Saudi Alhokair sees light at end of pandemic tunnel as other retailers are recovering

Saudi Alhokair sees light at end of pandemic tunnel as other retailers are recovering
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Updated 20 November 2021

Saudi Alhokair sees light at end of pandemic tunnel as other retailers are recovering

Saudi Alhokair sees light at end of pandemic tunnel as other retailers are recovering
  • Point-of-sale transactions showed sales of food, beverages surged by 68 percent in 2020

After listed companies on the Saudi Stock Exchange, Tadawul, posted earnings, Arab News studied the income statements of three food retailers and one fashion chain. Only Alhokair, predominantly a clothing chain, boosted profits.

Rising sales at Alhokair saw annual profits jump 75 percent to SR1,311 million. A fall in depreciation and amortization was also a factor due to store closures. Finance costs fell by over 25 percent as the company continued its policy of closing non-profitable outlets. The group also runs a much smaller food business. 

“The pandemic helped make quick decisions to get rid of stores, and during the last seven fiscal quarters, about 600 unprofitable stores were closed. At the same time, 300 new stores were opened,” the company’s CFO, Ahmed Belbesy, told Al Arabiya in a recent interview.

He explained that during the first six months of the year, from the beginning of April, the firm opened 11 food branches. As for clothing brands, the company continued to dispose of branches that do not generate sufficient sales.

On the other hand, Savola Group, Fawaz Al-Othaim and BinDawood Holding, all predominantly food retailers, saw their net profit over the first nine months of this year fall by over-35 percent.

Fawaz Al-Othaim and BinDawood Holding both cited slowing sales following record 2020 numbers. Both companies said that growth in operating costs was a factor in the slowdown in their profits.

This is a turnaround from last year, when during the height of the health crisis food retailers posted robust income statements.

At this time, last year’s rising pandemic was almost a disaster for Alhokair. The company was hit by a loss of SR1.7 billion, the worst in its history. 

Sales at the chain plunged by more than half, from a pre-pandemic level of SR1.29 billion in the quarter ending in December 2019, to SR565 million in the quarter ending in June 2020.

Over the same period, big Saudi food retailers saw revenues jump in the second, and even in the first quarter of last year, usually a weaker season for sales.

One of these retailers is Savola Group, a holding company with assets in food production and food retail. It controls 28 percent of the Saudi retail market due to its 98.8 percent-owned grocery chain, Panda Retail, and its 49 percent-owned Herfy Food Services Co. Herfy is a restaurant, industrial bakery and meat processing business.

Savola Group’s sales came in at SR6.12 billion in the first quarter of 2020, its largest first-quarter sales on record. Net income for the year surged to SR1 billion from SR657 million in 2019.

Sales at Abdullah Al-Othaim Markets Co., a Saudi food wholesale and food retail business, hit record levels in each of the first three quarters of 2020, with annual net profit surging 72 percent to SR600 million from 2019.

Another Saudi retailer Arab News looked at was the supermarket and hypermarket chain owner, BinDawood Holding Company. Its main activity is selling food and household goods, as well as running bakeries and restaurants. 

Both sales and profits grew by 13 percent in 2020 compared to results in 2018.

The reason was a hike in food and hygiene products in 2020, due to panic buying from consumers in the face of the pandemic. 

By contrast, Alhokair’s food business is a secondary unit, so it did not benefit from strong profits enjoyed by grocery-heavy rivals last year. In the second quarter of 2021, its food and beverages business, mostly cafeterias in food courts at the company's stores, accounted for just 10 percent of the group’s overall revenues, according to company filings.

The value of the Kingdom’s point-of-sale transactions, a key Saudi retail market indicator, showed that sales of food and beverages surged by 68 percent in 2020 to SR62.4 billion, from the previous year. Also, transactions more than doubled to 794 million from 388 million.

By contrast, the value of transactions in the clothing and footwear segment lifted by just 9 percent to SR30.5 billion, while the volume of transactions fell by 7 percent to 138 million.

It is clear the turnaround at Alhokair came this year, after surviving the ravages of the pandemic leaving it able to grow profits.


Saudi Arabia calls on GCC to speed up establishment of customs union, common market

Saudi Arabia calls on GCC to speed up establishment of customs union, common market
Updated 24 January 2022

Saudi Arabia calls on GCC to speed up establishment of customs union, common market

Saudi Arabia calls on GCC to speed up establishment of customs union, common market
  • Saudi finance minister stressed the importance of overcoming obstacles by achieving a qualitative leap in cooperation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan called on Gulf countries to complete the establishment of a customs union, and implement the Gulf common market, to achieve economic unity by 2025.
He was speaking during the 115th extraordinary meeting of the Financial and Economic Cooperation Committee in Riyadh, with Gulf Cooperation Council member state counterparts also in attendance.
The meeting was chaired by Al-Jadaan with the participation of GCC Secretary-General Nayef Al-Hajraf, and a number of officials and specialists.
Al-Jadaan said the Kingdom was keen to redouble efforts to implement King Salman’s vision of promoting joint Gulf action, a statement released by the Saudi Press Agency said.
He stressed the importance of overcoming obstacles by achieving a qualitative leap in cooperation and a consensus among the GCC states at all levels, praising the role of the General Secretariat in expanding ties in line with global developments and long-term strategies of GCC members.
Al-Jadaan added that vigorous steps were being taken to achieve coordination, integration and interdependence among GCC member states in all fields.
During the meeting, the attending ministers reviewed progress on strengthening financial and economic cooperation between GCC states.
They were briefed on the economic decisions issued by the Supreme Council in its 42nd session and a plan to complete the remaining steps for establishing the customs union before the end of 2024, as well as recommendations made by the Customs Union Authority and the Gulf Common Market Committee.
The committee meeting is held periodically to discuss matters of economic progress and developments in legislation and economic measures adopted by GCC members to achieve long-term common strategic interests.


Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment
Updated 24 January 2022

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment
  • Appearing on the video interview series, Dr. Osama Faqeeha points out that the problem lies not in hydrocarbons but emissions
  • He says Saudi Green Initiative target will be achieved with due consideration for environmental sustainability

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia can retain its role as the leading exporter of oil in the world while pursuing an ambitious strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change, one of the Kingdom’s leading environmental policymakers has told Arab News.

Dr. Osama Faqeeha, deputy minister for environment, water and agriculture, said that the issue for the Kingdom and the world was to deal with polluting emissions from hydrocarbon production, while exploring other uses for oil products and renewable alternatives.

“I think we don’t see the problem in the hydrocarbons; we see the problem in the emissions,” he said, pointing out that “petrochemicals, plastic, medical supplies, clothing and other things are made from hydrocarbons; the emissions are the issue — namely, CO2 emissions.”

Faqeeha, who is closely involved in implementing the measures of the Saudi Green Initiative unveiled last year, was appearing on Frankly Speaking, the series of video interviews with leading policymakers and business people.

He also spoke of the ambitious plan to plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom, the campaign to protect its environmental eco-system and biodiversity, and efforts to improve the air quality in the capital Riyadh and other big cities.

Faqeeha said that the environmental campaign launched in the SGI was part of a comprehensive strategy to tackle the challenges of climate change and global warming.

“In this situation, Saudi Arabia has launched the Circular Carbon Economy approach, which is really to treat CO2 like any other waste, by basically taking it and recycling it in various ways.

“We have to realize that there is no single approach that can single-handedly address the global climate change challenge.

“We need renewable energy, we need the Circular Carbon Economy, we need recycling, we need to stop this deforestation, preserve habitats, reduce marine plastics. We have to focus on all of this,” he said.

The plan to plant 10 billion trees in Saudi Arabia over the coming decades, a striking feature of the SGI, is acknowledged as a challenge given the Kingdom’s desert climate and relatively low level of rainfall.

“Definitely this is a very challenging, ambitious target. As His Royal Highness the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) announced, the time frame will be over the next few decades. Our focus really is on environmental sustainability. We intend to achieve this target with due consideration for environmental sustainability.

“To achieve this, first of all we will focus on using native plant species in the Kingdom. Believe it or not, there are more than 2,000 documented species of flora in the Kingdom that have adapted to the dry and arid climate in Saudi Arabia.

“So, really these plants thrived in this environment and (fully) adapted to it,” he said.

The tree planting program — already under way — would focus on four main areas: Restoring natural flora in mountains and valleys; an “urban greening” program for the big cities; plantation in agricultural areas to support food production and rural communities; and tree planting along major highways to counter sand encroachment and enhance the experience of travelers.

Renewable water sources would also be used in the tree-planting program, to avoid endangering precious groundwater. Treated wastewater and rain harvesting were among the techniques available to environmental policymakers, as well as greater use of maritime resources.

Dr. Osama Faqeeha appears on Frankly Speaking. (Arab News)

“Saudi Arabia has thousands of kilometers of coastline on the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea. There are two species of native mangrove trees that grow in sea water, so we intend to focus on those species as well,” he said.

One issue that has provoked debate in the Kingdom is the traditional practice of cutting natural wood to make campfires, held responsible for some of the desertification the SGI is pledged to eliminate.

“Local people enjoy picnics and the outdoors, they like to light wood fires for family gatherings, and these are local traditions that we really cherish. However, it came at a high expense of the local vegetation.”

The new environmental law has imposed severe penalties on such practices, but Faqeeha said that there were incentives for alternatives to wood fires so that these traditions would not be affected.

The World Health Organisation has criticized Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East for low standards of air quality, but Faqeeha took issue with some of the WHO findings.

“I’d like to highlight a distinction between air pollution and degraded air quality. Sometimes you have a degraded air quality not because it’s polluted by human activities. The WHO uses particulate matters as the main parameters to measure air quality,” he said.

“That’s a very good parameter for (places such as) Europe and the US, where you have extensive vegetation cover, and the main source of particulate matters are power plants, factories and other human activities. We call such particulate matters anthropogenic particulate matter or PM.

“Here in Saudi Arabia and in the region as a whole, particulate matters are dominated by natural causes, mainly coming from dust storms. Definitely air quality becomes degraded during dust storms — no one claims that it is healthy to go outdoors and inhale dusty weather.

So, that’s really what they (WHO) are referring to. It is degraded air quality because of the natural particulate matters emanating from dust storms.”

The ministry was working on comprehensive measure to reduce dust storms and improve air quality, Faqeeha said.

At the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow last year, some experts warned that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries would suffer more than other parts of the world from the health effects of global warming, including extreme heat, diseases and air pollution.

Faqeeha acknowledged this was an issue that policymakers were confronting. “Definitely, climate change and global warming is a major global challenge that we are taking very seriously.

“In terms of the outlook for temperature, there are very few studies. In the entire region we don’t have a climate center for climate studies and that’s why the Crown Prince announced the creation of the Regional Center for Climate Studies here, which will be championed by the National Center for Meteorology in Saudi Arabia. Its job is to do national and regional studies on the mid- and long-term outlook for climate change,” he said.

One big focus of Saudi environmental strategy, he added, is the push to reverse the trend to land degradation and desertification, a major contributor to the generation of polluting greenhouse gas emissions that costs around trillions of dollars globally.

“Land degradation is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases. In fact, land degradation is the cause of about more than 50 percent of biodiversity loss, which is a large contribution. Also, it has a huge impact on agricultural lands and food security,” Faqeeha said.

Measures to reverse land degradation were a major achievement of the G20 summit under Saudi Arabia’s presidency in 2020.

Faqeeha also outlined the Kingdom’s new strategy toward waste management, which he views as an area ripe for private sector involvement and foreign investment.

“Private sector participation is an important enabler to achieve the objectives of the national environmental strategy,” he said.

“We have many international companies that are coming, who feel the regulatory environment now is highly conducive to their participation.”


Saudi Arabia spends $991m on water projects in Jazan area

Saudi Arabia spends $991m on water projects in Jazan area
Updated 23 January 2022

Saudi Arabia spends $991m on water projects in Jazan area

Saudi Arabia spends $991m on water projects in Jazan area

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture, known as MEWA, launched on Sunday 20 water and environmental projects to provide sustainability in the southwest of Saudi Arabia, set to cost a total of SR3.6 billion ($991 million). 

The Ministry, in participation with the Emirate of Jazan Province inaugurated four water projects costing over SR2.5 billion, to produce desalinated water in Jazan.

Five further water projects costing more than SR709 million were also initiated to expand water transmission systems. Seven projects for water and environmental services costing SR346 million were initiated to expand distribution.

The inauguration involved four projects costing more than SR70 million, to enhance water resources, serving more than 1.3 million beneficiaries in the region.

 


Saudi Industrial Development Fund to provide new financing products worth $3bn this year

Saudi Industrial Development Fund to provide new financing products worth $3bn this year
Updated 23 January 2022

Saudi Industrial Development Fund to provide new financing products worth $3bn this year

Saudi Industrial Development Fund to provide new financing products worth $3bn this year

RIYADH: The Saudi Industrial Development Fund will launch and update new financing products to serve new sectors during the current year, at a value ranging between SR10 billion to SR11 billion ($2.6 billion to $3 billion).

The Fund's spokesperson Khalil Al-Nimri told Alarabiya it will be targeting four sectors, with the Supply Chain Finance program being one of the programs to be updated. Alarabiya didn't name the sectors.

This comes as the fund seeks to boost private sector investment in targeted sectors and appeal to a large number of investors. 

So far, the Saudi Industrial Development Fund has approved the financing of more than 100 projects in the mining sector, amounting to a total of SR28 billion, Al-Nimri said.  


Saudi Eastern Province closes $40m deal to improve its public transport network

Saudi Eastern Province closes $40m deal to improve its public transport network
Updated 23 January 2022

Saudi Eastern Province closes $40m deal to improve its public transport network

Saudi Eastern Province closes $40m deal to improve its public transport network

RIYADH: Riyadh-based Saudi Public Transport Co., also known as SAPTCO, has sealed a SR150 million ($40 million) deal for a public bus transport project in the Eastern Province’s Dammam and Al Qatif governorate.

The contract, signed with the Eastern Province Municipality, will be valid for five years, the homegrown transport firm said in a bourse statement.

The Transport General Authority partnered with the Eastern Municipality to supply the project with eight lanes over a distance of 453 kilometers, 212 stops, and 85 buses, SPA reported, citing the authority’s president Rumaih Al Rumaih.

From reducing the effects of environmental pollution to rationalizing energy consumption, the project comes in line with Saudi Vision 2030.

Upon its completion, the region is expected to see less traffic congestion and more organized transportation systems, SPA reported.

SAPTCO noted that the deal’s financial impact is expected to reflect on the company’s financial statements during the first half of the ongoing year.