Middle East’s largest optical retailer doesn’t rule out an IPO as it expands into lens manufacturing

Exclusive Middle East’s largest optical retailer doesn’t rule out an IPO as it expands into lens manufacturing
With a wide presence of 140 stores across the Kingdom, the UAE, Egypt, Qatar and Kuwait, the group now plans to go premium in the next five years. (Supplied)
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Updated 20 July 2022

Middle East’s largest optical retailer doesn’t rule out an IPO as it expands into lens manufacturing

Middle East’s largest optical retailer doesn’t rule out an IPO as it expands into lens manufacturing
  • Top optical retailer plans to invest $26.63 million over the coming few years to expand operations

RIYADH: Magrabi Group, which runs the largest network of optical retail stores and hospitals in the Middle East, is open to a possible initial public offering as it plans to invest SR100 million ($26.63 million) a year over the coming few years to expand operations, including the opening of a lens manufacturing facility in Dubai and possibly a similar plant in Riyadh.

The Group CEO, Amin Magrabi, told Arab News in an exclusive interview that some businesses under the group are very interested in the idea of selling shares to the public without revealing the exact time frame of the IPO.

Speaking following the launch of his Lens Innovation Center, one of the most advanced facilities in the world and the biggest manufacturer of ophthalmic lenses, Magrabi said, from a valuation perspective, the market is just right to raise funds.

“We are always studying when it is the optimal time to do it. Everyone knows from a valuation perspective that the market is hot now and offers attractive valuations. For Magrabi Retail, I don’t see that happening in the next three years. But we are constantly looking at it,” Magrabi told Arab News. 

He added: “When I look into the future, I see at some point, we will tap the capital markets, but not in the short term. We have no concrete plans to tap the capital markets.”

But the company has already made tremendous strides. Its lens center in Dubai currently produces 1 million lenses annually, and the company plans to manufacture 2 million by 2025.

The company has partnered with the top German manufacturer of ophthalmic lens machinery and equipment, Schneider Optical, to develop the facility.

The center is the only lens manufacturing facility in the region that utilizes Schneider’s modulo line technology, enabling the center to run at maximum efficiency levels not seen in the Middle East before.

The advantages of the modulo production line are wide-ranging, reducing costs and improving overall efficiency and capacity to world-leading levels.

Opened in January 2022, the LIC will serve Magrabi’s premium brand and the company’s mainstream brand Doctor M. 

KSA is our biggest market. Our investments will be dominated by Saudi Arabia. So Riyadh is an attractive market for us to look at.

Amin Magrabi, Magrabi Group CEO

The firm plans to manufacture a pair of lenses every 15 seconds by 2025, with the goal backed by an investment of 54 million dirhams ($14.7million).

Ramping up Saudi Arabia

During the interview, Magrabi noted that the company’s biggest market is Saudi Arabia, and it is planning to ramp up investments in the Kingdom in the next five years.

He further said that Magrabi expects to open a similar lens innovation center in Riyadh.

“Saudi Arabia is our biggest market. Our investments over the next five years will be dominated by Saudi Arabia. So Riyadh is an attractive market for us to look at. And it’s our largest and fastest-growing market in the region,” he added.

Recently, Magrabi Group changed its headquarters from Jeddah to Riyadh, clearly showing the company’s interest in the Kingdom’s capital city. It is also leading the industry in terms of Saudization.

“We are committed to employing, training, developing and promoting Saudi talent. I think we close this year with 70 percent Saudization in our workforce in Saudi Arabia,” he further noted.

Magrabi added that the lens market is also slowly switching to the online selling mode, which will help customers buy lenses from the comfort of their homes.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The company has already made tremendous strides. Its lens center in Dubai currently produces 1 million lenses annually, and the company plans to manufacture 2 million by 2025.

• The company has partnered with the top German manufacturer of ophthalmic lens machinery and equipment, Schneider Optical, to develop the facility.

• The center is the only lens manufacturing facility in the region that utilizes Schneider’s modulo line technology, enabling the center to run at maximum efficiency levels not seen in the Middle East before.

• The advantages of the modulo production line are wide-ranging, reducing costs and improving overall efficiency and capacity to world-leading levels.

“We’ve gone online in Saudi Arabia first and then the UAE. We will go to the rest of the region over the next 12 to 18 months. So now you can get your contact lenses and sunglasses online. But still, to get the best quality measurements, you need to go to the store for the eye test and perfect fit,” added Magrabi.

Widening horizons

With a wide presence of 140 stores across the Kingdom, the UAE, Egypt, Qatar and Kuwait, the group now plans to go premium in the next five years.

“We’re trying to make it more premium. But we do relocate stores. We expand stores, and we put them in better positions.

But we don’t expect significant growth in those numbers over the next five years. Maybe a 20 percent growth on those numbers,” he continued. 

“Magrabi wants to emerge more as a lifestyle brand and more as a luxury brand. So you will see massive investments in refurbishments, relocations and expanding some of our existing stores. And this year alone, we will invest over SR80 million to SR85 million to achieve this.”

He also added that he does not want to expand into international markets like regular players who simply open new stores in Western cities.

“When we go to these markets, we’re not another player who says I have a few stores. We know many people who’ve done that.

So, the day we go, we want a significant presence there. We’re trying to create truly differentiated organizations and business models so that when they grow internationally, they can significantly impact the markets they go to,” he said.

While talking about Magrabi’s social commitment, he noted that the group has been operating nonprofit hospitals in countries like Egypt, Yemen and Sudan.

“We have nonprofit hospitals across many Middle Eastern countries that are less fortunate than the Gulf countries. We have constantly invested, donated and supplied care to those in need,” he continued.

Magrabi added that the company is eyeing to ensure gender equality in its workforce by 2025.

Talking about the measures taken to protect the environment, he said, “We are using optimal electrical and water usage in our facilities. Starting this year, we will also do some audits to see where we rank and how we can improve on those things.”


GCC region has over 170K hotel rooms under development: Report 

GCC region has over 170K hotel rooms under development: Report 
Updated 07 December 2022

GCC region has over 170K hotel rooms under development: Report 

GCC region has over 170K hotel rooms under development: Report 

RIYADH: Gulf Cooperation Council countries have over 170,000 hotel rooms under active development, equivalent to 40 percent of the region’s existing inventory, according to research by hotel market intelligence company STR. 

The development figure is almost four times greater than the rest of the world, which currently lags at an average of 11 percent more being created compared with existing supply. 

Danielle Curtis, exhibition director of Arabian Travel Market, the firm that commissioned the research, said: “Between Expo 2020, the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 strategy, the GCC’s hospitality sector development pipeline remains robust in contrast to global hotel development, which is slowing, due to weak economic growth forecasts. 

“While the hospitality sector’s growth does highlight the region’s increasing popularity on the global stage, it is also indicative of regional government strategy to diversify gross domestic product growth away from hydrocarbons into tourism, which will help to drive demand still further, over the coming years.” 

The STR report estimates there are 135,560 existing rooms in Saudi Arabia with an active pipeline of 82,639 rooms, making a total room inventory projected for 2030 at over 218,000. Similarly, for the UAE, there are more than 202,000 existing rooms with an active pipeline of 48,910 rooms, leading to a combined total of almost 251,000 rooms by 2030. 

The UAE’s historic occupancy performance defines what the region can expect as new rooms enter the market. Rooms supply increased by more than 70,000 rooms between 2010 and 2019, a staggering 68 percent increase or about 6 percent average annual growth. 

“With such levels of investment and development, we are expecting a marked increase in the number of GCC participants at ATM 2023, including inbound tour operators and travel agents from across the globe, as the region continues to attract growing numbers of tourists, for whom environmentally friendly and sustainable development will be critical,” added Curtis. 

ATM, the leading Middle East travel and tourism event for international inbound and outbound tourism professionals, takes place at the Dubai World Trade Centre on May 1-4 2023 under the official theme of ‘Working Toward Net-Zero.’


Metaverse to contribute $7.6bn to Saudi economy by 2030: report  

Metaverse to contribute $7.6bn to Saudi economy by 2030: report  
Updated 07 December 2022

Metaverse to contribute $7.6bn to Saudi economy by 2030: report  

Metaverse to contribute $7.6bn to Saudi economy by 2030: report  

RIYADH: The potential contribution of the metaverse to Saudi Arabia’s economy could be around $7.6 billion annually by 2030, as the Kingdom steadily diversifies its economy in line with its goals outlined in Vision 2030, according to a new analysis.  

Released by Strategy& Middle East, a part of the PwC network, the report noted that besides the Kingdom, the 3D-rendered internet business in the UAE could contribute approximately $3.3 billion to its economy by the end of this decade.  

Moreover, the emerging technology’s contribution to Qatar and Kuwait is expected to hit around $1.6 billion and $1 billion, respectively, by 2030.  

“The potential contribution of the metaverse to Gulf Cooperation Council economies could be around $15 billion annually by 2030, of which $7.6 billion would be in Saudi Arabia and $3.3 billion in the UAE,” said Strategy& Middle East in its report.  

The metaverse could contribute $800 million to Kuwait’s economy, while Bahrain’s share will be around $400 billion.  

The report further noted that the metaverse is still developing, and organizations in the GCC region should act appropriately and seize the opportunity to reap the maximum from this emerging technology.  

“The projections assessed growth in the component technologies, platforms, hardware, and software, as well as the economic contribution of new metaverse applications such as content creation, shopping, and so on,” said Tony G Karam, partner, Strategy& Middle East.  

The report also identified travel and tourism as the sector with the potential to reap the greatest economic gain from the metaverse, estimated at $3.2 billion.  

Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion megacity NEOM’s digital subsidiary has created a metaverse that allows people to be present in the virtual city and enjoy the experience as an avatar or a hologram.  

“There could be metaverse tours of AlUla, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, or fashion festivals, spas, wellness retreats, and entertainment and sports events. Metaverse visits would inspire in-person travel. Later, travelers could return through the metaverse to relive their experiences,” said Jad N Baroudi, principal, Strategy& Middle East. 

Earlier in October, Fares Akkad, regional director for Meta in the Middle East and North Africa, told Asharq Business that the metaverse is predicted to add $360 billion to the economy in the MENA and Turkiye over the next 10 years.  

In July, Dubai formally announced its Metaverse strategy would help it become a leading metaverse economy. The strategy aims to add $4 billion to the nation’s economy and create 40,000 new jobs in the next five years.  

The UAE has also established the Middle East’s first metaverse incubator 8 to develop early-stage metaverse and Web3 applications. 


Oil Updates — Crude up; China’s crude oil imports hit 10-month high

Oil Updates — Crude up; China’s crude oil imports hit 10-month high
Updated 07 December 2022

Oil Updates — Crude up; China’s crude oil imports hit 10-month high

Oil Updates — Crude up; China’s crude oil imports hit 10-month high

RIYADH: Oil futures edged slightly higher on Wednesday on hopes for improved Chinese demand while uncertainty about how a Western cap on Russian oil prices would play out kept markets on edge after a sharp fall the previous session. 

Brent crude futures gained 13 cents, or 0.16 percent, at 0416 GMT to $79.48 a barrel after they fell below $80 for the second time in 2022 during the previous trading session. 

US crude futures clawed back earlier losses and were steady from the previous close at $74.25 a barrel. 

China November crude oil imports hit 10-mth high 

China’s crude oil imports in November rose 12 percent from a year earlier to their highest in 10 months, data showed on Wednesday, as companies replenished stocks with cheaper oil and new plants started up. 

The world’s largest crude importer brought in 46.74 million tons of crude oil last month, equivalent to 11.37 million barrels per day, according to data from the General Administration of Customs. 

That was up from 10.16 million bpd in October and 10.17 million bpd in November 2021. 

Chinese state refiners stepped up purchases of US crude oil, taking advantage of arbitrage opportunities, while maintaining high imports of Russian oil ahead of the Dec. 5 European embargo and imposition of an oil price cap. 

Independent traders last month also moved a record amount of deeply discounted Iranian crude passed off as oil sourced from Malaysia, Oman or elsewhere in the refining hub of Shandong province, according to tanker tracker Vortexa Analytics. 

The higher imports resulted in a crude oil stock build of 41 million barrels over the month, Vortexa estimated. 

Imports for the first 11 months of the year totaled 460.26 million tons, or about 10.06 bpd, down 1.4 percent from last year’s corresponding period. 

Wednesday’s data also showed fuel exports reached 6.144 million tons, the highest since June 2021 and up from 4.456 million tons in October, reflecting Beijing’s additional release of quotas. 

Year-to-date exports, at 46 million tons, remained 19 percent below year-ago levels due to a broad curb on fuel exports earlier in the year. 

Turkish straits tanker delays not due to Russia oil price cap: official 

Disruptions in tanker traffic from Russia’s Black Sea ports to the Mediterranean result from a new Turkish insurance rule, not the price cap on Russian oil agreed by a coalition of Group of Seven countries and Australia, an official with the group said on Tuesday. 

Of the 20 loaded crude oil tankers facing delays in the region, all but one appear to be carrying Kazakh — not Russian — origin oil and would not be subject to the price cap “under any scenario,” the official said. 

“There should be no change in the status of their insurance from Kazakh shipments in previous weeks or months,” the official added. 

Markets are closely watching the impact of a G7-led price cap on Russian seaborne oil that took effect on Monday, but G7 officials say the measure did not cause the backup in Turkiye’s Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits into the Mediterranean. 

 “The price cap policy does not require ships to seek unique insurance guarantees for each individual voyage, as required under Turkiye’s rule,” the official said. “These disruptions are the result of Turkiye’s rule, not the price cap policy.” 

(With input from Reuters)  


Closing Bell: TASI recovers from surging volatility to close at 10,444 points 

Closing Bell: TASI recovers from surging volatility to close at 10,444 points 
Updated 06 December 2022

Closing Bell: TASI recovers from surging volatility to close at 10,444 points 

Closing Bell: TASI recovers from surging volatility to close at 10,444 points 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s benchmark index recovered on Tuesday after registering a massive fall on Monday, signaling the surging volatility in the market. 

The Tadawul All Share Index on Tuesday gained 25 points to close at 10,444.27 points after touching a low of 10,282.81 at 10:31 a.m. Saudi time. The recovery came close on the heels of the 304 points crash the bourse witnessed on Monday. 

The parallel market Nomu, however, could not match the pace with the TASI momentum and fell nearly 291 points to close at 18,506.03. 

The advance-decline ratio was pegged positively, with 109 stocks of the listed 219 heading north and 91 turning south. The total trading turnover was SR4.96 billion ($1.32 billion). 

According to market sources, investors were pessimistic about the Saudi market as they expected the earnings might not meet the historical growth it booked. 

The Saudi market is trading at a price-earnings ratio of 13.2x, which is relatively lower than its three-year average PE of 25.8x. 

On Tuesday, financial market tracker Argaam reported that shares of 39 Saudi-listed firms, including Saudi Telecom Co., Al Rajhi Bank and units of two real estate investment trust funds, hit their lowest levels in 52 weeks on Tuesday. 

The stocks that fell the most during this period included United Cooperative Assurance Co., which declined by 78 percent to SR7.6 and CHUBB Arabia Cooperative Insurance Co. by 58 percent to SR15.32. 

Other stocks included Malath Cooperative Insurance Co., which fell by 57 percent to SR10.88, Tabuk Agricultural Development Co. declined by 51 percent to SR51.3, while Red Sea International Co. dropped by 48 percent to SR23.18. 

On a positive note, however, information and communications technology firm Perfect Presentation for Commercial Services Co. on Tuesday announced a cash dividend of SR0.7 for the third quarter of the fiscal year, distributing a total of SR10.5 million. The company’s share closed 1.42 percent higher at SR156.70. 

The National Agricultural Development Co. also disclosed the launch of its strategic plan to the exchange, including expanding its leadership in dairy, juice, food, and agricultural products across new markets. The share price of the company tipped lower to touch SR22.76. 

The Saudi Exchange also celebrated the listing of AlRajhi Bank Tier 1 Sukuk. AlRajhi Bank is one of the world’s largest Islamic banks by market cap, with a strong presence in the Kingdom. 

“The addition of AlRajhi Bank Sukuk to the Saudi Exchange is another step toward diversifying the products available to local, regional and international investors, in line with our commitment to Vision 2030 and its Financial Sector Development Program,” said Mohammed Al-Rumaih, CEO of Saudi Exchange. 


SMEs in KSA jump 9.3% in Q3 driven by healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem 

SMEs in KSA jump 9.3% in Q3 driven by healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem 
Updated 06 December 2022

SMEs in KSA jump 9.3% in Q3 driven by healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem 

SMEs in KSA jump 9.3% in Q3 driven by healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem 

RIYADH:  The number of small and medium-sized enterprises in Saudi Arabia jumped 9.3 percent in the third quarter of 2022, driven by strong economic growth and a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Kingdom, according to latest government figures.  

A report released by the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises, known as Monsha’at, showed the number of firms reached 978,445 in the three months to the end of September, up from 892,063 in the second quarter.  

The Monsha’at report pointed out that venture capital funding in Saudi Arabia in the first nine months of 2022 witnessed a 93 percent year-on-year increase totaling at SR3.1 billion ($820 million).  

According to Monsha’at, policy changes which have been implemented in the Kingdom since 2016 are one of the reasons behind the surge in the number of SMEs.  

“By increasing access to capital and offering and increased upskilling and specialized training to help people grow their businesses, entrepreneurial culture has taken root in the Kingdom,” said Monsha’at in the report.  

The report further noted that dedicated policies to invest in emerging technologies have also triggered innovation and job creation in the SME sector.  

Investments in the fintech sector were strong in the third quarter, with 22 deals signaling a 266 percent year-on-year rise, the report said.  

Renewable energy, tourism, and agricultural sectors are driving SME growth in the Al-Jouf province, with the province’s close proximity to the Jordanian market also spurring new business creation across multiple sectors.  

The report noted that initiatives and increased investments in the information and communication technology sector have also led to new SME growth in the Kingdom.  

“Monsha’at’s Thakaa Center is investing SR335 million to help over 90 tech startups and 250 SMEs integrate advanced technologies into their business,” the report added.  

The Monsha’at report for the third quarter came after Saudi Arabia’s National Development Fund announced the start of operations at the Small and Medium Enterprises Bank, aimed at bridging the finance gap in the SME sector.  

The launch of the new bank is expected to help the SME sector contribute as much as 35 percent to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product in line with the Saudi Vision 2030. 

Some other goals Monsha’at is trying to materialize by 2030 include lowering the unemployment rate from 11.6 percent to 7 percent and increasing women’s participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent.