RIYADH: Investors dumped China’s banking and real estate stocks on Thursday, fearing deepening trouble in the property sector would begin to hit the financial system as a wave of homebuyers refused to repay mortgage loans for delayed projects.
Bonds of Chinese developers were also sold off, as confidence in the sector, already wrecked by the Evergrande Group crisis, continues to wane.
Over the past few weeks, a growing number of homebuyers across China have collectively threatened to halt mortgage payments to banks until developers resume construction of pre-sold homes, according to official newspapers and social media.
The CSI300 Bank index fell as much as 3.3 percent, hitting its lowest level since March 2020, while Hong Kong’s financial shares lost 1.5 percent.
China Merchants Bank and Industrial Bank dropped as much as 6.3 percent and 3.6 percent respectively.
China-listed developers Gemdale and Greenland Holdings slumped more than 4 percent, while Hong Kong-listed Longfor Group tumbled 5.4 percent to a four-month low.
The CSI Real Estate Bond Index fell to the lowest level in nearly four years, while an index tracking Chinese high-yield bonds hit record lows.
Alibaba cuts a third of deals team staff after regulatory crackdown
Alibaba Group is cutting over a third of staff in its in-house deals team, four people with knowledge of the matter said, after Beijing’s sweeping regulatory crackdown sharply slowed the Chinese e-commerce behemoth’s deal-making pace.
Alibaba plans to reduce its strategic investment team of more than 110 people, mainly based in mainland China, to about 70, said two of the people, adding the company has already informed a bulk of staffers of their redundancy.
The job cuts mainly involve mid-level and senior people in the mainland, said the two people, declining to be named as they were not authorized to speak to the media. The company’s deals team also has staff in Hong Kong, they added.
China summer wheat output rises 1 percent on extra acreage, yields
China’s summer wheat output rose 1 percent this year, official data showed on Thursday, boosted by additional acreage in a traditional cotton-growing region and higher yields.
Summer wheat output in the world’s top grower of the grain reached 135.76 million tons in 2022, the National Statistics Bureau said, helped by a 0.7 percent increase in yields and a slight gain in acreage.
Prices of wheat harvested in China rose to their highest levels on record last month, despite stable demand, pushed up by surging farming costs, tight stocks and concerns that heavy rains last year would lead to a smaller crop.
The agriculture ministry, however, had recently said its winter wheat crop improved more than expected.
Mideast’s share of renewables in energy mix to double by 2030: SAEE chairman
Region plays crucial role as it continues supplying hydrocarbons as the world enters a new energy system
Updated 05 February 2023
Reina Takla & Nirmal Narayanan
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is committed to driving energy transition using renewables but not at the cost of traditional fuels as the world needs adequate supply to meet its demand, according to a top official of a Saudi energy body.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the Saudi Association of Energy Economics Chairman Majeed Al-Moneef said that the Kingdom, and the Middle East region as a whole, will be at the forefront of both traditional and renewable energy sources, as it steadily progresses in achieving sustainable goals.
“We will follow the world trend in increasing the share of renewables in our energy mix. But that will not be done by sacrificing our oil and gas sectors, but along with the development of our oil and gas sectors,” said Al-Moneef.
The chairman of SAEE which works toward building capabilities in energy economics said the Middle East region is playing a crucial role in the energy transition journey, as it continues supplying hydrocarbons which are pivotal as the world enters a new energy system.
“We have the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative. So, we are an important player in traditional energy sources and renewable energy sources. We will be in the forefront of both.”
He further pointed out that countries in the Middle East region are now heavily investing simultaneously in traditional fuels like oil and gas and renewable energy sources including hydrogen.
Al-Moneef expects that the share of renewables in the energy mix in almost all regional countries will double or triple by 2030.
Talking about Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the SAEE chairman said a massive socioeconomic and institutional transformation is taking place across all sectors including energy as the objective is to diversify the economy. “We have got new energy resources like renewables, hydrogen, carbon sequestration and carbon management. They are the sectors of tomorrow. So, we are investing in future energy.”
This comes as Saudi Arabia is leapfrogging in sustainable energy generation while setting a net-zero target for 2060.
Al-Moneef pointed out that the region’s financial institutions including corporates, government financing, and multi-regional financing institutions have a crucial role to play in renewable energy projects to achieve sustainable goals within the stipulated timeline.
IAEE International Conference
SAEE which works toward facilitating dialogue among various stakeholders is hosting the International Conference of the International Association for Energy Economics for the first time in the Middle East and North Africa region in Riyadh with the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center.
Al-Moneef sounded confident that the IAEE conference which begins on Feb. 4 will witness a record number of participants.
“This conference will have the largest registration in the history of energy economic conferences. This is the first time that such a conference is being held in the region. So, this is a testament to the importance of Saudi Arabia and the region in the global energy sector,” he said.
Al-Moneef revealed that regional universities will present scientific papers during the event, and added that events like these hold significance as “they will accelerate the participation of more regional research institutions, individuals and students in the energy sector.”
He disclosed that they had two major meetings involving all the universities in Saudi Arabia to encourage them to submit papers. “We tried to have a wide representation of the region. So, we have good numbers. As a matter of fact, something close to 40 percent of papers is from Saudi Arabia and the region.”
The SAEE chairman pointed out that the purpose of the conference is to encourage research in energy economics in the region. “That was our main goal. The field of energy economics is of crucial importance to the region, and we should have more researchers in the research institutions, individuals, and students who are engaged in that subject matter.”
He revealed that the conference will hold special plenary sessions on investment and trade in the energy sector, “as the conflict in Ukraine has changed the trade flows of oil and gas globally.”
Al-Moneef further pointed out that Saudi Arabia and the region as a whole will host more similar events related to energy economics in the future.
“As a matter of fact, one of the outcomes of this conference will be to have annual regional conferences in the Middle East. So, one of the outcomes will be to institutionalize a MENA Middle Easy symposium to be held every year,” he said.
Al-Moneef noted that Saudi Arabia will be on the organizing committee for the MENA Energy Economics conference that will be held every year, and the Kingdom will make sure that researchers from the institutions in the nation will participate in these upcoming events.
Talking about the necessity to ramp up power generation and increase the efficiency of energy usage, Al-Moneef stressed that sufficient investments are needed to elevate efficiency “so that the production process will be clean, and efficient with the least cost possible.”
He also highlighted that international and regional cooperation is very crucial to ensure the growing power demand in the future.
Al-Moneef who had served in multiple high-profile positions including the Secretary General of the Supreme Economic Council of Saudi Arabia, Governor of Saudi Arabia in the Board of Governors of OPEC, stressed the need to create a common grid that will solve power-generating issues. "It will allow countries with power scarcity to secure help from nations that produce excess power.”
He added that a common energy market will be soon materialized in the Middle East region, supported by a proper regulatory framework.
According to him, promoting regional cooperation in the energy field is the key to a new Middle East. “And we have to improve the transportation lines.”
For Al-Moneef, what the region needs is the proper regulatory framework. “Europe has done it. They have put in place the regulatory framework to see to it that there is a common energy market. We can have someday a common Middle East energy market. We are capable of doing it,” he signed off.
LONDON: Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region have seen a significant shift in the concept of city building with modernized infrastructure plans taking into account ways to improve people’s lives and experiences as opposed to “purely a functional response,” according to a UK-based architecture expert.
“It’s all about how can you create a terrific sense of being in a city and having a great experience,” said Daniel Hajjar, managing principal for Europe and the Middle East at HOK — a global architecture and engineering firm.
“Particularly in Saudi Arabia, you’re seeing a lot more use of those types of facilities, because there’s a lot more encouragement to sort of knock down both physical and figurative walls within the Kingdom. And I think that’s a very good thing, as it’s only a matter of time before you will begin to see, and you’re already seeing it, much more engagement from Saudis in their own country,” he told Arab News in a recent exclusive interview.
HOK, which has been engaged with the Kingdom since the 1970s, has designed several iconic projects, including the 80-story PIF Tower, which is the tallest of the five structures that make up the financial plaza of the King Abdullah Financial District and symbolizes “the dawn of a new era of financial leadership” within the Saudi capital.
A lot of the architecture that is being produced, within Riyadh and perhaps within the Najd area in particular, this whole aspect of Salmani architecture or Salmani expression, seeking an expression that is genuine for the region.
Daniel Hajjar, HOK managing principal for Europe and the Middle East
The US-based firm, which was founded in 1955 in Missouri, began to officially expand its footprint in the Middle East in the early 1980s, and the first major project where the company brought a lot of its talent to complex designs was in Saudi Arabia. It was King Khalid Airport, King Saud University and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran that changed the way it operated as a firm, Hajjar explained.
“Those were sort of the first two institutes of higher education within the Kingdom that really propelled Saudi on the international stage that they began developing this fundamental infrastructure, and as a result, HOK was instrumental in delivering that, as well as the airport,” he said.
The company also developed other high-profile projects, among them King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center in Saudi Arabia. Others included the National Assembly building and the Central Bank headquarters in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company corporate headquarters, Dubai Marina, and the masterplan for Dubai Expo 2020.
Hajjar said that the Kingdom’s projects have always challenged the company to develop the way they work, and have invested heavily in technology to deliver massive and complex Lead in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum projects within months, and the first of their kind in the region.
Focus on future generations
Saudi Vision 2030 “is incredibly ambitious, and because of that, it raises the bar significantly in terms of what is it that’s going to drive that economy, post-oil, or post-hydrocarbon, because that is going to happen, and this diversification of the economy,” he said.
HOK, which has been engaged with the Kingdom since the 1970s, has designed several iconic projects, including the 80-story PIF Tower, (left) which is the tallest of the five structures that make up the financial plaza of the King Abdullah Financial District and symbolizes ‘the dawn of a new era of financial leadership’ within the Saudi capital.
“Those master plans that are being done now are not necessarily for the generation today, but they’re for future generations to use, and master plans, by their very nature change and evolve over time. So as a result, we believe that setting a framework in place where you have the ability to engage people along the journey is incredibly important, because … they’re part of that evolution (and) it is part of their genetic DNA, if you will, but within the country,” Hajjar said.
When designing projects, Hajjar said it was important to ensure they had cultural or physical relevance, and to interpret natural and heritage aspects into a modern form.
“A lot of the architecture that is being produced, within Riyadh and perhaps within the Najd area in particular, this whole aspect of Salmani architecture or Salmani expression, seeking an expression that is genuine for the region, as opposed to looking at something in a pastiche manner.
“So as a result, you’re beginning to see much more authentic architecture, without copying the past, and look at a modern interpretation of those historic principles behind the architecture has a tremendously valuable proposition.”
Comparing Riyadh and Jeddah, he said that they were two totally different cities because they grew based on different parameters when they were established.
“If you look at Jeddah and the way the Al-Balad part of Jeddah has sort of grown out further from the original port, and then if you look at Riyadh as being the capital of the Kingdom, very much different in terms of the approach to city building between the two of them, and it doesn’t mean that one’s necessarily better than the other.
“Because there wasn’t as much of an economic boom in Jeddah, it sort of boomed and then it slowed down and then they didn’t simply just build. I think Riyadh now is looking at the various initiatives, in terms of greening Riyadh, public art, and creating that level of richness, while Jeddah has had international art exhibits along the Corniche,” he said.
These also differ from new developments such as the NEOM megacity project or Diriyah Gate, which is the birthplace of the first Saudi state and now everything is leveraging off that historic core as they begin to build out from there, he said.
The big challenge with Saudi Arabia is it is so geographically diverse from one region to the next, so how do you begin bringing those cultures together within the Kingdom and ensure “the richness that occurs in one region should be introduced to the richness from another in order to create this fantastic mosaic that is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Another major challenge is the future of transportation, and there will be a strong focus on linking cities together within the Kingdom and the Gulf region and cutting down on air travel carbon footprint.
“The irony behind all of this is pre-World War I, there was a railway in the Kingdom, and now there is no railway. So I think you’re going to begin seeing a lot of that, particularly GCC-wide (and) it’s going to serve the function of transporting commodities and everything else, but at the same time, they have the ability to encourage people to travel by rail and I think that will come,” he said.
Cities mature when they begin introducing large-scale infrastructure projects that help people live in it, and a decade in terms of the city’s life is not a very long time at all, Hajjar said, as the Vision 2030 target ambitions rapidly approach.
“Ultimately, a city has a continuum to it,” he said, “because when a city stops to develop and stops challenging itself, it slowly begins to lose meaning to people within the city. You have to continually reinvent the city, bring new things into the city, and have people engaged in different ways.”
UAE, France, India to cooperate on energy, climate and adopt implementation roadmap
Updated 04 February 2023
LONDON: The UAE, France and India have established a tripartite cooperation initiative in several areas including energy and climate change, the Emirati state news agency WAM reported on Saturday.
A joint statement, which came following a phone call between UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, his French counterpart Catherine Colonna, and their Indian counterpart Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, affirmed that the trilateral initiative will promote the joint design and execution of projects in various fields, including solar and nuclear energy, combating climate change, and protecting biodiversity, particularly in the Indian Ocean.
“For this purpose, the three countries will explore the possibility of working with the Indian Ocean Rim Association to pursue concrete, actionable projects on clean energy, the environment, and biodiversity,” the statement said.
The initiative will also serve as a platform to expand cooperation between the three countries’ development agencies on sustainable projects, as well as to organize a range of trilateral events in the framework of the Indian presidency of the G20 and the UAE’s hosting of COP28 this year.
“It was agreed that the three countries will seek to ensure greater alignment of their respective economic, technological, and social policies with the objectives of the Paris Agreement,” the statement added.
The countries also agreed to expand cooperation through initiatives such as the Mangrove Alliance for Climate, led by the UAE, and the Indo-Pacific Parks Partnership, led by India and France.
“It was agreed that the three countries should seek to focus on key issues such as single-use plastic pollution, desertification, and food security in the context of the International Year of Millets, 2023,” the statement noted.
The three sides also underlined their desire to adopt a circular-economy model under the aegis of India’s Mission LiFE, which aims to bring individual behaviors to the forefront of the global climate-action narrative.
The three countries stressed the need to strengthen defense cooperation and agreed to increase efforts to further promote compatibility and joint development and co-production, whilst seeking out avenues for further collaboration and training between their defense forces.
They pledged to strengthen communication on emerging threats, including infectious diseases and measures to combat future pandemics.
“In this regard, cooperation with multilateral organizations such as World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi — the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund, and Unitaid will be encouraged,” the statement said.
They also agreed to cooperate on the implementation of WHO’s “One Health” approach — to achieve optimal health outcomes that recognize the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment locally, regionally and globally, and to support the development of local capacities in biomedical innovation and production within developing countries.
“As countries at the very forefront of technological innovation, the development of trilateral cooperation between relevant academic and research institutions and efforts to promote co-innovation projects, technology transfer, and entrepreneurship will be encouraged,” the statement said.
This will include organizing trilateral conferences and meetings on the sidelines of high-level technology events, such as Vivatech in Paris, Bengaluru Tech Summit in INdia, and GITEX in Dubai, to support such cooperation.
The UAE, France and India said they will ensure that the trilateral initiative will be used to promote cultural cooperation through a range of joint projects, including heritage promotion and protection, “in recognition of the critical role social and human bonds play in their constructive partnership.”
Almana set to expand network of hospitals outside of the Eastern Province: CEO
Updated 03 February 2023
RIYADH: As part of its five-year plan, Almana Group of Hospitals, one of the oldest and largest medical groups in Saudi Arabia, is set to expand its network of hospitals, its CEO told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
Being the first private medical center established in the Eastern Province, the group’s initial focus will be on exploring opportunities for a new hospital outside of the eastern region within the next few years with the view to expanding into other areas following that, Mana Almana informed.
“We are strongly aligned with the vision of our great leaders and stand ready to support the government to build capacity within the sector due to our expanding facilities and offerings tailored to the evolving needs of our communities,” he said.
Almana added: “We recognize that to meet the future needs of the medical sector, we need to partner with world-renowned healthcare institutions to help us accelerate and further develop the Kingdom’s healthcare system.”
Not surprisingly, the group is also seeking to partner with the Ministry of Health under public-private partnerships to deliver advanced and specialist services.
As the only dedicated oncology unit in eastern Saudi Arabia, the group has recently expanded its specialists department in Dammam to cater to cancer patients’ mounting needs in the region.
“When it comes to oncology, Almana’s goal is to provide cancer patients with the highest international standard of care and cater to the growing need for cancer care in the Kingdom,” Almana said.
“As such, in addition to our existing seven hospitals and clinics, we decided to create a dedicated space where patients could receive individualized and tailored treatment within a centralized and fully-fledged unit.”
The new oncology center has been designed with the complexity of cancer in mind. By bringing the group’s 70 specialized oncologists under one roof, it can provide personalized treatments and precision fit for specific types of cancer.
The new unit will include four new clinics specializing in medical oncology, radiation and surgical oncology in addition to four chemotherapy treatment rooms.
“Besides providing exceptional treatment for patients, we also focus our efforts on preventive cancer care measures,” Almana explained.
“Our efforts include free year-round breast-cancer screenings at all branches of Almana hospitals in Dammam, Alkhobar, Ahsa, Jubail and Rakah,” he continued. “Over the years, our free screening has touched the lives of over 10,000 patients, potentially helping to save even more lives.”
In line with the ambition of Saudi Vision 2030 to unify patient care records and improve health information exchange, the group is investing heavily in technology within its hospitals to ensure all services will be automated while providing seamless service for its patients.
“We are also establishing a new central command center to improve patient outcomes by coordinating care between our hospital locations,” Almana informed.
“As a group of hospitals, we continuously foster a culture of innovation to create value in areas of high unmet medical need across the Kingdom. For example, we’ve created unique offerings where they currently don’t exist such as our foot disease and diabetes center, the only one in the region,” he continued.
In addition, the group is also taking several steps to train and recruit medical professionals.
“We also share the ambition of Saudi Vision 2030 to increase the number of females within the workforce,” Almana said. “Already, we have females leading our medical departments and are looking to increase this even further by 20 percent over the next five years.”
“Over the last 10 years, we’ve also helped develop the next generation of doctors and nurses in the Kingdom through our official healthcare training academy, Mohammed Almana College for Medical Science, which contributes to over 180 Saudi graduate nurses each year,” he pointed out.
Global Markets: Stocks, bonds tumble as stellar US jobs report may force Fed rethink
Updated 03 February 2023
LONDON: Global stocks and Treasury prices tumbled on Friday after an unexpectedly strong US jobs report indicated the Federal Reserve may need to keep interest rates elevated to control inflation, according to Reuters.
This placed another roadblock in the way of a weeks-long markets rally that stumbled in US after hours trading on Thursday over disappointing earnings from Google, Apple, and Amazon.
S&P 500 futures slid 1.1 percent, contracts on the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 dropped 1.8 percent.
The MSCI index of global shares fell 0.3 percent, having hit its highest level since August on Thursday in a rebound buoyed by optimism that central banks are close to the end of their aggressive rate hiking cycles.
The keenly-watched US nonfarm payrolls report showed US employers added 517,000 new workers in January, vastly overshooting expectations of economists polled by Reuters for a 185,000 gain.
Average hourly wages, which analysts and investors focus on for clues about whether a tight labour market may continue to fan the flames of inflation, rose 0.3%, matching economists' forecasts.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which underpins borrowing costs worldwide, added 11 basis points to 3.51 percent after the jobs data. The two-year Treasury yield, which follows traders' expectations of Fed fund rates, rose by 12 bps to 4.24 percent.
The Fed hiked its main interest rate by 25 bps to a range of 4.5 percent to 4.75 percent on Wednesday, taking benchmark borrowing costs to their highest since late 2007, and signalled more hikes to come. The European Central Bank and the Bank of England also raised rates on Thursday to contain inflation.
"In a year when the economic data is more important than the Fed, the January employment report clearly justified the Fed having tightened by 425 bps over the past 10 months," said Jack McIntyre, portfolio manager at Brandywine Global.
Ahead of the nonfarm payrolls data, markets had priced two US rate cuts by year-end on hopes the US economy was cooling enough to quell inflation but not on course for a downturn that could reduce companies’ earnings more than markets were already counting on.
US tech shares took a beating in after-hours trading on Thursday after Apple projected another revenue decline in the start of the year, Amazon warned that its operating profit could fall to zero in the current quarter, and Google parent Alphabet missed fourth-quarter profit and revenue expectations.
"We will see headwinds from further earnings downgrades, but we have incorporated quite a lot (of this) already so I think markets can hold here if we are indeed right on the Fed,” said Willem Sels, global chief investment officer at HSBC's private bank, who expects the US central bank to raise rates just one more time in 2023.
An index measuring the dollar against major currencies stood at 102.53, rising further from recent nine-month lows of 100.80.
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 share benchmark fell 0.4 percent. Germany's benchmark 10-year bond yield rose 13 bps to 2.14 percent, having on Thursday dropped by the most since 2011 as prices shot higher.
The euro traded at $1.0841, down 0.65 percent and pulling further away from Thursday's 10-month top of $1.1033.