Saudi market at the forefront of digital transformation

 Anne-Laure Malauzat, partner at Bain and Company Middle East
Anne-Laure Malauzat, partner at Bain and Company Middle East
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Updated 27 October 2021

Saudi market at the forefront of digital transformation

Saudi market at the forefront of digital transformation
  • Kingdom leading consumer trends in the region, says Bain & Company Middle East partner

The coronavirus pandemic has taken the world to a whole other level of digitalization and the youth are the driving force behind the ongoing digital transformation, said Anne-Laure Malauzat, partner at Bain and Company Middle East.
Talking on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative Forum in Riyadh on Tuesday, she said Saudi Arabia is one of the leading countries in terms of contactless payments and other innovative solutions.
“We’ve seen the Kingdom lead in a number of things, the first one, for example, is everything that has to do with social media penetration. The Kingdom is known to have some of the highest social media utilization in the world,” Malauzat told Arab News.
She said YouTube utilization in Saudi Arabia is also one of the highest in the world. “With over 85 percent of people who have access to YouTube and watch YouTube on a regular basis, which is quite high,” she said.
Malauzat also pointed out that the region is also leading the way in terms of millennial and younger customers that are dictating change in market behavior and consumption pattern. 
She said that people in the Kingdom no longer want to spend time in making payments. “They want seamlessness and convenience and if it’s not convenient they might actually drop the purchase that’s how demanding our consumers are here,” she said.
The entrepreneur said the coronavirus pandemic has changed several things in the world and has forced companies rethink their strategies to deal with the changed environment focussed on digitalization.
“The main question we kept asking ourselves is we’re seeing the world changed especially in the last two years with the COVID-19 pandemic and we were wondering whether the change in the region was going to be different than around the world. What we found is actually there are quite a lot of similarities between the global and regional trends,” she said.
“We thought we were digital before COVID-19 now it’s a whole other level of digitalization,” Malauzat said.
“For example, we’ve seen that in Saudi Arabia, there are over 90 percent of people who said that they started shopping online more frequently following the COVID-19 pandemic and over 50 percent of those people said they would stick to their behaviors even after the pandemic.”
She said what happened was a structural change in how people purchase and shop.
Another example that occurred mainly due to the pandemic, she added, is that more people have started giving preference to their local products. 
“People were traveling less due to the pandemic so they spend more and more money locally and as a result the local offerings have grown; there has been a growth in local brands in different sectors whether it’s food or fashion. We’ve seen a rise of the local supply to meet the growing demand,” she said.


SNB board recommends dividends of over $1bn for the second half of 2021

SNB board recommends dividends of over $1bn for the second half of 2021
Updated 32 sec ago

SNB board recommends dividends of over $1bn for the second half of 2021

SNB board recommends dividends of over $1bn for the second half of 2021

RIYADH: Saudi National Bank, the Kingdom’s biggest lender, said its board has recommended cash dividends of SR4.03 billion ($1.1 billion), or 9 percent of capital, for the second half of 2021.

SNB’s shareholders will receive SR0.9 per share, with a total amount of 4.48 billion shares eligible for dividends, a bourse statement by the bank revealed.

This brings the annual dividend yield to 2.12 percent, based on a share price of SR73, given the bank paid out SR0.65 per share for the first half of the same year.

The distribution date is yet to be disclosed, according to the statement.


Data-led innovation needed to help Saudi firms process information, says Dell ahead of LEAP

Data-led innovation needed to help Saudi firms process information, says Dell ahead of LEAP
Updated 5 min 16 sec ago

Data-led innovation needed to help Saudi firms process information, says Dell ahead of LEAP

Data-led innovation needed to help Saudi firms process information, says Dell ahead of LEAP

RIYADH: The majority of Saudi businesses gather data faster than it can be analyzed and used, Dell Technologies has warned ahead of the LEAP tech event being held in Riyadh from Feb. 1-3.

The US firm is set to take part in the forum, which is focused on future and disruptive technologies.

Ahead of the event, Mohamed Talaat, vice president in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Levant at Dell Technologies, pointed to research by his company in 2021 that showed 70 percent of Saudi respondents have data-driven business and consider data as the lifeblood of their organisation.

However, 59 percent said they were gathering data faster than they could analyze and use.

Talaat said: “Saudi Arabia today stands at the threshold of change, underpinned by the nation’s ambitious vision and drive to transform, innovate and build a legacy for generations to come.

“Dell Technologies remains committed to advancing the country’s transformation agenda. We're empowering local organizations with end-to-end infrastructure and client solutions. They not only support a data-driven work culture, but are also capable of predicting the future and achieving better business results.”


Pandemic fast food orders see Saudi chain Herfy triple profits in 2021

Pandemic fast food orders see Saudi chain Herfy triple profits in 2021
Updated 14 min 35 sec ago

Pandemic fast food orders see Saudi chain Herfy triple profits in 2021

Pandemic fast food orders see Saudi chain Herfy triple profits in 2021

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s largest food chain, Herfy Food Service Co. has seen over a threefold rise in its estimated annual profit for 2021, after a surge in its sales during the pandemic.

The estimated net profit amounted to SR162 million ($43.2 million), compared to SR52.8 million a year earlier, according to a bourse filing.

The hike was propelled by a jump in sales of 22 percent, reaching more than SR1.3 billion, as well as a fall in general and administrative expenses.

This came despite a decrease in other income and higher selling and marketing expenses, the Riyadh-based food chain owner said in a bourse statement.

Herfy Food Services was established in 1981, and the first Herfy restaurant opened in Riyadh that same year.


Shares in SoftBank trading at their lowest level since May 2020

Shares in SoftBank trading at their lowest level since May 2020
Updated 32 min 18 sec ago

Shares in SoftBank trading at their lowest level since May 2020

Shares in SoftBank trading at their lowest level since May 2020

RIYADH: Japan's SoftBank, backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund was among the most significant victims of the tech stock sell-off across Asia on Thursday, Bloomberg reported.

Investors turned on billionaire Masayoshi Son's company as the tightening phase of central bank policies unfolded.

The stock dropped as much as 9.8 percent in Tokyo, the most since March 2020, as Nasdaq futures tumbled and shares of the firm’s biggest investment, Alibaba Group, dropped in Hong Kong.

Hawkish signals from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell led investors to bet against technology companies, which have powered much of the recent growth in global markets: something SoftBank has been gambling on with its Vision Funds of speculative tech bets.

“SoftBank is a poster child of a firm highly leveraged to the current asset bubbles,” wrote Amir Anvarzadeh, senior strategist at Asymmetric Advisors Pte, who recommends shorting the stock.

“This latest lurch down in its value could add further pressure on its financing structure.”

Shares in SoftBank traded at their lowest level since May 2020, with reports that a planned sale of its Arm chip unit to Nvidia was likely to fall through also weighing on the stock.

Analysts pointed out that the failure of the deal may lead to a credit downgrade.


Gulf countries to mitigate US Hawkish monetary policies, with strong liquidity and profitable banks

Gulf countries to mitigate US Hawkish monetary policies, with strong liquidity and profitable banks
Updated 39 min 38 sec ago

Gulf countries to mitigate US Hawkish monetary policies, with strong liquidity and profitable banks

Gulf countries to mitigate US Hawkish monetary policies, with strong liquidity and profitable banks

US Federal Reserve officials signaled on Wednesday an interest rates raise starting March, with the decision driven by high inflation, a tightening labor market and the fast rebound of the economy as pandemic restrictions are eased.

Although international investors are nervously watching the Fed’s next move, Gulf financial researchers remain positive on the region’s prospects.

Soaring oil prices are shielding Gulf economies from the US’s tightening of monetary policies, as they provide them with high liquidities. 

A strong banking sector and commodities market are to also profit positively from the Fed’s next moves, according to Jaap Meijer, head of research at Arqaam Capital.

“While we are cautious about the US equity market, as high valuations for technology shares unwind, we remain constructive on GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) equity markets,” he said, adding: “We expect GCC monetary policymakers to reflect US Fed rate hikes entirely (such as in Saudi or the UAE which currencies are pegged to the dollar) or at least partially (in other GCC countries).”

“However, GCC banks, which comprise 40 percent of the region’s indexes, will enormously benefit from higher net interest margins, particularly Saudi banks.” he underlines, as banks' profitability tends to increase with high interest rates, boosting their net margins.

Meijer warns nonetheless that he is cautious about Egypt’s equity markets. 

“Egypt runs at a low single-digit current account deficit and has a high USD dependency, despite strong foreign exchange reserves. We expect fiscal and monetary policy to be managed very tightly and could see a rate hike by the end of the year, which will likely weigh on equity valuations, as T-bills remain an attractive alternative for local investors,” adds Meijer.

Regarding regional commodities, higher commodity prices, particularly Aluminum and Urea, will remain supportive for the Gulf commodity sector, explains Meijer. Urea has important uses as a fertilizer and feed supplement. It is also a starting material for the manufacture of plastics and drugs as well as batteries.

This would result in higher index weights that should continue to support Qatar and Saudi Arabia valuations. 

“We see M&A arbitrage and further economic reforms being a tailwind,” he added.

While international bond markets will be negatively affected by the interest hike, the GCC will be able to mitigate the impact. 

Bonds markets are fixed income instruments used by corporations and governments as a borrowing tool. 

“Liquidity will most likely become less abundant as the asset purchases will end in early March, while the balance sheet run-off will begin after rates have started to rise. Nonetheless credit spreads in the GCC should remain tight on strong liquidity, with almost all governments running large fiscal surpluses as oil prices remain high,” emphasizes Meijer.

The region’s local sovereign wealth funds will continue internationalizing and diversifying their holdings. 

“They can afford a risk-on approach, reaping benefits from potential market locations as the US. Fed tightens its monetary policy,” he concludes.