WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached an “agreement in principle” to raise the nation’s legal debt ceiling late Saturday as they raced to strike a deal to limit federal spending and avert a potentially disastrous US default.
Support from both parties will be needed to win congressional approval next week before a June 5 deadline.
The Democratic president and Republican speaker reached the agreement after the two spoke earlier Saturday evening by phone, said McCarthy.
“The agreement represents a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want,” Biden said in a statement late Saturday night. “That’s the responsibility of governing,” he said.
Central to the package is a two-year budget deal that would hold spending flat for 2024 and impose limits for 2025 in exchange for raising the debt limit for two years, pushing the volatile political issue past the next presidential election.
The agreement would limit food stamp eligibility for able-bodied adults up to age 54, but Biden was able to secure waivers for veterans and the homeless.
The two sides had also reached for an ambitious overhaul of federal permitting to ease the development of energy projects and transmission lines. Instead, the agreement puts in place changes in the National Environmental Policy Act that will designate “a single lead agency” to develop economic reviews in hopes of streamlining the process.
The deal came together after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress that the United States could default on its debt obligations by June 5 — four days later than previously estimated — if lawmakers did not act in time to raise the federal debt ceiling.
Both sides have suggested one of the main holdups was the Republican effort to expand work requirements for recipients of food stamps and other federal aid programs, a longtime goal that Democrats have strenuously opposed.
Biden has said the work requirements for Medicaid would be a nonstarter. He seemed potentially open to negotiating minor changes on food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program despite objections from rank-and-file Democrats.
Americans and the world were uneasily watching the negotiating brinkmanship that could throw the US economy into chaos and sap world confidence in the nation’s leadership.
Anxious retirees and others were already making contingency plans for missed checks, with the next Social Security payments due next week.
Yellen said failure to act by the new date would “cause severe hardship to American families, harm our global leadership position and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests.”
The president, spending part of the weekend at Camp David, continued to talk with his negotiating team multiple times a day, signing off on offers and counteroffers.
Structural reforms in Saudi Arabia’s economy to continue: finance minister
Updated 11 sec ago
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will continue its fiscal and structural reforms as the Kingdom is steadily embarking on its economic diversification journey in line with the goals outlined in Vision 2030, said a top government official.
Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said that continuous implementation of the ambitious plan is necessary for the Kingdom to catalyze its economic growth and maintain fiscal sustainability.
The minister added that the government program will help Saudi Arabia develop promising economic sectors, enhance investment attractions, stimulate industrial growth, raise the percentage of local content and promote non-oil exports, according to the pre-budget statement from the Ministry of Finance.
“The Kingdom continues to support social protection programs and shows continued progress toward the objectives of the Fiscal Sustainability Program,” said the ministry in the pre-budget statement.
It added: “These objectives were achieved by directing expansionary spending to accelerate the implementation of major programs, projects and sectoral and regional strategies to contribute toward gross domestic product growth, attract investments, and stimulate the local economy.”
According to Al-Jadaan, Saudi Arabia remained financially resilient over the past few years when the world faced economic headwinds for various reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions.
He further pointed out that the Kingdom is well equipped with strong government reserves and sustainable levels of public debt that can accommodate any crises that may occur in the future.
The minister noted that Saudi Arabia’s agile nature of additional spending will help the Kingdom to have control in the medium term, allowing an extension of implementation periods for projects and strategies.
Al-Jadaan added that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is crucial as the Kingdom is pursuing its economic transformation program.
The Public Investment Fund has spearheaded this economic diversification journey by investing in various strategic sectors.
According to the fund’s annual report, it currently holds assets worth SR2.23 trillion ($595 billion).
The fund has established 70 companies, 25 of them, including Saudi Coffee Co. and Halal Products Development Co. were founded in 2022.
PIF’s annual report added that these companies offered 1,81,000 jobs in 2022.
Saudi Arabia revises budget estimates for 2023 and pre-budget statement for 2024
Preliminary budget statement says the government expects total revenues at 1.172 trillion riyals ($312.51 billion) in 2024 and total spending of 1.251 trillion riyals
Updated 01 October 2023
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has lowered its growth forecast and expects to post a budget deficit this year rather than an earlier projected surplus, a preliminary budget statement showed on Saturday.
The largest Arab economy expects real gross domestic product to grow by 0.03 percent this year, the document released by the Ministry of Finance showed, compared with a previous forecast for growth of 3.1 percent.
The report said the government is also now expecting a SAR82 billion deficit for 2023 instead of a SAR16bn surplus projected earlier.
For 2024, the government expects total revenues at 1.172 trillion riyals ($312.51 billion) and total spending of 1.251 trillion riyals. An earlier projection put revenue this year at 1.130 trillion riyals and spending at 1.114 trillion riyals.
Saudi Arabia has sharply cut its oil production for what the world’s largest oil exporter says is meant to stabilize the oil market. Oil prices remain below last year’s average of $100 a barrel.
The document also projected the government would post a budget deficit of 1.9 percent of GDP in 2024, 1.6 percent of GDP in 2025 and 2.3 percent of GDP in 2026. It said “limited budget deficits” would continue in the medium term due to expansionary spending policies and conservative revenue estimates.
Real GDP was projected to grow by 4.4 percent in 2024, 5.7 percent in 2025 and 5.1 percent in 2026.
Saudi Arabia’s economy grew 8.7 percent last year on the back of high oil prices, allowing it to record its first budget surplus in almost a decade.
Commenting on the revised projections, Alrajhi Capital said the "increased spending by the government is not only driven by higher revenues but also supported by additional debt levels."
"For 2023, we reiterate that oil revenues could reach SAR749bn led by Aramco’s recent hike in PLD. Nevertheless, we increase our expectations for non-oil revenues at SAR440bn (versus the earlier estimates of SAR421bn) as H1 2023 non-oil revenues have already surpassed that of H1 2022, led by traction in non-oil GDP growth," it said.
"Furthermore, as per IMF Country Report the non-oil GDP growth is expected to comfortably stay above the 4% mark in the near future. We believe this will underpin higher spending by the Government going forward.
"Acceleration of spending (SAR1,262bn versus SAR1,114bn) can be regarded as a strategic move by the Government and is reflective of its support towards the Vision 2030 target. We believe Government spending to play a pivotal role in realizations of Vision 2030 objectives," Alrajhi Capital said.
"In our view the government will manage to maintain healthy reserve levels (SAR410mn as of 2Q2023) and will support spending by way of higher non-oil revenues and increased leverage," it further said.
Feathering the nest: Saudi Arabia sees poultry production as key for food security
Kingdom is achieving breakthroughs in the production of vital crops which could open up new trade markets
Updated 30 September 2023
Reina Takla Nadin Hassan
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia aims to reach 80 percent food security in chicken, poultry, and protein supplies by 2025 as demand for hatching eggs increases, according to a leading industry figure.
Ahmed Osilan, managing director and executive board member at Tanmiah Food Co., told Arab News that agricultural and scientific developments mean the Kingdom can now export products it previously needed to import.
He made it clear that Saudi Arabia is also on the cusp of achieving breakthroughs in the production of vital crops which could open up new trade markets for the Kingdom.
Osilan revealed Saudi Arabia has reached above 100 percent food security in table eggs, meaning his company is now able to export outside of the Kingdom.
“We have realized that Saudi cannot have sustainable food security if we continue importing hatching eggs from outside of the country,” he said, adding: “Growing corn and soya in Saudi Arabia is now our only challenge left to achieve 100 percent food security in Saudi Arabia.”
In 2018, Saudi Arabia had a self-sufficiency rate of 45 percent in food production. This has now hit 67 percent, Osilan said.
One of the reasons behind the boost is a shareholder agreement signed by Desert Hills Veterinary Services Co. — a fully owned subsidiary of Tanmiah Food Co, — with MHP SE, a food and aggrotech group, to invest more than SR200 million ($53.33 million) in agricultural activities in the Kingdom.
This included a state-of-the-art hatchery and a chicken feed mill, with a capacity of more than 1 million parent stock projected to produce around 175 million hatching eggs yearly.
Corn and soybeans are two of the main foodstuffs, and in order to grow these items, Saudi Arabia is using advanced agricultural methods such as vertical farming and cloud seeding, as well as optimizing wastewater reuse.
The partnership is expected to provide Tanmiah with an extensive and comprehensive insight into the process, and the company plans to collaborate closely with their partners in research and development and knowledge transfer.
Osilan explained: “We will work with them on the R&D side to understand how the research work happens and we will also work with them on the knowledge transfer by incubating this whole investment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
He continued: “Ultimately we are genetically making sure that the supply of hatching eggs in the Kingdom becomes local and that will solve the bigger issue of food security.”
The development is a welcome move for a nation that has traditionally relied on imports to fulfill the demand for various stages of poultry production.
Another key area of reform needed is in the area of crop cultivation — a vital component in chicken feed.
Corn and soybeans are two of the main foodstuffs, and in order to grow these items, Saudi Arabia is using advanced agricultural methods such as vertical farming and cloud seeding, as well as optimizing wastewater reuse.
The executive believes it might be possible to cultivate these crops successfully in Saudi Arabia, and said: “We’re one step away from achieving the highest level of food security.”
This achievement would not only benefit the Kingdom but also have positive implications for other Arab countries, including Lebanon, Algeria, and Morocco, which currently rely entirely, or to a significant extent, on food imports.
Importantly, Saudi Arabia is striving to achieve these goals independently, by “developing all of this in-house,” said Osilan.
“Saudi Arabia taking the lead and being able to develop all of this in-house will then (show) … that Saudi Arabia is now not only concerned about food security for the Kingdom, but also concerned for food security for the entire Arab region, in fact, for the entire globe,” he added.
Osilan also stated that Saudi Arabia has a high per capita consumption of chicken, second only to the US and the EU.
This robust demand for poultry protein is continuously rising, due to its perceived health benefits, and there are no indications that it will decrease in the near future.
UAE’s Tabby gets ready to relocate HQ to Saudi Arabia ahead of IPO on Tadawul
Buy now, pay later fintech prepares for its IPO on Saudi stock exchange
Updated 30 September 2023
CAIRO: In recognition of Saudi Arabia’s booming financial technology sector, UAE’s Tabby, a forerunner in the buy now, pay later fintech space, is shifting its headquarters to Saudi Arabia as it gears up for its initial public offering.
The decision comes as the company inked a memorandum of understanding with the Kingdom’s Ministry of Investment.
Concurrently, Tabby is laying the groundwork for its IPO on the Saudi stock exchange.
The company intends to strategically strengthen its presence in its largest market, given that 80 percent of its customers hail from the Kingdom.
“With this move, we aim to amplify our reach and impact, reinforcing our commitment to deliver unparalleled financial solutions to our customers in the region. We’re equally dedicated to fostering local talent and contributing to the growth of the Saudi economy,” as stated by Tabby’s official account on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Moreover, Tabby recently received the green light from the Saudi Central Bank after obtaining a permit to expand its operation into the Kingdom.
“Millions of people in Saudi Arabia rely on Tabby today, so it’s an incredibly important step to crystalize our foundations in the Kingdom and continue building toward financial freedom for our community,” Tabby’s CEO Hosam Arab told Arab News in August.
Tabby’s strategies perfectly align with the Kingdom’s aspirations to drive financial inclusion and literacy as a cornerstone of the country’s economic growth.
Arab also lauded the Saudi government’s measures to help boost the fintech sector. The CEO said the encouraging regulatory landscape will help instill confidence in Tabby to introduce innovative services in the Kingdom.
Currently operational in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait, Tabby holds a valuation of $660 million following its latest funding round from investors including Sequoia Capital India, STV, PayPal Ventures, Mubadala Investment Capital, Arbor Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst.
Furthermore, the company has over 15,000 worldwide brands and small enterprises, including H&M, Adidas, IKEA, SHEIN, noon, and Bloomingdale’s, that utilize its technology to stimulate growth and build a faithful customer base by offering flexible payment options both online and in-store.
UAE’s esports Fanzword raises $1.2m in a pre-seed round
UAE-based esports startup Fanzword has successfully raised $1.2 million in a pre-seed funding round, spearheaded by XVC Tech, and supported by several regional angel investors.
Launched in 2021 by Ibrahim El-Mohdar and Amr El-Beheiry, Fanzword positions itself as a unique football fan engagement platform. It envisions creating a virtual stadium experience where aficionados can not only track their favorite teams but also connect, interact, and accrue rewards.
“We believe that it’s the perfect time to leverage a Football Fan Engagement Platform in the Middle East,” said El-Mohdar, CEO at Fanzword.
“Especially after the resounding success of the World Cup in Qatar and the Saudi Pro League’s blockbuster signings of football legends like Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., and Benzema,” he added.
With capital in hand, Fanzword aims to amplify its regional footprint and further tap into its web3 gaming capabilities.
The company claims to have over 250,000 downloads while achieving more than 100 percent growth in 2022.
“We believe that the partnership with Fanzword will not only reshape web3 gaming but also accelerate the adoption of NextGen Technology Solutions in the Middle East and beyond,” Johan Lundberg, founding partner and board member at XVC Tech, said.
Cypherleak raises $750k seed round to simplify cyber risk monitoring
UAE’s cyber risk monitoring and scoring startup, Cypherleak, has successfully secured $750,000 in a seed funding round.
The investment attracted notable participation from entities spanning Abu Dhabi, Morocco, and Qatar, including the Maroc Numeric Fund II and the Qatar Insurance Company.
Incepted in 2022 by Mohamed Belarbi, Cypherleak offers advanced risk monitoring solutions tailored for smaller businesses, effectively obviating the need for in-depth cybersecurity technical knowledge.
This infusion of capital is set to bolster Cypherleak’s growth ambitions across the Middle East and Africa.
“The funding injection will enable us to accelerate our expansion across the Middle East and Africa, fortifying our position as a leading player in the rapidly evolving field of cyber risk management and ratings,” Belarbi said.
“With the backing of these strategic investors, Cypherleak is well-positioned to continue developing cutting-edge technologies and delivering unparalleled cyber risk insights to businesses and organizations across the region and the world,” he added.
The company claims to have successfully marketed subscriptions to over 1,000 corporate clients across Europe and the Middle East and North Africa region, targeting small and medium enterprises that are frequently priced out of enterprise-grade cybersecurity solutions.
“Cyber security risks are a serious threat for MENA SMEs who are mostly unprepared to face this new reality. Thanks to their strong experience, Mohamed Belarbi and his co-founders are building a strong and user-friendly platform that is able to address these serious threats, and help MENA SMEs get insured accordingly,” Dounia Boumehdi, managing director of MITC Capital, the management company of Maroc Numeric Fund II, said.
Lars Gehrmann, chief digital officer at QIC, also stressed the importance of cybersecurity for underserved MENA SMEs.
“Cyber security is a growing topic in the MENA region. SMEs are among the companies that are the most vulnerable. Cyber insurance for SMEs is already needed and is poised to grow in the months to come,” Gehrmann added.
UAE’s fintech BILRS raises pre-seed round
UAE’s emerging fintech player, BILRS, has secured a pre-seed investment from venture capital firm Haatch, although the exact amount remains undisclosed.
Founded in 2022 by Rupert Shaw, BILRS has quickly positioned itself as a reliable facilitator, empowering both online and offline merchants to extend bill payment services to their customers.
Notably, the company claims to have customers across a portfolio of over 30 countries, showcasing the firm’s vast reach in a short span.
Millions of people in Saudi Arabia rely on Tabby today, so it’s an incredibly important step to crystalize our foundations in the Kingdom.
Hosam Arab, Tabby CEO
“We are incredibly excited about the future of BILRS and the opportunity this partnership with Haatch represents. This investment will empower us to enhance our platform’s capabilities, better serve our customers, and continue our mission of enabling purposeful remittance,” Shaw said.
“We are grateful for the confidence that Haatch has shown in our vision, and we look forward to the remarkable progress we will achieve together,” he added.
The recent funding is expected to provide BILRS with the requisite fuel to expedite its ambitious mission of introducing greater transparency and accountability into the world of money remittances.
The move aligns with the broader industry trend of leveraging fintech solutions to simplify and streamline complex financial transactions for the end-users.
Canada’s ClearPier acquires UAE’s Media Quest Group for $35m
Canadian performance advertising giant ClearPier has marked a significant milestone in its growth strategy by acquiring UAE’s Media Quest Group, also known as MQuest, in a deal valued at $35 million.
ClearPier was established in 2010 by the duo Jignesh Shah and Sunil Abraham, while MQuest was formed in 2020 by John Rowe, Jay Bhojani, and Lorraine Hall.
The latter uses data to pinpoint consumers with a notably high propensity to make purchases, acting as a conduit between advertisers and potential buyers.
The strategic move to integrate MQuest into ClearPier’s operations is anticipated to bolster ClearPier’s foothold, not just in the Gulf Cooperation Council region, but also across the European markets.
Rockwell Automation opens first Digital Center of Excellence in Saudi Arabia
Updated 29 September 2023
KHOBAR: At the top of the Al-Fardan Tower, overlooking the glistening corniche water with the manicured buildings below, stands Hussain Al-Khater, managing director for Rockwell Automation in Saudi Arabia.
As part of Rockwell Automation, Inc. which boasts as being one of the world’s largest companies dedicated to industrial automation, he is witnessing the transformation of his company, and country, in real time.
Al-Khater was on hand to inaugurate the Center of Excellence which aims to help fulfill one of the main priorities of Vision 2030, which is digital reforms. This will enable the Kingdom to transform the country into a place of excellence.
“Rockwell Automation has been working in Saudi Arabia for several decades supporting local companies with automation and control technology,” Al-Khater told Arab News, adding: “With the opening of the Center of Excellence, we will enhance the support for Saudi Arabia’s vision to have more technology companies located in the Kingdom.
“We will be physically on the ground to support our customers’ technology transition; they can come and visit the center to learn how Rockwell automation can guide them in their digital transformation.
“It’s a very special day for me – it’s in my hometown and my country."
The serene background to the innovative space is strategic; it marks Rockwell Automation’s first such dedicated Center of Excellence in the Middle East and only their third worldwide, following its original flagship in Milwaukee, US and Bologna in Europe.
It also is a statement on highlighting the importance of having Saudi Arabia be a leader in the digital future.
Headquartered in the US, Rockwell Automation has become a global leader in industrial automation and digital transformation and employs approximately 28,000 “problem solvers” in more than 100 countries.
This newly established Center of Excellence in Khobar aims to support local companies and their employees, as well as students in the region, by letting them experience the power and scope of digital transformation.
The first of two interactive zones takes the visitor on a digital journey explaining how technology can enhance maintenance operations by providing a 3D pump to help visualize the entire process.
Using Microsoft HoloLens and a smartphone, clients are guided through a seamless experience of repairing and maintaining a pump without ever leaving the room.
This cutting-edge process utilizes Vuforia, an augmented reality solution, ThingWorx, an Internet of Things platform, Kepware, a sensor connection solution, and Fiix, a computerized maintenance management system – which all link back to the ERP system.
The first demo highlights electric submersible pump diagnostics, testing and forecasting.
Users would be able to glance at an iPad and witness vital data populate from five wells. The data would then be analyzed instantaneously and potential pain points could be addressed before they even happen.
The second zone, dedicated to the oil and gas sector, brings oilfields to your fingertips, with multiple interactive demos using Sensia, a collaboration between Rockwell Automation and Schlumberger; Avalon for data set visualization and monitoring, and Avocet to analyze that data and execute workflows.
The Center of Excellence will not only show but also tell the journey.
The digital transformation which Rockwell Automation is spearheading aims to support sustainability in two main areas: reducing energy and water use.
“There is vast potential for growth in the Saudi Arabian market beyond just the oil, gas and petrochemical industries. Central to this expansion is the implementation of digital solutions and technologies to fuel localization,” Al-Khater said.
He insists that this would not only benefit society through digital advancement, but would also direct capital towards local infrastructure, facilities and manufacturing capabilities, all the while simultaneously fostering a groundswell of talent development for Saudi workers.
“The driving force is an innovation mindset. This positions Saudi Arabia attractively to manufacturing companies looking to invest in the region, aiming to create a global innovation hub based on local talent,” he said, adding: “Digitalizing the region and embracing automation will generate huge, positive change for both manufacturers and the broader society in Saudi Arabia.”
In his view, in order for this vision to fully come to fruition and materialize, companies must collaborate with technology and digital solutions leaders who understand the specific needs of the region, ensuring “not just initial success but sustained growth.”
In conjunction with the launch of the Center, Rockwell Automation also hosted their first ever Decarbonization Conference in the Kingdom on Sept. 26 at the Mövenpick Hotel’s Al-Maha ballroom, not far from its Center, which highlighted the automation and digital solutions available to decarbonize Saudi Arabia’s industrial sector.
The seminar brought together experts in the field to share experiences on decarbonization, including carbon capture and storage, electrification, emission monitoring and management through measurement and control technologies, and digitalization methodologies.
“Digital transformation and automation technology offer solutions that will enable the oil and gas value chain to drive efficiency and reduce costs while carefully navigating the transition terrain,” Ediz Eren, regional vice president for the Middle East, Turkiye and Africa region at Rockwell Automation told Arab News.
“This Digital Center of Excellence highlights how solutions from Rockwell Automation and its partners can improve performance all along the oil and gas value chain within the region. By working with government, industry, and academia, the Center of Excellence will enable local companies and workers to increase their understanding of what digital technologies can achieve,” he added.
One of the speakers was Michael Sweet, director of New Energy at Rockwell Automation who participated in a panel discussion titled: “Realizing sustainable industries with automation technology.”
He told Arab News: “Automation and digitalization have a pivotal role in enhancing energy efficiency within manufacturing entities. However, these benefits can only be realized by first understanding an organization’s current operational baseline. Identifying where a company is starting from on their automation journey is instrumental in determining its future trajectory.”
Sweet added: “Without this foundational knowledge, there is no one area to target automation efforts, leading to solutions that are general and unfocused.
“Among the primary concerns for manufacturers is minimizing energy consumption and automation can offer creative ways to achieve this goal.”
He explained that he has seen artificial intelligence used to analyze inspection images and to detect patterns as well as to mitigate waste.
“A key benefit of automation – in relation to energy usage – is that tasks are completed much more rapidly than when relying solely on human capabilities,” said Sweet, adding: “AI has been used to optimize operations for energy trading and modeling energy prices based on prevailing conditions. This helps manufacturers understand how much they are consuming, how much they will likely need moving forward, and where energy can be optimized or saved.”
He went on to explain that since technology is ever evolving, demand for energy still remains high despite global concerns over the environmental impact of such use.
External factors can affect its availability and optimizing energy efficiency will be something that all manufacturers should be considering as they look to the future.
According to Faissal El-Osman, Rockwell’s Enterprise Software Solution Consultant, the future is already here.
The vivacious, multilingual El-Osman injects a much needed youthful energy to the ongoing efforts. As a millennial, he aims to use the wisdom of the past to help find innovative ways to use the technology at his fingertips to propel the Kingdom, and the region, into the future.
He is hoping to help entice the emerging generation to join the efforts by showcasing the powerful and effective ways Rockwell Automation is bringing to the digital table.
“I’m excited about the technologies. Why am I excited about it? Because I am young and I know it’s something that interests the youth. We all know that there is a lack of men and women power currently, many are not interested in manufacturing because they know there is no technology, but thanks to AR they changed their minds,” he told Arab News.
“Managers can put the Microsoft HoloLens and wander in the factory and see, in real-time, the metrics and the productivity of each asset. It requires some training, but it’s efficient, and, most importantly – it’s really fun,” concluded El-Osman.