Fitch cuts US credit rating to AA+; Treasury calls it ‘arbitrary’

Fitch cuts US credit rating to AA+; Treasury calls it ‘arbitrary’
Fitch has downgraded the US to AA+ from AAA (Shutterstock)
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Updated 02 August 2023

Fitch cuts US credit rating to AA+; Treasury calls it ‘arbitrary’

Fitch cuts US credit rating to AA+; Treasury calls it ‘arbitrary’

NEW YORK: Rating agency Fitch has downgraded the US government’s top credit rating, a move that drew an angry response from the White House and surprised investors, coming despite the resolution of the debt ceiling crisis two months ago, according to Reuters.

Fitch downgraded the US to AA+ from AAA, citing fiscal deterioration over the next three years and repeated down-the-wire debt ceiling negotiations that threaten the government’s ability to pay its bills.

Fitch had first flagged the possibility of a downgrade in May, then maintained that position in June after the debt ceiling crisis was resolved, saying it intended to finalize the review in the third quarter of this year.

With the downgrade, it becomes the second major rating agency after Standard & Poor’s to strip the US of its triple-A rating.

The dollar fell across a range of currencies, stock futures ticked down and Treasury futures rose after the announcement. But several investors and analysts said they expected the impact of the downgrade to be limited.

Fitch’s move came two months after Democratic President Joe Biden and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives reached a debt ceiling agreement that lifted the government’s $31.4 trillion borrowing limit, ending months of political brinkmanship.

“In Fitch’s view, there has been a steady deterioration in standards of governance over the last 20 years, including on fiscal and debt matters, notwithstanding the June bipartisan agreement to suspend the debt limit until January 2025,” the rating agency said in a statement.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen disagreed with Fitch’s downgrade, in a statement that called it “arbitrary and based on outdated data.”

The White House had a similar view, saying it “strongly disagrees with this decision.”

“It defies reality to downgrade the United States at a moment when President Biden has delivered the strongest recovery of any major economy in the world,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Reputational dent 

Analysts said the move shows the depth of harm caused to the US by repeated rounds of contentious debate over the debt ceiling, which pushed the nation to the brink of default in May.

“This basically tells you the US government’s spending is a problem,” said Steven Ricchiuto, US chief economist at Mizuho Securities USA.

Fitch said repeated political standoffs and last-minute resolutions over the debt limit have eroded confidence in fiscal management.

Michael Schulman, chief investment officer at Running Point Capital Advisers said the “US overall will be seen as strong but I think it’s a little chink in our armor.”

He added: “It is a dent against the US reputation and standing.” 

Others expressed surprise at the timing, even though Fitch had flagged the possibility.

“I don’t understand how they (Fitch) have worse information now than before the debt ceiling crisis was resolved,” said Wendy Edelberg, director of The Hamilton Project At The Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.

Still, investors saw limited long-term impact.

“I don’t think you are going to see too many investors, especially those with a long-term investment strategy saying ‘I should sell stocks because Fitch took us from AAA to AA+,’” said Jason Ware, chief investment officer at Albion Financial Group.

Investors use credit ratings to assess the risk profile of companies and governments when they raise financing in debt capital markets. Generally, the lower a borrower’s rating, the higher its financing costs.

“This was unexpected, kind of came from left field,” said Keith Lerner, co-chief investment officer at Truist Advisory Services in Atlanta. 

“As far as the market impact, it’s uncertain right now. The market is at a point where it’s somewhat vulnerable to bad news.”

Limited impact

In a previous debt ceiling crisis in 2011, Standard & Poor’s cut the top “AAA” rating by one notch a few days after a debt ceiling deal, citing political polarization and insufficient steps to right the nation’s fiscal outlook. Its rating is still “AA-plus” — its second highest.

After that downgrade, US stocks tumbled and the impact of the rating cut was felt across global stock markets, which were at the time already in the throes of the eurozone financial meltdown. 

Paradoxically, US Treasuries prices rose because of a flight to quality from equities.

In May, Fitch had placed its “AAA” rating of US sovereign debt on watch for a possible downgrade, citing downside risks, including political brinkmanship and a growing debt burden.

A Moody’s Analytics report from May said a downgrade of Treasury debt would set off a cascade of credit implications and downgrades on the debt of many other institutions.

Other analysts had pointed to risks that another downgrade by a major rating agency could affect investment portfolios that hold top-rated securities.

Raymond James analyst Ed Mills, however, said he did not anticipate markets to react significantly to the news.

“My understanding has been that after the S&P downgrade a lot of these contracts were reworked to say ‘triple-A’ or ‘government-guaranteed’, and so the government guarantee is more important than the Fitch rating,” he said.

Others echoed that view.

“Overall, this announcement is much more likely to be dismissed than have a lasting disruptive impact on the US economy and markets,” Mohamed El-Erian, president at Queens’ College, said in a LinkedIn post.

PIF’s New Murabba Development Co. unveils design of new multi-use stadium

PIF’s New Murabba Development Co. unveils design of new multi-use stadium
Updated 8 sec ago

PIF’s New Murabba Development Co. unveils design of new multi-use stadium

PIF’s New Murabba Development Co. unveils design of new multi-use stadium

RIYADH: A new 45,000-capacity stadium is set to enhance Saudi Arabia’s sports and entertainment landscape as New Murabba Development Co. unveiled its design as part of its mixed-use project.  
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, the Riyadh-based company owned by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund announced that the facility in its upcoming real estate development in the capital’s northwest would feature flexible and multi-use spaces, allowing it to host a variety of sporting events and entertainment activities. 

This initiative aligns with the Kingdom’s ambitions to establish itself as the premier cultural, tourist, entertainment, and sports destination in the Middle East and North Africa region. 
“The New Murabba Stadium contributes to demonstrating the extent of the efforts being made to make the Kingdom a leading global center by providing the best sports and entertainment experiences,” the company said in its X post. 
“The stadium is distinguished by its design that combines the local character inspired by the acacia tree, one of the main natural landmarks in Wadi Hanifah,” the post added. 

In addition to the stadium, the project will feature a museum, a technology and design university, an immersive theater, and over 80 entertainment and cultural venues upon completion, anticipated by the end of 2032.

“The New Murabba Stadium embodies our commitment to transforming Riyadh into a global destination for sports and entertainment,” said Michael Dyke, CEO of the company. 

“The stadium will not only be a world-class venue for sporting events but also a vibrant community hub that enhances the quality of life for residents and visitors alike,” he added.

The New Murabba project, spanning 19 sq. km., will offer over 25 million sq. m. of floor area, 104,000 residential units, 9,000 hotel rooms, 980,000 sq. m. of retail space, and 1.4 million sq. m. of office space. 

In February 2023, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the launch of New Murabba Development Co., aimed at transforming downtown Riyadh with a unique mix of residential, commercial, and entertainment offerings. 
In May, the Public Investment Fund-owned firm also hosted the New Murabba Partnership Forum at the InterContinental Riyadh. 
The event brought together a diverse group of vendors and partners to explore the extensive opportunities within this groundbreaking destination, poised to become the most transformative downtown area in Riyadh, according to a previous press statement. 

‘A great day for Saudi-German relations’ - Saudia delegation visits Airbus in Hamburg to celebrate historic deal

‘A great day for Saudi-German relations’ - Saudia delegation visits Airbus in Hamburg to celebrate historic deal
Updated 9 min 50 sec ago

‘A great day for Saudi-German relations’ - Saudia delegation visits Airbus in Hamburg to celebrate historic deal

‘A great day for Saudi-German relations’ - Saudia delegation visits Airbus in Hamburg to celebrate historic deal

HAMBURG: A delegation from Saudia airline has made a special visit to Airbus’s factory in Hamburg to see for itself the progress of the largest aircraft deal in the Kingdom’s aviation history.

This landmark agreement, signed in May, includes the acquisition of 105 state-of-the-art A320neo and A321neo aircraft, which are to be distributed between Saudia and its low-cost carrier, flyadeal.

The deal is the latest in the longstanding relationship between Saudia and Airbus, which began in the early 1980s when Saudia became the launch customer for the Airbus A300-600, delivered in March 1984, coinciding with the start of operations to Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The most recent aircraft deal, valued at $19 billion, aligns closely with Saudia Group’s Vision 2030 objectives, aiming to transport 330 million travelers, accommodate 150 million visits, and serve 30 million pilgrims.

Speaking to Arab News at the event, Michael Kindsgrab, German Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “This is a great day for German-Saudi economic relations. This is the biggest aircraft deal we’ve ever signed between Airbus and Saudi Arabia and Saudia airlines, so this really leads into the future for more sustainable, ever more safe, more comfortable aviation.” 

He added: “This is a very big sign of the trust Saudia places into Airbus into the possibility of Airbus to make Saudia a happy customer. It’s a very good day for Saudi-German relations. I’m happy to be part of it.”

The deal significantly strengthens Saudi Arabia’s position as a hub for entertainment, sports, and major events, bolstering its global influence. It also boosts local content, fosters business entrepreneurship, and fuels sustainable economic growth for the Kingdom.

The aircrafts each take six months to complete. AN

Strengthening capabilities and workforce

Emphasizing a holistic investment strategy, the deal prioritizes local workforce development and technology transfer, fostering innovation across the aviation sector, and contributing to local content worth an estimated SR2.5 billion ($670 million).

Additionally, the agreement will transform the Saudi small and medium enterprise sector into an essential contributor within Airbus’ global supply chain.

Addressing the Saudi delegation in Hamburg, President of Airbus International Wouter van Wersch described the deal as “a fantastic opportunity for us to strengthen our cooperation”.

He continued: “We are ready right here and right now to grow with the Kingdom through its ambitions. We can turn many opportunities into realities.”

Van Wersch said that each aircraft takes six months to finish, and added: “We have many Saudis working in our teams, and our cooperation is built on a strong partnership through various activities.” 

Another significant outcome of this deal is that it will promote strong economic and diplomatic collaboration between Saudi Arabia and European countries, reinforcing commitments to

regional stability and global cooperation.

This will create investment opportunities and foster the creation of high-caliber, direct and indirect jobs in the Airbus manufacturing countries across Europe, particularly in Germany.

Reflecting on the 40-year relationship between his company and Airbus, director general of Saudia Ibrahim Al-Omar said the latest agreement was a “historical deal.”

Al-Omar also stressed that the partnership will reflect a robust effect that goes beyond just the immediate participants, benefiting regions in Germany and Europe by creating high-quality jobs.

Moreover, the partnership exemplifies how international collaborations can spur innovation and economic growth globally.

Speaking to Arab News, Al-Omar said: “Our visit today has provided us with a special opportunity to witness the efforts and processes that define Airbus leadership in the industry. 

“The facility and the skilled workforce at Airbus demonstrate a commitment to excellence that aligns perfectly with Saudia Group’s vision to enhance our guest experience and expand our capability. We are excited about the future and the promising production timeline.”

He added that together the firms are “not only shaping the future of aviation but also building a legacy of excellence and innovation.”

Also speaking to Arab News, Khaled Tash, the group chief marketing officer for Saudia, noted that as Airbus is a key economic driver in Europe, other countries on the continent will see benefits from the order.

“A deal like these 105 aircraft – imagine what kind of job opportunities it creates here in Germany, in France, in Spain, in the UK where the different parts are being manufactured, but also back in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Tash further explained that each new aircraft requires about six to eight pilots and co-pilots, along with over 20 cabin crew members.

Additionally, a significant number of technicians and engineers are needed to maintain and perform all necessary maintenance work on the aircraft.

“The amount of job opportunities that such deals create, make it a social economic deal, much more than just an airline deal with a manufacturer,” Tash said.

A new experience 

The $19 billion deal, announced at the Future Aviation Forum in Riyadh in May, will see Saudia acquire 54 A321neo planes, while flyadeal will receive 12 A320neo and 39 A321neo aircrafts .

The agreement was announced in the presence of Minister of Transport and Logistic Services Saleh bin Nasser AI-Jasser, Director General of Saudia Group Ibrahim Al-Omar, and Benoît de Saint-Exupéry, executive vice president of sales of Airbus.

Speaking at the forum, Al-Omar stated that over the next five years, 88 new aircraft will be added to the fleet, adding: “If we refer to the renovation of the guest cabin, we promise everyone a new experience in the business and hospitality classes based on privacy and the innovation of new products as this project will include new aircraft in addition to the current fleet.”

He went on to say that the first plane will be equipped with new seats by the end of 2025.

Starting in the fourth quarter of 2024, Saudi Airlines will begin offering fast and high-quality internet services on its flights.

Additionally, the airline will equip its aircraft with high-resolution screens that are Bluetooth-enabled and compatible with most smart devices. This upgrade will be implemented on both new and existing aircraft.

Saudi Arabia’s Aviation Strategy aims to triple passenger numbers, connect to over 250 destinations, and manage 4.5 million tonnes of cargo by 2030.

Saudi Arabia, Thailand to enhance opportunities in energy fields amid top ministerial meeting

Saudi Arabia, Thailand to enhance opportunities in energy fields amid top ministerial meeting
Updated 16 July 2024

Saudi Arabia, Thailand to enhance opportunities in energy fields amid top ministerial meeting

Saudi Arabia, Thailand to enhance opportunities in energy fields amid top ministerial meeting

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Thailand are on track to enhance opportunities in various energy fields thanks to a top ministerial meeting between officials from both countries. 

The gathering, attended by the Kingdom’s Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, who is currently visiting Saudi Arabia, shed light on many energy fields.

Topics of discussion included oil and gas, renewable energy, and hydrogen, as well as carbon extraction, use and storage, and energy efficiency, according to a statement. 

This falls in line with the ongoing efforts between both sides to further propel economic ties between them. 

Trade relations between the two nations saw business soar to $8.8 billion in 2023, up from $7.5 billion following the countries restoring ties in 2022. 

This represents nearly 22 percent of Thailand’s total trade with the Middle East, underscoring a flourishing economic partnership.

Moreover, during the meeting, the two sides discussed the Kingdom’s efforts to lead the transformation in the field of energy through projects such as the “Saudi Green Initiative” and the “Middle East Green Initiative.” 

Earlier this week, the Kingdom’s Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih highlighted that Saudi Arabia is set to enhance private sector cooperation with Thailand as the Southeast Asian nation opens its first board of investment office in Riyadh. 

On the sidelines of the business forum in the Saudi capital at the time, Al-Falih emphasized that this marks Thailand’s inaugural office in the Middle East, encouraging stronger bonds and new investment opportunities in both countries.

Addressing the business delegation at the Saudi-Thailand Investment Forum, Al-Falih said at the time: “Representative offices from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and your country will do a great deal of facilitating private sector to private sector cooperation and allowing us to reach the potential that I mentioned.”    

The minister also stressed at the time the common parallels between the two countries, noting they share a “great deal of complementarity.”

Thailand has its National Strategy 2037, whereas Saudi Arabia has its Vision 2030.   

“Which naturally leads me to emphasize the energy sector, including its multifaceted branches downstream: biofuels, biochemicals and CCUS (carbon capture utilization and storage), hydrogen, and renewables,” he said at the time.

Closing Bell: Saudi main index closes in green at 12,080

Closing Bell: Saudi main index closes in green at 12,080
Updated 16 July 2024

Closing Bell: Saudi main index closes in green at 12,080

Closing Bell: Saudi main index closes in green at 12,080

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index continued its upward trend for the third consecutive day on Tuesday, gaining 132.67 points or 1.11 percent to close at 12,080.37.

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR7.25 billion ($1.93 billion), with 140 of the listed stocks advancing and 73 declining. 

Similarly, Saudi Arabia’s parallel market Nomu edged up by 0.27 percent to 25,919.13. 

The MSCI Tadawul Index also gained 15.72 points to close at 1,513.57. 

The best-performing stocks of the day were AYYAN Investment Co. and Al Sagr Cooperative Insurance, whose share prices surged by 9.96 percent each. 

Other top performers on the benchmark index were Miahona Co. and Makkah Construction and Development Co., as their share prices soared by 7.70 percent and 6.40 percent respectively. 

The worst performer of the day was Al-Baha Investment and Development Co. The firm’s share price slipped 7.69 percent to SR0.12. 

On the announcements front, Lana Medical Co.’s fully owned subsidiary Lana Investment Co. said it acquired a 50 percent stake in Solar Laser Systems Co. and Solar Maccom Co.

Lana said in a statement to Tadawul that the SR6 million deal would be financed from the company’s own resources. 

The statement added that the impact of the deal will be visible in the company’s financial performance from Jan.1, according to the terms and conditions of the agreement. 

Meanwhile, Al-Hokail Academy Specialized Digital Polyclinics Co. announced that it has decided to cancel its initial public offering in Saudi Arabia’s parallel market. 

“This is in order to ensure the interest of investors and shareholders. This comes with the aim of ensuring the best possible conditions for listing, and the company aims with this decision to enhance the confidence of investors and shareholders in the strength and sustainability of its business,” the company said in a statement to Tadawul. 

Additionally, LIVA Insurance Co. said that it received approval from Banque Saudi Fransi to provide insurance services to the bank for one year starting from July 16. 

In a Tadawul statement, the insurance provider said that the deal will provide positive impacts on the company’s financial results for 2024 and 2025. 

Saudi banking sector set for 9% Q2 earnings growth, analyst forecasts 

Saudi banking sector set for 9% Q2 earnings growth, analyst forecasts 
Updated 16 July 2024

Saudi banking sector set for 9% Q2 earnings growth, analyst forecasts 

Saudi banking sector set for 9% Q2 earnings growth, analyst forecasts 

RIYADH: The Saudi banking sector is poised to witness an earnings rise in the second quarter of 2024, with an anticipated 9 percent annual growth, a financial analyst has forecast.

In an interview with Al Ekhbariya, Hussein Al-Attas voiced confidence in the upcoming performance of the banking division, anticipating significant improvements for the petrochemical industry.

He also noted that consulting firms hold a positive outlook for the second quarter’s results, specifically in the banking, communication, and retail divisions. 

However, while optimism prevails for these three sectors, there are divergent opinions regarding the performance of the cement and petrochemical fields.

The analyst indicated that despite differing views, the sector is expected to show improved performance in the second quarter compared to the same period last year, albeit slightly less than the first three months of this year.

He attributed this slower growth to the fact that many companies underwent periodic maintenance closures in the first quarter, impacting their performance.

In Saudi Arabia, amidst its position as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, plans for revenue diversification offer banks opportunities to invest in relatively low-risk public and private sector projects. 

The private sector, comprising around 90 percent of total bank assets, continues to expand due to a robust economy, higher oil prices, and ongoing government support, all contributing to anticipated growth in banks’ asset bases.

Moreover, the Kingdom ranks among the world’s leading petrochemical producers, accounting for approximately 7 percent of global supply, as reported by the International Trade Administration.

The industry has grown substantially, solidifying the nation’s role as a primary exporter of petrochemical resources.

However, the sector grapples with challenges, including an uncertain demand recovery amidst high interest rates and weak macroeconomic fundamentals, elevated shipping costs and logistical challenges from ongoing Red Sea issues, and seasonal factors affecting demand.

Al-Attas forecast that notable improvements are anticipated for companies such as SABIC, Advanced, and Yansab, which saw increased sales volumes and completed their first-quarter maintenance.

The analyst noted that these companies were nearly fully operational in the second quarter. Moreover, there have been improvements in certain petrochemical products despite unstable global demand stemming from geopolitical tensions.

According to Al-Jazira Capital’s forecast report, the sector is expected to experience a 95 percent earnings growth compared to the previous quarter, which saw multiple plant shutdowns. SABIC is projected to lead this increase, benefiting from volume recoveries following the first quarter turnarounds.

Additionally, Tasnee and Advanced are anticipated to return to profitability during this period, contributing to the sector’s overall earnings.