance from the non-oil sector, overall total gross domestic product (“real” GDP) was 3.3 percent down year-on-year.

The GAS explained: “The year-on-year change was the result of the sharp decrease in the oil activities of minus 12 percent due to ongoing crude oil production cuts agreed by OPEC+ since May 2020.”

In addition to cuts agreed by OPEC+, the oil producers’ alliance led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, the Kingdom decided on an extra voluntary cut of one million barrels of oil per day last February.

Jason Tuvey, analyst at London-based consultant Capital Economics, said: “With oil output cuts now being eased and the vaccination program gathering pace, the economic recovery should get back on track over the rest of this year.”

“This robust outturn came despite a worsening COVID-19 outbreak over the course of the quarter that prompted a tightening of virus restrictions in March. The vaccination rollout has ramped up and the most vulnerable should have received at least their first dose by the end of May, paving the way for an easing of restrictions,” Tuvey said.

“High-frequency data show that mobility had almost returned to pre-virus levels last month before dropping off at the start of Ramadan. And the whole economy PMI (purchasers’ manufacturing index — a key measure of business confidence) picked up from 53.3 in March to 55.2 in April, the highest reading since January,” he added.

The first quarter figures — showing a 4 percent jump over the previous quarter — are a further boost to Saudi policymakers after a positive assessment by the International Monetary Fund last week, which said that the Vision 2030 reforms had helped it navigate the pandemic recession.

With the oil cuts due to end next year and crude prices rising, some experts think there is scope for further loosening of tight fiscal measures — such as the 15 percent value-added tax (VAT) rate — introduced during the pandemic.


Saudi courier, delivery industry valued at $970 million

Saudi courier, delivery industry valued at $970 million
Updated 1 min 59 sec ago

Saudi courier, delivery industry valued at $970 million

Saudi courier, delivery industry valued at $970 million
  • A report says the sector is expected to grow by 6.5 percent annually until 2026 in KSA

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s courier and parcel delivery market, now estimated to be worth $970 million, was expected to grow by an average 6.5 percent per year until 2026, according to new figures.

A report issued by Dublin-based ResearchAndMarkets.com has revealed that the Kingdom was a key Middle Eastern player in the booming sector.

“E-commerce is one of the major factors driving the market growth. With higher connectivity rates, a young working population, and advanced infrastructure, the country is one of the major markets in online retailing in the Middle East,” the study said.

A growing trend highlighted in the report was the popularity of pickup, drop-off (PUDO) points. At present, only about 15 to 20 percent of orders are collected at a physical location operated by courier companies or their delivery partners.

The increased investment by large operators in the e-commerce sector was likely to result in the development of more warehouse facilities and the growth of PUDO points, the research showed.

Global giant Amazon in March announced plans to add 11 buildings to its network in Saudi Arabia, boost its storage capacity in the Kingdom by 89 percent, and increase its geographical delivery network by 58 percent.

According to data produced by research firm Statista, e-commerce revenue in Saudi Arabia is set to reach $7.051 billion this year and grow at an annual rate of 5.38 percent to reach $8.697 billion by 2025.

At the same time, Dubai’s Majid Al-Futtaim recently told Arab News that the surge in demand for e-commerce had seen it expand its fulfillment and delivery network. A new 9,000-square-meter center in Riyadh operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, handling up to 5,000 orders each day. More than 500 workers process the orders, which are delivered by a fleet of 150 refrigerated trucks, and the company plans to open more centers next year.

The courier and delivery report added: “Given the continuous growth in e-commerce and the fact that building one’s own network is very expensive, more partnerships are expected to happen in the market on the back of pressure on cost reduction.”

Technology will play a big part in changing the industry over the next few years, as a big challenge in Saudi Arabia was the country’s lack of postal codes. The report highlighted that delivery companies in the Kingdom regularly requested landmarks rather than addresses, with drivers often asking for locations to be identified via WhatsApp.

The rate of returns on e-commerce goods in Saudi Arabia was relatively low due to most transactions using cash on demand. However, the report predicted that as digital payments continued to rise, returns would become more common.


Laundry firm aims for 400% expansion across Saudi Arabia

Laundry firm aims for 400% expansion across Saudi Arabia
Updated 6 min 57 sec ago

Laundry firm aims for 400% expansion across Saudi Arabia

Laundry firm aims for 400% expansion across Saudi Arabia
  • It is the only laundry shop that has a franchise agency
  • Due to the pandemic, it uses UV machines that disinfect clothes, carpets, and such

JEDDAH: When Abdulkareem Rafeeq took over the family laundry business in Madinah six years ago he began implementing new modern technology.

And despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic denting his ambitions in the short term, he put in place major expansion plans and has set a goal to have 50 branches within five years and 500 throughout the region by 2050, catering to the private and public sectors, and the hotel industry.

His father Mahmoud started the business in 1982, with the first branch of the Princes Express Laundries providing services to residents in the Madinah area.

His son joined the company in 2015 and launched the first branch of the Rafco Laundry chain, which incorporated modern working and processing methods and also offered free home delivery and disinfection of clothes.

Rafco Laundry now has 10 branches covering the majority of neighborhoods in Madinah. Still a family business, with his father the chairman of the board of directors, Rafeeq told Arab News he had big plans for the future.

The company’s goal was to expand to 30 branches in Riyadh and 20 branches in Jeddah and other parts of the Kingdom.

He said: “We plan to have 50 new branches in five years in the Kingdom that reach different regions. During the past two years, we opened 10 branches in the Madinah region. “It is the only laundry shop that has a franchise agency. Most franchises are cafes and restaurants, we decided to think outside the box and create a laundry franchise. “We made eight contracts so far with more than SR6 million ($1.6 million) and established these laundry shops. It takes us two months to open a laundry shop with its key and trained staff,” he added.

However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year affected the company’s plans. “There was a decrease in growth, but the company fixed it and we saw the strengths and weaknesses in the market,” Rafeeq said.

His idea to offer free disinfection of clothing was a key component in helping the business to recover, as during the pandemic many customers were concerned about the spread of the virus, especially in the early days when little was known about it.

“We brought in consultants, and the solution was to bring equipment from the US — ultraviolet (UV) machines that disinfect clothes, carpets, and such.

“We began to wash, iron, and disinfect. The disinfection (service) was for free, and we did a lot of marketing for it — through social media and the posters we handed out along with the clean clothes. People started coming to us, we created an opportunity out of a crisis,” he added.

Rafeeq said the innovations his team introduced had earned Rafco Laundry a good reputation as a modern establishment that had expanded its service offerings.

“We provided a shoe washing division. We also wash women’s handbags and students’ schoolbags. We have UV disinfection machines and clothes and sheet fresheners,” he added. The company had been planning a mobile app in 2019, but the digital boom brought about by the global health crisis accelerated its development and growth. The number of app users rose quickly during the pandemic, and it currently has around 1,500 regular customers. Rafeeq said: “The electronic app was not active when we first launched it, but during the lockdown and when everyone was at home, we relaunched the app and we made very good sales and depended on it essentially during the pandemic.”


China cracks down on cryptocurrency mining

China cracks down on cryptocurrency mining
Updated 18 min 14 sec ago

China cracks down on cryptocurrency mining

China cracks down on cryptocurrency mining
  • Authorities order closure of 26 suspected mining projects

SHANGHAI, HONG KONG: China’s crackdown on cryptocurrency “mining” has extended to the southwest province of Sichuan, where authorities ordered cryptocurrency mining projects closed in the major mining center.

Crypto mining is big business in China, accounting for more than half of global bitcoin production. But the State Council, China’s Cabinet, last month vowed to clamp down on bitcoin mining and trading as part of a series of measures to control financial risks.

Other popular mining regions, such as Inner Mongolia, have cited cryptocurrency mining’s use of electricity generated from highly polluting sources such as coal in orders targeting the industry.

Friday’s move in Sichuan — where miners mostly use hydropower to run the specially designed computer equipment used in verifying bitcoin transactions — suggests the crackdown is more broadly based.

The Sichuan Provincial Development and Reform Commission, and the Sichuan Energy Bureau issued a joint notice, dated Friday and seen by Reuters, demanding the closure of 26 suspected cryptocurrency mining projects by Sunday.

Sichuan is China’s second-biggest Bitcoin mining province, according to data compiled by the University of Cambridge. Some miners move their activities there in the rainy summer to take advantage of its rich hydropower resources.

The notice orders state electricity companies in Sichuan to conduct inspections and make corrections, reporting their results by Friday. They are to immediately stop supplying electricity to crypto mining projects they have detected. The authorities urged local governments in Sichuan to start combing for crypto mining projects and shut them down. It banned new projects.

Other regional mining centers including Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Yunnan have ordered crackdowns on bitcoin mining.

Friday’s notice appears to indicate that Beijing’s displeasure with cryptocurrency mining extends beyond cases where it uses electricity generated by burning coal. “Renewable power does not help,” said Winston Ma, NYU Law School adjunct professor and author of the book “The Digital War.”

“The four largest mining regions — Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Sichuan — have implemented similar crackdown measures, even though mining in the latter two are mostly based on hydropower, whereas the first two are on coal,” Ma told Reuters.

Some miners have been considering moving elsewhere due to the crackdown.


Boeing 737 MAX model takes off on maiden flight

Boeing 737 MAX model takes off on maiden flight
Updated 21 min 32 sec ago

Boeing 737 MAX model takes off on maiden flight

Boeing 737 MAX model takes off on maiden flight
  • The plane completed a roughly 2-1/2-hour flight over Washington State, returning to Renton Municipal Airport near Seattle

WASHINGTON: Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX 10, the largest member of its best-selling single-aisle airplane family, took off on its maiden flight on Friday, in a further step toward recovering from the safety grounding of a smaller model.

The plane completed a roughly 2-1/2-hour flight over Washington State, returning to Renton Municipal Airport near Seattle at 12:38 p.m.

The first flight heralds months of testing and safety certification work before the jet is expected to enter service in 2023.

In an unusual departure from the PR buzz surrounding first flights, the event was kept low-key as Boeing tries to navigate overlapping crises caused by a 20-month grounding in the wake of two crashes and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boeing must also complete safety certification of the plane under a tougher regulatory climate following two fatal crashes of a smaller 737 MAX version grounded the model for nearly two years — with a safety ban still in place in China.

Boeing has carried out design and training changes on the MAX family, which returned to US operations in December.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal said the company is producing about 16 737 MAX jets a month at its Renton factory.

Boeing is working on safety enhancements for the 737 MAX 10, including for its air data indication system and adding a third cockpit indication requested by European regulators of the “angle of attack,” a parameter needed to avoid stalling or losing lift. Deal’s comments were provided to the media via a pool reporter inside a Boeing aircraft delivery center.

“We’re going to take our time on this certification,” Deal said.

The flight showcased a revamped landing gear system illustrating an industry battle to squeeze as much mileage as possible out of the current generation of single-aisles.

It raises the landing gear’s height during takeoff and landing, a design needed to compensate for the MAX 10’s extra length and prevent the tail scraping the runway on takeoff.


Cairo-Montreal flights to help Egypt economy

Cairo-Montreal flights to help Egypt economy
Updated 16 min 55 sec ago

Cairo-Montreal flights to help Egypt economy

Cairo-Montreal flights to help Egypt economy

CAIRO: The recently launched direct flights between Montreal and Cairo will help the Egyptian tourism sector and boost foreign investments, said Ghada Shalaby, Egypt’s deputy minister of tourism and antiquities.

She said this during a ceremony organized to welcome Air Canada’s first direct flight from Montreal to Cairo.

Three direct flights will be operated weekly between the two countries.

The Middle East News Agency quoted the deputy minister as saying that Egypt had taken all measures to check the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and her ministry was closely monitoring the vaccination of all those working in the country’s tourism sector.

The deputy minister said these flights would help increase the number of tourists to Egypt.