Macro Snapshot —Fed expected to fight inflation with rate hike; French services sees strong growth

Macro Snapshot —Fed expected to fight inflation with rate hike; French services sees strong growth
The US Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates by half of a percentage point (Shutterstock)
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Updated 04 May 2022

Macro Snapshot —Fed expected to fight inflation with rate hike; French services sees strong growth

Macro Snapshot —Fed expected to fight inflation with rate hike; French services sees strong growth

RIYADH: The US Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates as it combats inflation levels, while  India's central bank raised its key rate by 40 basis points for similar reasons. 

Russian manufacturing activity shrank for the third month running in April, whereas Italy and France saw growth in their services activity, according to S&P Global Purchasing Managers’ Index. 

Germany’s exports fell more than expected in March, while Spain’s April unemployment shrank 2.77 percent to 3.02 million.

Australian retail sales sped ahead in Q1

Australian retail sales easily sped past forecasts for a third straight month in March as spending built a head of steam that should help it weather this week’s rise in interest rates.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed retail sales jumped 1.6 percent in March to a record A$33.6 billion ($23.9 billion), topping forecasts of a 0.6 percent gain.

That came after hefty gains in January and February and left sales up 9.4 percent on a year earlier. 

While some of that spending would have been eaten up by surging inflation, it still points to an upbeat quarter for economic growth.

“Even allowing for a strong increase in retail prices, we estimate that volumes rose by a solid 1.5 percent q/q,” said Marcel Thieliant, a senior economist at Capital Economics.

“While falling consumer confidence amid soaring inflation and rising interest rates poses downside risks, we think that the still high savings rate will allow for further solid gains in spending over coming quarters.”

Fed expected to step up inflation fight with big rate hike

The US Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates by half of a percentage point and announce the start of reductions to its $9 trillion balance sheet as central bankers intensify efforts to bring down high inflation.

Fed policymakers have widely telegraphed a double-barreled decision that would lift the Fed’s short-term target policy rate to a range between 0.75 percent and 1 percent, and set in motion a plan to trim its portfolio of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities by as much $95 billion a month.

The policy statement is due to be released at 1800 GMT following the end of the Fed’s latest two-day meeting.

Markets have priced in further rate increases through this year and into next, including at least a couple more half-percentage-point hikes, as traders bet the central bank moves much more quickly than it had anticipated it would in March to get borrowing costs up to where they will start actively curbing inflation.

With no fresh Fed economic or policy rate projections due until the central bank’s June meeting, most clues on how far and how fast it is prepared to go will come from Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s news conference.

Russian manufacturing activity shrinks again in April 

Russian manufacturing activity shrank for the third month running in April, driven by further output and employment declines, though at a slower pace than in the previous month, a business survey showed on Wednesday.

The S&P Global Purchasing Managers’ Index rose to 48.2 from 44.1 in the previous month, staying below the 50.0 mark that separates expansion from contraction.

The survey did not mention Ukraine, but S&P Global said sanctions had weighed on client demand and firms’ ability to source raw materials.

Western nations have imposed unprecedented sanctions against Moscow over Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

“Logistics delays and material shortages led to longer lead times for inputs, with April seeing the third-steepest lengthening of supplier lead times over 25 years of survey history,” S&P Global said in a statement.

The outlook was gloomy, impacted by expectations of reduced purchasing power among customers. Greater import substitution and hopes of a longer-term improvement of economic conditions kept the reading for future output above the 50.0 mark, but the degree of optimism was at its second-lowest in 23 months.

“Output expectations were historically subdued amid concerns regarding the impact of sanctions on future demand and new orders,” S&P Global said.

French services activity growth strongest in over four years in April

France’s dominant services sector enjoyed its sharpest increase in activity in more than four years in April as fewer COVID-19 restrictions gave businesses a boost, although inflation remained a concern, a survey showed on Wednesday.

S&P Global said its final services PMI was 58.9 points last month, up from 57.4 in March and broadly in line with a flash estimate.

Any reading above the 50 point mark indicates growth. The final services PMI number in April was the highest in any month since January 2018.

A final April reading of France’s composite PMI index, which includes both the services and manufacturing sectors, meanwhile rose to 57.6 points from 56.3 in March, broadly in line with an earlier flash forecast.

“It was another positive month for France’s services firms in April as business activity in the largest sector of the economy increased at the fastest rate in over four years,” said S&P Global senior economist Joe Hayes.

“The economy is still reaping the benefit of reduced COVID-19 restrictions as many companies linked strong and sustained growth in their order books to the pandemic recovery.”

Italian services activity expands in April amid stronger demand 

Italy’s services sector expanded in April at the strongest pace since November, a survey showed on Wednesday, brightening hopes for economic growth prospects in the second quarter amid reports of stronger domestic and foreign demand.

S&P Global’s PMI for services rose to 55.7 in April from 52.1 in March, pushing further above the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction.

The reading beat the median forecast of 54.5 in a Reuters survey of 14 analysts.

The sub-index for new business in the service sector jumped to 56.0 in April from 52.6 in March.

Italy’s service sector took longer to recover from COVID-19 lockdowns than the smaller manufacturing sector, which has seen growth for nearly two years.

The manufacturing PMI recorded its 22nd consecutive month of expansion in April, though growth slowed from the month before. 

German exports fall more than expected in March

German exports fell more than forecast in March, easing by 3.3 percent, while imports rose by 3.4 percent, according to data released by the Federal Statistical Office on Wednesday.

A Reuters poll had predicted a month-on-month fall in exports of 2.0 percent.

Exports to Russia plunged by 62.3 percent in March compared with February partly because of sanctions imposed as a result of the war in Ukraine, the Office said in a statement.

In March, Germany had a seasonally adjusted trade surplus 3.2 billion euros ($3.4 billion), the Office reported, versus a forecast 9.8 billion euros.

Spain’s April jobless falls 2.77 percent from March to 3.02 mln

The number of people registering as jobless in Spain fell 2.77 percent in April from March, or by 86,260 people, leaving 3.02 million people out of work, Labour Ministry data showed on Wednesday.

Spain added 33,244 net jobs during the month, separate data from the Social Security Ministry showed.

The data marks the third consecutive month of falling jobless figures and the lowest number of unemployment in a month of April since 2008, the ministry said.

Polish central bank to hike rates by 100 bps to tackle inflation

The National Bank of Poland is expected to deliver its second 100 basis point hike in a row on Thursday, a Reuters poll showed, bringing the cost of credit to 5.5 percent as it grapples with the highest inflation in almost a quarter of a century.

Consumer price inflation surged past analysts’ estimates to hit 12.3 percent in April, according to a flash estimate from the statistics office, and analysts expect a sharp rise in rates to counter price growth that has reached its highest level since 1998 in part due to the war in Ukraine. 

UK consumer and mortgage lending rise again in March 

British consumer borrowing rose solidly in March and mortgage lending hit its highest since September as house prices surged, according to Bank of England data that showed no early sign of a hit to the economy from the country’s cost-of-living squeeze.

Lending to consumers rose by £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion) in net terms, as expected in a Reuters poll of economists and following a nearly £1.6 billion increase in February.

Credit card lending accounted for more than half of the increase in March, which was before a sharp rise in energy costs and an increase in taxes in April.

The BoE reported £7 billion of net mortgage lending, up from £4.6 billion in February, and 70,961 mortgage approvals, down slightly from the previous month but still well above the pre-pandemic norm.

Britain’s housing market retained much of its momentum in the first months of 2022, despite the phasing out of temporary tax breaks on property purchases in the second half of 2021.

The BoE is watching for signs of how fast-rising inflation is affecting the economy as it considers how much further it needs to raise interest rates. The central bank is expected to increase its bank rate to 1.0 percent from 0.75 percent on Thursday

India cenbank raises key rate by 40 bps to tame inflation

The Reserve Bank of India’s monetary policy committee raised the key lending rate by 40 basis points on Wednesday, in a surprise move, as it sought to take calibrated steps to exit the extraordinary accommodation and contain rapid inflation.

The MPC raised the key lending rate or the repo rate by 40 basis points to 4.40 percent, Governor Shaktikanta Das said in a virtual address, announcing the decision after an off-cycle meeting of the committee on May 2 and May 4. 

Investment firm Amanat wants to revolutionize education in the Middle East

Investment firm Amanat wants to revolutionize education in the Middle East
Updated 27 May 2022

Investment firm Amanat wants to revolutionize education in the Middle East

Investment firm Amanat wants to revolutionize education in the Middle East
  • Investment firm Amanat aims to integrate video gaming with education to make learning more attractive
  • People are more likely to retain information acquired visually and experientially, says CEO Mohamad Ali Hamade

LONDON: The UAE-based healthcare and education investment company Amanat aims to revolutionize education in the Middle East by integrating experiential learning and virtual reality into the curriculum, its CEO told Arab News.

Speaking during the World Economic Forum, Dr. Mohamad Ali Hamade outlined how virtual reality would take “center stage” in how education was provided to children across the region.

“As a leading investor in the education space, Amanat is looking at what the future would look like in the education sector,” Dr. Hamade said. “We believe that experiential learning and virtual reality are going to take center stage in the future of how we provide education services to our kids.”

According to Dr. Hamade, Saudi Arabia is a promising market for this kind of investment as the Kingdom has recently opened up foreign branch campuses across the country and is increasingly open to international curricula.

“I think if a product comes in and promises to have a more progressive curriculum, but also a technology aspect attached to it, I think we have a very good opportunity to prove a concept in Saudi Arabia,” Dr. Hamade said.

Targeting mainly stable markets in the region, Dr. Hamade explained that investment would focus in the interim on Saudi Arabia, UAE and other Gulf countries.

“Historically, we have been trying to solve a problem of access to education and quality of education while keeping the costs acceptable,” he said. “And I think this is what Web 3.0 would do, and what the technology aspect will allow us to achieve.”

Founded in 2014, Amanat Holdings is a private equity firm based in Dubai that seeks to make investments within the education and health care sectors in the MENA region.

In 2021, the company witnessed a twenty-eightfold increase in net profit to 280.8 million dirhams ($76.4 million). Additionally, the company saw a 2,680 percent increase in net profit on strong health unit performance.

Explaining how the new model of education would work, Dr. Hamade said that the company’s main idea was to integrate gaming with education, as gaming is usually very attractive to young people.

“Instead of channeling gamification to wasteful and non-productive time, we’re actually channeling it into a very productive thing, which is education and learning,” Dr. Hamade said.

He explained that people were more likely to retain and remember information that had been acquired visually and experientially. As such, integrating virtual reality in the curriculum would produce more positive outcomes than textbook-based learning.

CEO of Amanat since 2020, Dr. Hamade joined the company in 2017 as chief investment officer. He holds an MD and a BSc in biology from the American University of Beirut and an MBA from Cornell University in the US.

While it is a highly innovative idea, Dr. Hamade anticipates that there will not be much resistance from the region given how far countries in the Middle East have come in terms of modernization.

“I think we’ve come a long way in our region where policymakers are willing to listen, to accept, to ask the right questions, to push us, and together to put a solution that allows us to improve the quality of education in the region,” he said.


Inspired by Vision 2030, Taj Holding focuses on retail expansion

Inspired by Vision 2030, Taj Holding focuses on retail expansion
Updated 27 May 2022

Inspired by Vision 2030, Taj Holding focuses on retail expansion

Inspired by Vision 2030, Taj Holding focuses on retail expansion
  • CEO wants company to be a hub utilized by talented entrepreneurs and and international investors

RIYADH: Independent thinker Omar Henaidy — an engineer by qualification but an entrepreneur at heart — was able to create and grow Taj Holding into a vast business across the Middle East.

Today, the group encompasses brand names such as fashion retailer Beside, medical center Amaly, specialized transportation solutions M, and Mac Aerospace, to name a few.

After studying engineering and obtaining a master’s degree in supply chain management from the University of Missouri in the US, Henaidy spent several years working with international companies and managing a local business in Saudi Arabia.

However, he realized that his passion and aspirations were building something for himself with the assistance of individuals who shared his ideals and the DNA for success.

That is how Taj Holding was born.

“I have always aspired for Taj Holding to be a hub utilized by talented entrepreneurs and international investors to fulfill their dreams and be used as a platform to develop and build for their next step forward,” Henaidy told Arab News.

Expansion plan

Taj Holding currently operates across five main verticals — retail, healthcare, manufacturing, IT and defense.

“Over the past decade, we have put a lot of effort into growing our portfolio in a robust manner, which resulted in an ecosystem of companies that can work together as one unit,” he said.

Given the recent developments in Saudi Arabia, along with Vision 2030, the company is now focused primarily on retail expansion within the fashion and hospitality sectors.

Taj Holding continues to grow its large portfolio by focusing on the sustainability of the firm’s ongoing businesses in addition to starting new joint ventures.

“In Q1 2022, we signed a nine-digit-contract in the defense sector. We are signing a similar contract in Q2. In the healthcare business, we recently partnered with Priory; together, we will be opening our first clinic in Q2 of 2022,” Henaidy revealed.

The holding also has an industrial complex under construction, including three factories. In addition, it has a maintenance, repair and operations hub, known as MRO, for helicopters, which will open in 2023.

With its fashion arm Beside, the company looks to meet the desire for iconic brands and tap into the Kingdom’s massive youth demographics, with a 35-million-plus population and a median age of 32 years, observed Henaidy.

“The youth are leading the most extensive social transformation the country has ever witnessed. Beside and through its exciting brand portfolio will be able to cater to a large part of this segment’s massive potential,” he added.

The company is expanding swiftly across the Middle East. It is focused on strengthening its presence throughout the region through existing operations across Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. It also plans to enter Oman for the first time in 2022, but it will continue to strengthen its presence in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

These efforts have seen Taj triple in size over the past three years. The company has achieved this rapid growth organically through new investment opportunities. “There is immense potential for investments across several industries to the point where it is becoming a challenge to identify a specific industry, considering the strong growth our nation is experiencing,” Henaidy pointed out.

He underscored that the company’s emphasis is on the long-term potential of its investments and the contribution they provide in support of vision 2030. “Beside is a perfect example of such a model; investing in the retail sector has sustainable growth potential and thus compliments our vision.” Another testament to this strategy, Henaidy said, is the fact that “we have not made a single exit from any of our acquisitions over the past decade.”

Accelerated growth

Initiatives undertaken for Vision 2030 accelerated the growth in sectors such as tourism, culture, logistics, retail and entertainment — all of which greatly benefited from the recent social and economic evolution, he remarked.

Henaidy said the Kingdom, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been on a path of exponential growth over the past few years, and “we are proud that Taj Holding was able to contribute significantly to that growth.”

The entrepreneur believes that his family and the Kingdom were also significant contributors to his success.

“I attribute my career and successful journey to my father being a role model and greatest supporter; also, I cannot leave out the vast opportunities our nation has offered me as a young Saudi entrepreneur,” said the CEO.

Henaidy’s father was an Air Force Lt. Gen. and a fighter pilot. As a leader to many young Saudi patriots, he provided his son with a significant support system and mentored him to pursue his dreams.

“I would also like to point out that success to any businessman doesn’t come without having a person who supports you and encourages you during challenging times; my beloved wife Reem is this person. We have four children, three boys and a beautiful daughter,” added Henaidy.

The CEO explained that what motivates him every day is working alongside a fantastic and energetic team.

His business slogan is tantamount to his extraordinary career: “Trusting your gut is the best business tool you’ve got,” he concluded.

ENVI Lodges, Al Rasim Hotels to build ecolodge on the Red Sea coast

ENVI Lodges, Al Rasim Hotels to build ecolodge on the Red Sea coast
Updated 27 May 2022

ENVI Lodges, Al Rasim Hotels to build ecolodge on the Red Sea coast

ENVI Lodges, Al Rasim Hotels to build ecolodge on the Red Sea coast
  • The project will adhere to ENVI’s thorough sustainability standards vetted by Beyond Green

RIYADH: Dubai-based ecolodge brand ENVI Lodges and Al Rasim Hotels & Resorts announced plans to develop a waterfront ecolodge project on the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Future Hospitality Summit, ENVI co-founder Noelle Homsy told Arab News that the project was focused on operating luxury ecolodges in remote destinations that would allow guests to disconnect from their daily lives back in the cities.

The lodge will be made of approximately 40 modular pods, prefabricated and transported to the site. They will be installed on individual decks, lowering the impact on the environment and minimizing any disturbance on the site.

“We specialize in eco pods and tents and follow very high sustainability standards,” said Homsy.

The agreement was signed between Aiad Mushaikh, managing director of Al Rasim Hotels & Resorts, and Chris Nader and Noelle Homsy, co-founders of ENVI, in the presence of Jonathan Worsley, chairman of The Bench, the organizer of FHS.

“We are very excited to bring the ENVI Lodges brand to the booming market of Saudi Arabia,” said Mushaikh upon signing the agreement.

“We want to invest in unique hospitality projects and develop immersive lodges that offer both domestic travelers and international tourists the opportunity to discover the natural beauty of the Kingdom. As a Saudi company, we want to contribute to the implementation of the Saudi tourism strategy through investing in high-end tourism project. ENVI’s proposition and approach to hospitality is exactly what we were looking for, and this project will become a reference forexperiential lodging on the shores of the Red Sea.”

The project will adhere to ENVI’s thorough sustainability standards vetted by Beyond Green, the sustainability alliance that ENVI follows.

Saudi Arabia is stepping up its efforts to become the vanguard of a UN pledge to develop a sustainable model of tourism after the sector’s levels of resilience were pushed to breaking point by the pandemic and new dire warnings of tourism’s environmental footprint emerged.

Scientists have said CO2 emissions from tourism will increase by 25 percent by 2030 compared to 2016 levels, which if left unaddressed could be a bullet for the sector as visitors begin to factor in the impact, and morality, of climate change on their destination choices.

The lodge facilities will include a restaurant, a beach club, private pools, an experience hub, a wellness sanctuary and a kids club. The lodging is expected to open by mid-2023.

“The property will be on the Red Sea with 40 keys and will offer a memorable guest experience,” she added.

The company is also looking at a few other projects in the Kingdom and will announce them soon.

Training Saudi women for the workforce will net a $400bn return

Training Saudi women for the workforce will net a $400bn return
Updated 27 May 2022

Training Saudi women for the workforce will net a $400bn return

Training Saudi women for the workforce will net a $400bn return
  • Vision 2030 plan aims to boost female labor force participation from 22% to 30% by the end of the decade

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry is one of the sectors through which the Kingdom plans to diversify the economy with its Vision 2030 program and is an area where women can play a huge role, according to the head of one female empowerment group.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Mae Al-Mozaini, founder and CEO of the Arab Institute for Women’s Empowerment, said that this industry already employs many women. She was speaking at the Future Hospitality Summit in Riyadh.

Al-Mozaini said: “Investing in targeted training for Saudi women will have a return on investment of $400 billion by 2030. So that’s a big number of women participating to improve the economic prosperity of the Kingdom and for themselves.”

Saudi Arabia has been a pioneer in investing in women’s education.

Mae Al-Mozaini

The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan aims to boost female participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent by the end of the decade.

Despite the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the distaff side globally, women in Saudi Arabia have made rapid social and professional strides on the back of the above-stated reforms.

According to the General Authority for Statistics, female participation in the Kingdom’s workforce rose to 33 percent at the end of 2020, up from 19 percent in 2016.

The growing numbers of women joining the workforce has helped the Kingdom achieve its target of female labor force participation 10 years ahead of time and lifted its international rankings in women’s economic inclusion and empowerment indices.

In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked 147 out of 156 countries.

Al-Mozaini added that Saudi women are ranked the most educated females in the Middle East and North Africa and investing in them to work in the tourism industry is a good move.

She added: “Saudi Arabia has been a pioneer in investing in women’s education. I don’t know any country where you go to college for free, and the government will give you money to stay in college. This means you don’t need a job to help your family while studying.

“The government wants you to graduate from school, so you can get a better job after college. I don’t know any country that does that. So, the Kingdom is a pioneer in investing in women.”

The Alkhobar-based Arab Institute for Women’s Empowerment was founded by Al-Mozaini in 2018 to “promote women’s empowerment and cultivate sustainable economic development.”

It aims to “raise the percentage of women in leadership by providing both emerging and accomplished female leaders with the knowledge, skills and networks needed to expand their impact on their individual organizations as well as their wider communities.”

Nusf aims to deliver programs that provide the necessary tools for Arab and Saudi women to succeed in professional and leadership roles.

Nusf in Arabic means “half,” and the institute aims to engage half the Kingdom’s population through empowerment and highlight the importance of investing in women.

For 2018-2022, the UN Economic and Social Council elected Saudi Arabia to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and in the World Bank’s 2021 Women, Business and the Law Index, Saudi Arabia scored 80 out of 100, well ahead of the global average.

The Bench to set up shop in Riyadh to host events for business

The Bench to set up shop in Riyadh to host events for business
Updated 27 May 2022

The Bench to set up shop in Riyadh to host events for business

The Bench to set up shop in Riyadh to host events for business

RIYADH: British business events firm The Bench is opening a new office in Riyadh, said its general manager in Saudi Arabia, Jana Bader.

The company aims to provide a platform for investors in the food and beverage, hospitality, and aviation sectors to connect and share opportunities in the Kingdom.

“Our investment conferences focus on deal-making and business development. So, whoever comes to our conferences knows they will be coming out with a return on investment — either a deal being made or a joint venture that is about to take place,” said Bader during an exclusive interview with Arab News at the Future Hospitality Summit in Riyadh.

The Bench sees entering the Kingdom as a unique opportunity and wants to hit the targets of Vision 2030 in terms of focusing on the hospitality sector.

“Saudi Arabia is the fastest-growing market in the world right now. We are seeing a lot of international investors and brands trying to get into the market,” said Bader.

“Now we can help facilitate their entry into the market and create an ecosystem for investors to understand the potential opportunities,” she added. Bader said it is also about helping investors understand Saudi culture. “I do not think we have to separate the Saudi culture from hospitality,” she said. “The Saudi culture is hospitality — it is embedded within the culture, and it’s not something you can disconnect.”