Saudi Arabia set to overtake India as fastest-growing major economy this year 

Saudi Arabia set to overtake India as fastest-growing major economy this year 
Saudi Arabia is expected to outpace India with 7.6 percent gross domestic product growth. (File)
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Updated 08 January 2023
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Saudi Arabia set to overtake India as fastest-growing major economy this year 

Saudi Arabia set to overtake India as fastest-growing major economy this year 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is set to overtake India as the fastest-growing major economy in 2023, driven by gains from energy prices. 

According to official data released by India’s Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation, Saudi Arabia is expected to outpace India with 7.6 percent gross domestic product growth as the rising revenues from higher energy prices continue to bolster the Kingdom’s economy.  

This puts India in the second position with an expected GDP growth rate of 7 percent in the fiscal year ending March, as weakening demand has hampered the growth prospects of Asia’s third-largest economy. 

“The growth in real GDP during 2022-23 is estimated at 7 percent, compared to 8.7 percent in 2021-22,” said the Indian ministry in a statement. 

The Indian government is using this estimate to decide its spending priorities in the upcoming union budget that will be presented on Feb.1, 2023, which will also be the last full-year expenditure plan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government before elections in 2024.  

Even though India started the ongoing fiscal year on a good note, monetary policies adopted by the Reserve Bank of India to combat inflation have apparently tampered with the growth curve of the nation.  

India's central bank, which has raised its benchmark rate by 225 basis points so far this fiscal year, is expected to announce further hike after its policy review meeting scheduled between Feb. 6 to 8.  

In December last year, Saudi Arabia reported a larger-than-expected budget surplus for 2022 of SR102 billion ($27.13 billion) — SR12 billion higher than the previous estimate. 

After the approval of the 2023 budget, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that the success of the Kingdom’s reforms in the operating model of the public sector and the economy contributed to the achievement of a budget surplus. 

He further noted that the budget surplus will be used to boost government reserves, support national funds, and strengthen the Kingdom’s financial position amid global economic headwinds. 

He also added that the government intends to prioritize capital spending in the 2023 budget based on regional and sectoral strategies in line with the goals outlined in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. 

In October, the International Monetary Fund, in its World Economic Outlook Report, noted that Saudi Arabia is expected to grow by 7.6 percent in 2022 and 3.7 percent in 2023. 

The World Bank projection was slightly higher than the IMF estimates, as the international financial institution predicted 8.3 percent growth in 2022, before moderating to 3.7 percent and 2.3 percent in 2023 and 2024 respectively. 

In November, the World Bank also revealed that Saudi Arabia is the fastest-growing economy among the Group of 20 nations, adding that the Kingdom has a moderate inflation rate at 2.9 percent, the lowest among G20 countries. 


Qatar Airways launches NEOM Bay flight

Qatar Airways launches NEOM Bay flight
Updated 16 sec ago
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Qatar Airways launches NEOM Bay flight

Qatar Airways launches NEOM Bay flight
  • The NEOM Bay flight will be the 10th route by the airline to the Kingdom

Riyadh: Qatar Airways expanded services to Saudi Arabia with the launch of the Doha-NEOM Bay flight on Saturday.

The NEOM Bay flight will be the 10th route by the airline to the Kingdom.

Qatar Airways announced two weekly flights with Airbus A320 aircraft starting Dec. 9 from Hamad International Airport in Doha.

Saudi Arabia was ranked second globally in tourist arrivals during the first seven months of 2023, the Saudi Press Agency reported last month.

The Kingdom saw 58 percent growth in tourist numbers up to the end of July compared to the same period in 2019, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

The data was sourced last month from the UN World Tourism Organization and came from the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.


Startup Wrap – Saudi Arabia leads November’s funding spree with $338m

Startup Wrap – Saudi Arabia leads November’s funding spree with $338m
Updated 09 December 2023
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Startup Wrap – Saudi Arabia leads November’s funding spree with $338m

Startup Wrap – Saudi Arabia leads November’s funding spree with $338m

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s startup ecosystem continues to dominate the region after raising the most funds in the Middle East and North Africa during November.

According to Wamda’s Monthly report, the MENA region saw $764 million raised across 42 rounds in November – a 390 percent month-on-month increase and a 74 percent growth year-on-year.

Saudi Arabia topped the charts with $338 million secured across nine deals. The UAE came in second with $284 million across 22 deals and Egypt followed with $130.5 million over 5 deals.

Omniful provides merchants with a unified management system, warehouse management system, and transport management system to scale their businesses.

Furthermore, the remaining capital was raised by startups based in Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, and Tunisia.

Funding activity experienced a notable resurgence across all stages, with mega rounds constituting a significant portion of the capital influx.  

Noteworthy among these rounds were a $250 million debt round secured by Saudi Arabia-based Tamara, a substantial $200 million series D funding by the Kingdom’s Tabby, and a $130 million raised by Egypt’s MNT-halan through securitized bonds.

Collectively, these three rounds made up around 76 percent of the total funding raised during November.

In the recent funding landscape, the fintech sector emerged as the frontrunner in terms of funding volume, raising $485.9 million, primarily driven by the significant rounds raised by Tamara and Tabby.  

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Noteworthy among these rounds were a $250 million debt round secured by Saudi Arabia-based Tamara, a substantial $200 million series D funding by the Kingdom’s Tabby, and $130 million raised by Egypt’s MNT-halan through securitized bonds.

This sector also ranked second in terms of the number of deals, recording nine in total. Furthermore, a notable boost to the super app sector’s funding status was recorded with the industry raising $131 million during the month, thanks to MNT-Halan‘s round.  

The education technology sector managed to secure $41.4 million in funding, largely due to a major transaction by Saudi Arabia-based Noon.

Additionally, several other sectors witnessed funding rounds reaching into the tens of millions.

Notable among these were Saudi-based Retailo’s $15 million, Saudi Ajras’ $28 million, UAE’s Flow48’s $25 million, and Emirati Immensa’s $20 million round.

Out of the 42 deals reported, 10 successfully attracted direct global investment, predominantly from US-based investors.  

Within the region, UAE-based investors took the lead, participating in 21 deals, with Modus Capital standing out through its investment of $2.8 million across eight startups via its venture builder program. Saudi Arabian investors followed closely, engaging in 10 deals.

In terms of founder gender dynamics, male-founded startups dominated the funding scene, securing $753 million across 29 deals, accounting for 98.5 percent of the total funding.  

In stark contrast, female founders received less than 2 percent of the overall capital, amounting to $9 million. Mixed-gender founding teams raised the remaining 0.2 percent.

Mtor’s founder and CEO, Mohamed Maged, established the startup in April 2022. (Supplied)

The report indicated that nine startups did not disclose their exact funding amounts. A conservative estimate of $100,000 was assigned to each of these ventures.

These were NOWmoney, Awfar, and Lynk, as well as Lath, Chari, Wayup Sport, and Winshot, Akhdar, and Farcana.

Supply chain and ecommerce enabler Omniful raises $5.85m to boost regional operations

Supply chain and ecommerce enabler startup Omniful, co-headquartered in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, has raised $5.85 million in a seed funding round.

Led by VentureSouq, the round saw participation from 500 Global, DASH Ventures, Jahez Group, as well as SEEDRA Ventures, Bunat Ventures, Hala Ventures, and RZM Investments, along with family offices including Al Rasheed, Siraj Holding, Al Bawardi, Al Nafea, and a number of angel investors.

Founded in 2022 by Mostafa Abolnasr and Alankrit Nishad, Omniful provides merchants and fulfillment providers with a unified management system, warehouse management system, and transport management system to scale their businesses.

Mostafa Abolnasr, Omniful cofounder and CEO

Abolnasr, also the company’s CEO, said: “The future of commerce is hyperlocal and omnichannel, with consumers expecting brands to be closer to them, to deliver faster and offer a personalized experience. At Omniful, we are equipping merchants in this $4 trillion industry with a single platform to manage all their sales channels and deliver on time and in full, improving their efficiencies by 40 percent and their customer retention by 15 percent.”

He added: “Our seed round marks a major milestone, and together with our investors, we are excited about going out of stealth and launching our sales and marketing efforts in the Middle East, Africa, and India, followed by Europe and US.”

The future of commerce is hyperlocal and omnichannel, with consumers expecting brands to be closer to them, to deliver faster and offer a personalized experience.

Mostafa Abolnasr, Omniful cofounder and CEO

The company aims to utilize its fresh influx of capital to boost its operations in existing markets, primarily the UAE and the Kingdom, as well as double down on its technology development.

Nishad, the company’s chief technology officer, said: “As a product-led organization, our technology is a clear differentiator, making us the platform of choice for omnichannel merchants and high-volume 3PL (third party logistics) fulfillment providers. Over the next year, we will double down on growing our technology capabilities in India, while also planning for the launch of our platform there.”

Egypt’s Mtor closes $2.8m in a pre-seed round

Egypt’s online car parts marketplace Mtor has closed a $2.8 million pre-seed funding round led by Algebra Ventures with participation from Dutch Founders Fund, Aditum Ventures, LoftyInc Capital Management, and angel investors.

Founded in 2022 by Mohamed Maged, Moaz El-Megharbel, Mohamed Altaf, and Khaled Kandil, Mtor aims to revamp the car parts industry in Egypt with a unified online platform.

“It can be a car owner’s nightmare to get their car serviced. Mtor was founded to fundamentally transform this reality and make the process easier and more efficient, empowering a layer of local car workshops that are well rounded with quality parts, a suitable price position, and a good customer experience,” Maged, CEO of Mtor, said.

The company aims to utilize the received funding to further grow its product range and expand its local workshop client-base.

 


Pakistan’s central bank releases ‘regulatory sandbox’ guidelines, seeks input for FinTech growth

Pakistan’s central bank releases ‘regulatory sandbox’ guidelines, seeks input for FinTech growth
Updated 08 December 2023
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Pakistan’s central bank releases ‘regulatory sandbox’ guidelines, seeks input for FinTech growth

Pakistan’s central bank releases ‘regulatory sandbox’ guidelines, seeks input for FinTech growth
  • The emergence of high-tech companies for efficient service delivery has posed regulatory challenges for Pakistan
  • The regulatory sandbox approach has also been adopted by other countries to develop final set of rules for startups

ISLAMABAD: The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) adopted a collaborative approach to developing a regulatory framework for startups and FinTech companies by issuing preliminary guidelines on Friday with an aim to test them against innovative products and business models before adopting the final set of rules.

The SBP’s “regulatory sandbox” approach is designed to provide a controlled environment for innovators to test their products and technologies, making it easier for the regulator to understand their implications for financial stability and consumer protection.

“State Bank of Pakistan has issued draft guidelines on regulatory sandbox for public consultation,” it said in a brief statement.

The SBP added this would allow the regulated entities, such as startups and FinTech firms, to participate in the process of testing new products and their preferred business models within the provided legal framework.

“As envisioned in SBP Vision 2028, the regulatory sandbox will encourage innovation in digital financial services and facilitate the existing and new market participants to build robust digital payments ecosystem in Pakistan,” the central bank explained in its statement.

“Similarly, it will help SBP to issue instructions and regulations for new and innovative FinTech solutions, ultimately resulting in increased financial and digital inclusion in the country,” it added.

The SBP said its initiative would strengthen its engagement with stakeholders in shaping the future of the country’s financial industry.

It invited banks, FinTech firms, industry experts, public and all interested parties to participate in the consultation process.

Pakistani startups, especially in fintech, e-commerce and logistics, have been attracting considerable investment from both domestic sources and international venture capital firms.

This burgeoning ecosystem, fueled by significant government support and a surge in digital adoption among a young, tech-savvy population, is said to be positioning the country as an emerging hub for technological innovation and entrepreneurship.

As the country increasingly depends on high-tech companies for efficient service delivery, it has been encountering various regulatory challenges.

The regulatory sandboxes approach has also been adopted by other countries, including the United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia and Canada etc., among many others.

Each country’s sandbox is tailored to its specific regulatory environment and financial sector needs, though the core idea is to provide a space where new and potentially disruptive financial technologies can be tested safely and without immediately incurring the full burden of financial regulation.


Pakistan stock market crosses another historic milestone by surging past 66,000 points

Pakistan stock market crosses another historic milestone by surging past 66,000 points
Updated 08 December 2023
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Pakistan stock market crosses another historic milestone by surging past 66,000 points

Pakistan stock market crosses another historic milestone by surging past 66,000 points
  • Analysts say the current bull run at the stock market is fueled by IMF program and policy measures for economic improvement
  • An economic expert asks the government to comply with the IMF standby arrangement to ensure macroeconomic stability

KARACHI: Pakistan equities on Friday hit yet another record high by breaching the 66,000-mark amid bullish sentiments built on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) program and completion of its first review, rupee stability, and the government’s plan to raise Rs90 billion through Islamic bonds, equity analysts said.
The key stock index, KSE100, closed the weekend trading session at a historic high level of 66,223 after gaining 1,505 points, or rising 2.33 percent. During the trading week, the index collectively gained 3,730 points. The recent rally has increased the market capitalization from $31.3 billion to $32.8 billion in a week.
“The stocks closed at a new record surge and new all-time high amid rupee stability and the government’s plan to launch Rs90 billion worth of Ijarah Sukuks for retail investors to diversify funding sources,” Ahsan Mehanti, CEO of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News.
He attributed the bull run to falling external debt, the positive outcome of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a civil-military hybrid forum established to fast-track decision-making and promote investment from foreign nations, and expectations for a current account surplus in November 2023.
In a landmark development for the country’s financial markets, the federal government launched one-year Ijarah Sukuk earlier in the day from the platform of Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) in the first phase.
In total, the government plans to raise Rs90 billion through three auctions of the bond.
Speaking at the gong ceremony, Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said Pakistan’s economy faced multiple challenges at the start of the financial year 2023-2024, but the government had tried to solve the structural and macroeconomic issues which helped improve the situation.
“I would like to thank the effort of all stakeholders to bring our economy back on track by lowering the exchange rate of dollar from all-time high of approximately 307 on September 5, 2023, in the interbank market to around 284 today,” he said.
Kakar maintained the capital market served as a catalyst for innovation, entrepreneurship and growth in the realm of finance.
“It provides fuel to business to expend, create jobs and contribute to overall development of society. As a part of federal government, we are committed to fostering an environment that nurtures and sustains this growth,” he added.
The prime minister said the capital market acted as a stabilizing force, absorbing shocks and steering the economy toward stability.
Economists say the current bull run is fueled by the successful completion of $3 billion IMF bailout program review, strong earnings growth and the steps taken by the government to discourage smuggling of various commodities and foreign currencies.
Pakistan expects another tranche of $700 million from IMF after the global lender’s board meeting on January 11, 2024.
“Pakistan stock exchange has tailwind of the IMF program, the completion of the first review, the enforcement measures by the establishment including curbing smuggling, de-dollarization and some improvements in the Afghan transit trade,” Dr. Khaqan Najeeb, former advisor to the finance ministry, told Arab News.
Going forward, he said the country would have to comply with the IMF standby arrangement to design another program for long term macroeconomic stability.
He noted this required more structural reforms in the economy after the new government takes over in the wake of the next general elections.


COP28: US-UAE climate-friendly farming effort grows to $17bn

COP28: US-UAE climate-friendly farming effort grows to $17bn
Updated 08 December 2023
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COP28: US-UAE climate-friendly farming effort grows to $17bn

COP28: US-UAE climate-friendly farming effort grows to $17bn

DUBAI: Funding for a joint effort by the US and the UAE to advance climate-friendly farming around the world has grown to more than $17 billion, the countries announced on Friday at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, according to Reuters.

The Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate was launched in 2021 at COP26 in Glasgow and its funding comes from governments, companies, and non-governmental organizations.

Globally, food and farming contribute about a third of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Nearly 80 projects have been announced under the AIM for Climate initiative since 2021, with goals to expand agricultural research, implement sustainable farming practices, and reduce methane emissions.

“I think it’s made people think about food and agriculture in a much different way,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference, adding: “And I think it’s reflected, frankly, in the fact that this COP ... has actually elevated food (and) agriculture to the point where it’s an integral part of COP meetings. That has not been the case for the previous 27.”

Funding for the effort has grown from $13 billion in May, when the US and the UAE co-hosted an AIM for Climate summit in Washington, and from $8 billion at COP27.

The new total includes $12 billion from governments and $5 billion from non-government parties such as companies and humanitarian organizations, said an AIM for Climate spokesperson.

The 27 new projects announced at COP28 range in size from $500 million to $150,000.

In one of the largest projects, companies including Bunge and Alphabet’s Google are working with the Nature Conservancy and the Brazilian state of Para to expand regenerative agriculture, which generally refers to practices like reduced tillage of cropland and lower pesticide use.

For the first time, agriculture is a major focus at this year’s climate summit, with a full day on Dec. 10 dedicated to food and farming topics.

“We understand that we need to speed up innovations ... to be able to transform agriculture food systems to more sustainable systems,” the UAE’s Minister for Climate and the Environment Mariam Almheiri told Reuters.

Advocacy groups want the nations and companies in attendance to pledge to tackle agricultural methane emissions in particular, most of which is from livestock production.