Low interest rates boosted mortgage demand by 27% through May

Low interest rates boosted mortgage demand by 27% through May
Real estate financing grew by 50 percent compared with the same period in 2020 when SR46.6 billion was lent via 104,000 contracts. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 26 July 2021

Low interest rates boosted mortgage demand by 27% through May

Low interest rates boosted mortgage demand by 27% through May
  • Residential real estate financing contracts offered to individuals by local banks reached 133,006 through May, with a value of SR69.5 billion

RIYADH: Mortgage lending in Saudi Arabia increased 27 percent this year through May, as interest rates decreased to between 1 percent and 4.9 percent, compared to about 6 percent early last year.

Residential real estate financing contracts offered to individuals by local banks reached 133,006 through May, with a value of SR69.5 billion, according to data from the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA).

Real estate financing grew by 50 percent compared with the same period in 2020 when SR46.6 billion was lent via 104,000 contracts.

“There is great competition between banks and real estate finance companies to obtain a greater share of the housing demand, after government support and joint financing programs with the Real Estate Development Fund (REDF), which led to an increase in the volume of lending for home purchases,” Riyadh-based Menassat Reality Co. CEO Khaled Almobid told Arab news.

“I expect more lending during the last quarter of this year despite the difficulties it is facing due to the rise in some housing prices in major cities and the lack of supply,” he said.

Saudi banks are offering mortgages with interest rates as low as 1 percent at Al Rajhi Bank, 2.5 percent at the Saudi National Bank (AlAhli Bank) and up to 4.5 percent at some banks.

Residential villas made up about 80 percent of the total financing, apartments 17 percent, while the purchase of residential lands’ financing made up the remaining 3 percent.

Saudi real estate financing achieved a record growth during the past three years, amounting to about 295,590 contracts, worth SR140.7 billion in 2020, compared to 22,259 financing contracts, worth SR17 billion in 2016, local media reproted citing SAMA data.


UAE, UK to strengthen cooperation on climate action

UAE, UK to strengthen cooperation on climate action
Updated 6 sec ago

UAE, UK to strengthen cooperation on climate action

UAE, UK to strengthen cooperation on climate action
  • The MoU comes ahead of the UN COP26 climate summit in November

DUBAI: The UAE and the UK on Saturday signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen cooperation to accelerate measures to protect environment.

The MoU comes ahead of the UN COP26 climate summit in November, due to be hosted by the UK in the city of Glasgow and offers a framework for wide-ranging cooperation by government entities, companies, and research agencies in support of realizing COP26 goals.

UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, Dr. Sultan Al-Jaber, who is also special envoy for climate, and UK Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly signed the memorandum, which recognizes that strong, decisive climate action can be an engine for economic growth.

Under the MoU, the UAE and the UK will work together in seeking to deliver on the Paris Agreement, including by reducing emissions to keep 1.5 degrees in reach, facilitating greater action on adaptation, mobilizing finance for climate action and collaborating on pathways to low emission and climate-resilient growth.

Al-Jaber said: “Fifteen years ago, the UAE made a strategic decision to invest heavily in innovation and low-carbon energy, especially renewables and in partnership with other countries. 

“Today’s MoU, on the eve of the UN climate summit in Glasgow, builds on our long-standing partnership with the UK, including on environmental cooperation and investment. We look forward to strengthening our collaboration across all sectors to help support and realize the bold ambitions the UK has outlined for COP26.”

The UAE was the first country in the region to ratify and sign the Paris Accords and the first in MENA to set an economy-wide reduction in emissions by 2030, as part of its second Nationally Determined Contributions. 

November’s UN climate summit will see the official launch of the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate , co-founded by the UAE and the US with endorsement from the UK’s COP Presidency. 


Flexible-work platform attracts more than 10k Saudis since launch

Flexible-work platform attracts more than 10k Saudis since launch
Updated 18 September 2021

Flexible-work platform attracts more than 10k Saudis since launch

Flexible-work platform attracts more than 10k Saudis since launch
  • The ministry seeks to achieve a target of 57,000 contracts via the platform by the end of 2022

 

RIYADH: A platform to help workers find part-time and freelancing work in Saudi Arabia has managed to attract interests from more than 10,000 seekers of flexible work hours since May 2020, according to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development.

The ministry seeks to achieve a target of 57,000 contracts via the platform by the end of 2022, Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper reported, citing the ministry.

The ministry launched the platform, known as Marn, which offers hourly-based employment and does not require employers to pay end-of-service benefits.

The platform appeals to employers because it reduces their overheads and means they are only paying wages when they receive orders. The retail and wholesale sectors have benefited most from the flexible work system, along with the construction and logistics sectors, the newspaper added.

In 2020, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Ahmed Al-Rajhi, launched mrn.sa, platform.

Under the system, an employee’s working hours with a single employer should be less than half the total working hours at the facility.

The flexible work contracts are limited to Saudis only.


ACWA Power bets big on Uzbekistan growth

ACWA Power bets big on Uzbekistan growth
Updated 18 September 2021

ACWA Power bets big on Uzbekistan growth

ACWA Power bets big on Uzbekistan growth
  • ACWA has invested about $1.2 billion in Uzbekistan thus far
  • ACWA plans to contribute to $100 million Uzbekistan fund

MOSCOW/RIYADH: In the crowded corridors of the Hilton Tashkent City, ACWA Power Chairman Mohammad Abunayyan talks quietly with key delegates of the Islamic Development Bank’s annual meeting in Uzbekistan, who approach him one after another.

Abunayyan, a lean, middle-aged, intelligent-looking man is with IDB officials celebrating the launch of the $100 million Economic Empowerment Fund for Uzbekistan earlier this month.

ACWA Power is planning on becoming one of the Saudi investors that will make up 45 percent of the fund, which is also being financed with money from the Islamic Development Bank and the Uzbek government.

ACWA’s contribution would be the latest in a long line of investments in the Central Asian nation, where the utility now has assets worth $4.6 billion having invested about $1.2 billion, according to the prospectus for its initial public offering that was launched earlier this month.

Although that is less than one tenth of the SR248 billion ($66 billion) of assets ACWA has accumulated globally since it was established in 2004 with what Abunayaan describes as a small equity investment. Abunayaan joined the board in 2008.

Beyond its home market in Saudi Arabia, ACWA also owns assets in Turkey, South Africa, Vietnam and Egypt.

Still, Uzbekistan is an important market for ACWA Power.

In 2020, the company was awarded three projects: Sirdarya Combined-Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) independent power producer (IPP) with 1,500 MW of gross contracted power capacity; the 500 MW Bash Wind IPP; and the 500 MW Dzhankeldy Wind IPP.

The company’s fourth and largest Uzbek asset in Uzbekistan is the Karakalpakstan 1,500 MW Wind IPP project, valued at $2 billion. The Karakalpakstan, Bash and Dzhankeldy projects are at advanced stages of development and Sirdarya IPP is under construction.

ACWA Power’s investments in Uzbekistan represent a sizeable chunk of total foreign direct investment (FDI) that the country has received in recent years.

“Uzbekistan attracted $2 billion in FDI in 2020 and targets another $5 billion this year,” Atabek Nazirov, director general of the Direct Investment Fund of Uzbekistan, told Arab News on the sidelines of the IDB’s two-day conference on Sept. 3.

Such investments mean a long-term relationship between ACWA Power and Uzbekistan.

“[In our projects] we need to lay the foundation for a long-term partnership, this is a relationship that lasts for 20, 25, 30 years,” Tom Teerlynck, executive vice president of ACWA Power, told Arab News at the IDB meeting.

“The early years go very smoothly because everybody is happy — agreements signed, infrastructure is being built, the services being provided,” he said. “But problems come in later when people in ministries or private companies change. So, it’s very important to lay very robust foundations.”

Uzbekistan officials are confident that ongoing reforms will propel economic growth, despite the global shock caused by COVID-19.

“In 2020, Uzbekistan was the only economy in the Central Asia region that did not have a negative gross domestic product [GDP],” said Direct Investment Fund of Uzbekistan’s Nazirov. “We were able to achieve just above 1 percent growth.”

The government is forecasting economic growth of 6.5 percent this year although that is a conservative scenario and it is hoping for closer to 7 percent, Ilhom Norkulov, Uzbekistan’s deputy minister of economic development and poverty reduction, told Arab News at the IDB meeting.

“For the next five years our target is to increase GDP to $100 billion so we are working to create conditions for the economy to grow 6-7 percent a year,” he said.

However, Uzbekistan’s economy is facing tailwinds in the form of a high inflation rate – expected at 10-11 percent this year – unemployment of 10.5 percent in 2020 (up from 5.8 percent in 2017) and a decline in average monthly wages to a low of $226 in the fourth quarter of 2018 from a peak of $415 in 2016, but back to $280 in the second quarter 2021, according to official data.

Government officials say they are fully aware of the issues, and maintaining economic reforms and income growth should ease the employment and wage conditions over the long run.


Italy tops list of countries importing Egyptian products during first half of year

Italy tops list of countries importing Egyptian products during first half of year
Updated 18 September 2021

Italy tops list of countries importing Egyptian products during first half of year

Italy tops list of countries importing Egyptian products during first half of year
  • Egyptian exports witnessed a remarkable increase during the first half of this year, by 35.4 percent

CAIRO: Official data revealed that Italy topped the list of the largest importers of Egyptian products during the first half of this year, recording $1.140 billion.

In second place was the US with Egyptian exports amounting to $1.103 billion. Saudi Arabia came in third place with $1.095 billion, followed by India in fourth place with exports worth $1.028 billion, and Turkey with total exports of $997 million.

According to data issued by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics in Egypt, Egyptian exports witnessed a remarkable increase during the first half of this year, by 35.4 percent.

The data indicates an increase in the value of Egyptian exports to various countries to a record $19.4 billion, compared to $14.3 billion during the same period in 2020.

According to the data, the top 10 countries on the list accounted for 45.8 percent of the total value of Egyptian exports during the first half of this year. Petroleum products ranked first on the list of the 10 most important commodities exported by Egypt to various countries during the first half of this year, with a total of $2.7 billion.

In second place came crude oil exports with a value of $1.045 billion, followed by fresh fruits with a value of $943 million, ready-made garments with exports worth $920.2 million, fertilizers with $818.5 million, and plastics in their primary forms with $759.3 million.

CAPMAS data indicated that the top 10 commodities on the list represented 43.2 percent of the total value of Egyptian exports during the first half of this year.


Lebanon’s soaring inflation led by 250 percent jump in fuel costs amid currency slump

Lebanon’s soaring inflation led by 250 percent jump in fuel costs amid currency slump
Updated 18 September 2021

Lebanon’s soaring inflation led by 250 percent jump in fuel costs amid currency slump

Lebanon’s soaring inflation led by 250 percent jump in fuel costs amid currency slump
  • Lebanese CPI jumped 123 percent in the year to July 2021
  • Food and non-alcoholic beverages prices rose 248 percent

DUBAI: Lebanese residents were forced to pay more than double for consumer goods in July compared with a year earlier as prices soared amid a partial lifting of fuel subsidies and a record plunge in the local currency.

The latest data from Lebanon’s Central Administration of Statistics shows the consumer price index leaped 123 percent year-on-year last month as officials struggled to contain an economic meltdown the likes of which have not been seen since the end of the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.

The biggest contributor to surging prices has been the cost of transportation, which soared by 253 percent from July 2020, reflecting the rise in fuel costs after the previous government priced gasoline at the exchange rate of 3,900 pounds to the dollar in June. Two months later, the central bank began providing fuel importers with dollars at an exchange rate of 8,000 pounds to the dollar.

The Lebanese pound has been officially pegged at 1,507.5 pounds to the dollar since 1997, but is worth a lot less on the black market. Following the resignation of former Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri in July, it plummeted to a record 24,000 per dollar.

This pushed prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages up by 248 percent in the year to July 2021, while health care services rose by 178 percent. Prices at restaurants and hotels grew 246 percent and clothing and footwear prices almost doubled.

The formation of Najib Mikati’s government last week, following a 13-month political vacuum, provided Lebanese with slight reprieve.

The pound stabilized at around 14,000 to the dollar on Thursday amid the new government’s pledges for reforms and a resumption of talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which had hit a dead-end following bickering over the size of the banking sector’s losses.

Reforms demanded by the international community include a forensic audit of the central bank’s accounts and a restructuring of the banking sector.

On Thursday, a meeting took place at the Economy Ministry with the president of the syndicate of supermarket owners and the president of the syndicate of food importers to discuss lowering the prices of goods.

The meeting touched on a new pricing mechanism for goods in the wake of the Lebanese pound’s surge, with new economy minister Amine Salam saying that ” both unions have committed to start reducing the prices of commodities.”

“The ministry will not tolerate this issue and will be strict in monitoring price,” he said.