Egypt’s finance minister says cutting inflation is priority

Egypt’s finance minister says cutting inflation is priority
Inflation dipped to 33.3 percent in March from a record 38 percent in September, far higher than the central bank’s long-standing target of between 5 percent and 9 percent. Shutterstock
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Updated 17 April 2024

Egypt’s finance minister says cutting inflation is priority

Egypt’s finance minister says cutting inflation is priority

CAIRO: The Egyptian government’s main priority is to reduce inflation to within the central bank’s target, Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said on Tuesday, adding that economic growth was expected to rise in the financial year starting in July to 4.2 percent, from 2.8 percent this year, according to Reuters.

Maait also said the government aimed to sell more state assets, which would reduce the state’s role in the economy, allow the private sector more ownership, increase productivity and generate revenue to reduce Egypt’s debt.

Egypt’s economy has been hurt over the last half year by the crisis in Gaza, which has slowed tourism growth and cut into Suez Canal revenue, two of the country’s biggest sources of foreign currency.

Revenue from the waterway has fallen by more than 60 percent, Maait said, speaking during the IMF Governor Talks series in Washington.

The challenges prompted the IMF to expand financial support to Egypt to $8 billion, while Egypt sharply devalued its currency, made its latest pledge to move to a flexible exchange rate, and struck a record $35 billion investment deal with a UAE sovereign wealth fund.

Inflation dipped to 33.3 percent in March from a record 38 percent in September, far higher than the central bank’s long-standing target of between 5 percent and 9 percent.

Egypt generated growth over the last decade by financing giant state projects, including a new $58 billion capital in the desert, through a borrowing spree abroad that quadrupled its foreign debt.

The government hopes to lower interest rates to reduce interest payments on debt, Maait said. The central bank so far this year has raised its overnight interest rates by 800 basis points.

The government has put a limit of 1 trillion Egyptian pounds ($20.6 billion) on all public investment, including that of the military, Maait said. The private sector should make up at least 65-70 percent of the economy, he added.

“Giving the main role to the private sector to lead the country is in the benefit of the state. Why? Because we have close to 1 million young people coming to the labor market looking for jobs every year,” Maait said.

“Who will be able to create that? The government cannot create more than 100,000 new jobs. An economy led by the private sector can create 900,000 — even more — jobs, but we have to give them the opportunity.”

Saudi venture capital sector expanding exponentially

Saudi venture capital sector expanding exponentially
Updated 19 May 2024

Saudi venture capital sector expanding exponentially

Saudi venture capital sector expanding exponentially
  • Global venture capital firms capitalize on Kingdom’s expansive strategy

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s venture capital landscape continues to grow with its reverberations reaching far continents. 

Global venture capital firms are capitalizing on the Kingdom’s expansive strategy, as evidenced by the state-owned Saudi Venture Capital Co.’s $30 million investment in a US-based investment firm. 

SVC has pledged this significant investment in a private equity fund managed by the renowned US-based investment firm General Atlantic.  

“The investment in the private equity fund by General Atlantic is part of SVC’s Investment in Funds Programme and an implementation of its strategy related to attracting top global fund managers to invest in Saudi-based companies as well as stimulating investment for later stages,” Nabeel Koshak, CEO and Board Member at SVC, commented. 

Established in 1980, General Atlantic boasts a formidable reputation as a global growth equity investor, overseeing a vast portfolio of $84 billion in assets under management.  

Nabeel Koshak, CEO and board member at SVC. (Supplied)

The focus of this venture will be on investing in high-growth, tech-enabled companies within Saudi Arabia.  

The initiative aims to bolster innovation and entrepreneurship in the region, particularly in key sectors such as consumer goods, financial services, healthcare, life sciences, and technology. 

“We are very proud to partner with SVC and broaden our commitment to Saudi Arabia. Vision 2030 sets the stage for a period of dynamic growth and innovation in Saudi Arabia, which will create attractive investment opportunities for our global investors. SVC is a highly strategic investor who will deepen our expertise in this important region,” Bill Ford, Chairman and CEO of General Atlantic, said. 

Saudi Arabia’s WheeKeep secures $8m series A funding 

Saudi Arabian logistics startup WheeKeep raised $8 million in a series A round led by Fintech Collective, with participation from local and international investors.  

Founded in 2020 by Sultan Al-Olayan, Amr Al-Marzouki, and Youssuf Fayez, WheeKeep provides mobile self-storage units for individuals and businesses.  

The new capital will aim to fuel WheeKeep’s expansion plans in Saudi Arabia and beyond. 

Saudi Qsalary partners with Itqan Capital to launch $80m fund  

Saudi HRtech company Qsalary has partnered with Itqan Capital to launch an $80 million investment fund.  

Founded in 2022 by Mohammed Badwi and Amr Abu Shady, Qsalary offers a digital platform for accelerated salary payments.  

The fund aims to provide investment opportunities for investors seeking financial growth. 

Qatari investors commit $20m to MENA Fund I 

Qatari investors are boosting the regional startup landscape with a $20 million commitment to the newly announced MENA Fund I. 

Golden Gate Ventures, a venture capital fund founded by Silicon Valley natives, announced its first $100 million MENA fund, with $20 million in commitments from some of Qatar’s most prominent families.  

The anchor investor is the multi-faceted Al Khor Holding, a company with 60 years of heritage. Other notable investors include the Al Attiya Group, widely recognized for its support in developing local businesses, and Sheikh Jassim Bin Jabor Al Thani. 

The announcement of the first close of its $100 million MENA Fund I, backed by the pillars of Qatar’s private business community, represents a major step forward in Golden Gate Ventures’ ambitions to drive innovation and entrepreneurship in the MENA region.  

The fund combines the aggregate regional influence of its investors with Golden Gate Ventures’ extensive experience in startup ecosystem development across Silicon Valley and Asia.  

MENA Fund I is the first international venture capital fund to be established and managed within Qatar. Michael Lints, Partner at Golden Gate Ventures, has moved to Qatar to deepen the firm’s commitment to the MENA region.   

The fund will focus on powering startups in key sectors such as alternative energy, green technology, B2B artificial intelligence, and energy-related deep tech.  

Other strategic sectors that MENA Fund I will cover include fintech, healthtech, and edtech, furthering Qatar’s economic diversification agenda. 

Glint completes first close of its second venture fund at $3 million  

Egypt-based investment firm Glint completed the first close of its second venture fund at $3 million, supported by Wadi Degla Group. 

Glint Fund II, led by Tarek Aboualam and Youssef Helmy Habib, aims to support Egyptian entrepreneurs with early-stage investments ranging from $250,000 to $500,000. 

“Glint’s second fund represents an important step to further develop our ecosystem designed to support Egyptian tech-based startups looking to penetrate the regional and international markets,” said Aboualam. 

UAE’s Property Finder raises $90m debt round to buyout lead investor  

Dubai-based Property Finder secured $90 million in debt from Francisco Partners to finance the buyout of its first institutional investor, BECO Capital.  

The online real estate platform bought back BECO Capital’s stake, which had also invested in ride-hailing app Careem and logistics startup Fetchr.  

Property Finder said the deal allows BECO to exit “with a strong return on its investment,” without providing further details. 

“We’ve seen tremendous growth in the real estate market across the entire UAE, not just Dubai,” said Michael Lahyani, CEO and founder of Property Finder. Valued at about $1 billion, the company joins the growing list of Middle Eastern unicorns. 

UAE’s Lune raises $1.5m in seed round  

UAE-based data analysis company Lune has raised $1.5 million in a seed round from Dubai Future District Fund, Plus Venture Capital, Reach International, and Judah Ventures, alongside other family offices and angel investors.  

Founded in 2020 by Helal Tariq and Alexandre Soued, Lune enables financial institutions to turn customer transaction data into valuable insights.  

The funding will support Lune’s regional expansion and product development. 

Egypt’s MNZL raises $3.5m in seed funding  

Egyptian fintech MNZL raised $3.5 million in a Seed round led by P1 Ventures, Localglobe, and Ingressive Capital, with additional support from 500 Startups, Flat6Labs, First Circle Capital, ENZA Capital, Beenok, and other angel investors.  

Founded in 2023 by Sameh Saleh, Ahmed El-Dessouky, and Bassem El-Shaer, MNZL allows users to convert assets like homes and cars into liquidity.  

“By enabling Egyptians to safely harness their own assets—homes or cars—for financial needs, We at MNZL are going beyond a mere adjustment; it’s a complete revolution in credit access. This shift not only empowers families by providing financial leverage but also contributes to broader economic prosperity in the region,” Saleh said. 

The company aims to utilize the new capital to enhance MNZL’s technology and scale operations in Egypt. 

Alvarez & Marsal outlines action-oriented approach as it launches regional HQ in Saudi Arabia

Alvarez & Marsal outlines action-oriented approach as it launches regional HQ in Saudi Arabia
Updated 18 May 2024

Alvarez & Marsal outlines action-oriented approach as it launches regional HQ in Saudi Arabia

Alvarez & Marsal outlines action-oriented approach as it launches regional HQ in Saudi Arabia
  • Decision reflects company’s dedication to long-term growth and transformation in the Saudi market

RIYADH: Global consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal is set to introduce its distinct, unbiased, and action-oriented approach to Saudi Arabia’s market following the launch of its regional headquarters, according to a top official.

This decision, aimed at solidifying A&M’s presence in the region, reflects the company’s dedication to long-term growth and transformation in the Saudi market, James Dervin, managing director of the firm in the Middle East and co-head in the region, told Arab News.

He described the firm’s strategic vision in the Saudi market as “relatively simple,” adding that the aim is “to bring A&M’s differentiated, and non-conflicted, execution-focused proposition to a market which is at an inflection point in terms of demand for translation of strategy into action and results.”

Speaking of the inauguration of the firm’s regional headquarters, Dervin explained that “the decision was actually made some time ago, and we had been working on the establishment of the RHQ (regional headquarters) for approximately 12 months and simply wanted to be sure that we were able to meet all of the requirements, which, alhamdulillah, we were able to do.”

He further emphasized the significant growth witnessed across A&M’s team and service areas in the country, making the establishment of a regional headquarters a natural progression.

James Dervin, managing director of A&M in the Middle East and co-head in the region. (Supplied)

Starting from January 1, 2024, Saudi Arabia declared it would only award deals to foreign companies with Middle East bases within Saudi Arabia. As a result, numerous international firms across sectors such as energy, technology, healthcare, and hospitality have set up headquarters in Riyadh.

“We have witnessed strong growth across our team and service areas in the country in recent years, so as the company continues to deepen our roots in the Kingdom, this seemed a natural next step to take. It also reflects A&M’s commitment to the Saudi market for the long term,” Dervin added.

In a market witnessing increasing competition, A&M aims to stand out by its action-oriented approach, Dervin highlighted.

He added: “Our proposition is differentiated, elsewhere in the world, in the region, and in the Kingdom. We’re not ‘blue-sky’ thinkers, and we’re not auditors. A&M’s proposition is about taking action and achieving results in line with our ‘get-stuff-done’ brand.”

A&M’s suite of services spans restructuring, turnaround, performance improvement, and more, catering to a diverse range of business needs in Saudi Arabia.

Dervin elaborated on the company’s offerings, stating: “We work across the spectrum of under-performance, ranging from mild underperformance or 'turnaround' territory, through to stressed and distressed situations.”

He further emphasized the company’s ability to provide advisory or executive support, including taking on management roles like chief revenue office and chief financial officer, a service not commonly offered by competitors.

“The market, in general, is developing at an extraordinary rate, and the Kingdom’s visionary leadership deserves immense credit for the great strides that already have, and are still being made, for example; the Kingdom’s 2018 bankruptcy law was generally regarded as the most progressive in the region upon implementation, and appears to have meaningfully informed the UAE’s equivalent legislation, which was revised in 2024,” Dervin noted.

He further mentioned that the implementation of the law, and subsequently the introduction of processes like financial restructuring, have provided tools to aid in the rescue of businesses and to minimize the occurrence of outright failure and subsequent liquidation.

The enactment of the new Companies Law, coupled with the growing sophistication of the capital markets, is rendering the Kingdom – and the broader region – an increasingly enticing hub for foreign investment, according to the top official.

This trend aligns seamlessly with the fundamental objectives of Vision 2030, he said.

Earlier this month, Bryan Marsal, A&M’s CEO and co-founder, commented on the close alignment of his firm’s global brand with the local market dynamic in Saudi Arabia, following the establishment of the regional HQ.

“The all-encompassing nature of the Saudi Arabian transformation is driving significant demand for A&M’s distinctive ‘get-stuff-done’ brand of services — for our ability to fix problems, our ‘skin in the game,’ and our freedom from audit conflicts,” he said in a statement.

Dervin highlighted A&M’s unique position in influencing the restructuring landscape, particularly its expertise in corporate rescue, turnaround, and performance improvement, which are virtually unparalleled in the region.

Aligned with Vision 2030, A&M is committed to supporting Saudi youth employment programs, exemplified by initiatives like the Bidayah Graduate Program.

Dervin expressed pride in the program, stating: “We are obviously extremely proud of the Bidayah program, which is a pioneering initiative for A&M from a youth development perspective.”

He added: “We have designed and implemented a bespoke graduate training program providing these exceptional individuals with rotating roles across the business, hopefully providing them with a breadth of experience and visibility of the options and opportunities within our firm and in the market more broadly.”

The managing director said that the company is hoping to play a meaningful part in the personal and career development of young Saudis, “who themselves have a vital role to play in the development of the economy and society in the Kingdom.”

Looking ahead, A&M aims to further empower Saudi graduates through partnerships with local universities and educational institutions.

“Our objective is to empower new graduates, equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge for a successful career. More details of these partnerships, and its potential to contribute to the development of the next generation of Saudi business leaders, will be shared closer to the next intake,” affirmed Dervin.

As A&M continues to expand its footprint in Saudi Arabia, Dervin emphasized the crucial role of young Saudi professionals in driving the company’s growth and success.

“Much like the Kingdom itself, we cannot be truly successful without young Saudi professionals playing their part in our development, as we look forward to a bright future for our growing Saudi Arabian office,” he concluded.

More than 180 major global companies and organizations have already established regional headquarters in the Saudi capital. These include Apple, Microsoft, and Alibaba, as well as the IMF, IBM, and Google.

Saudi Arabia’s localization plan is reshaping consultancy sector - and more beyond

Saudi Arabia’s localization plan is reshaping consultancy sector - and more beyond
Updated 17 May 2024

Saudi Arabia’s localization plan is reshaping consultancy sector - and more beyond

Saudi Arabia’s localization plan is reshaping consultancy sector - and more beyond
  • Plan a huge opportunity for Saudi Arabia to boost local jobs and reduce its reliance on foreign workers

RIYADH: As Saudi Arabia embarks on a journey aimed at boosting job opportunities for citizens, the localization plan for consultancy professions and businesses plays a crucial role.

In October 2022, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development issued a decision mandating that from the end of March 2024, 40 percent of workers in firms in this sector must be Saudi nationals.

The decision targeted all professions in the sector, most notably financial advisory specialists, business advisers, and cybersecurity advisory specialists, as well as project management managers, engineers, and specialists.

This targeted localization, or Saudization, is part of the cooperation between the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development and supervising bodies, represented by the Ministry of Finance, the Local Content and Government Procurement Authority, the Expenditure and Project Efficiency Authority, and the Human Resources Development Fund.   

The collaboration aims to elevate the presence of cadres in the sector and boost the percentage of Saudis, contributing to the development of local content in this strategic sector. It also seeks to organize the labor market.

The ministry is meant to support private sector establishments in several ways, including helping them in hiring Saudis by supporting the training and qualification of employees, as well as supporting employment procedures and other initiatives.  

On a similar note, the Local Content and Government Procurement Authority is required to follow up on the commitment to include Saudization requirements in consulting contracts.

It has also issued a guide that clarifies the details of localizing the consultancy sector and professions, and the mechanism of implementing it.  

Reshaping the consultancy sector     

Azeem Zainulbhai, co-founder and chief product officer at talent-on-demand platform Outsized, believes the Saudization rules in the sector will help keep more money in the Kingdom, even though training costs could increase.

“This move means less reliance on experts from abroad in key fields like finance, project management and cybersecurity. Essentially, it’s about creating more jobs for Saudis in important, well-paying sectors and making sure they're trained for these roles,” he told Arab News.

“The end objective is to get better at handling projects and business dealings that are specific to Saudi culture and regulations, stimulate private sector growth, and foster a knowledge-based economy ultimately making companies more efficient and competitive globally,” the co-founder emphasized.

Bashar El-Jawharim, consulting partner at PwC Middle East, also stated that the localization plan initiated by Saudi Arabia marks a significant milestone in reshaping the consulting sector within the Kingdom.  

Azeem Zainulbha, Co-founder and chief product officer at Outsized

“With the launch of the second phase, we anticipate several key transformations that will contribute to the development and empowerment of local talent,” El-Jawhari told Arab News.

“Firstly, as young Saudi professionals enter the workforce, we expect a notable increase in demand for consulting services related to project and transformation management, financial and legal advisory, as well as procurement and supply chain management,” he added.

By having more Saudis in consulting, businesses can better navigate local market dynamics and regulations.

Azeem Zainulbha, Co-founder and chief product officer at Outsized

The consulting partner went on to note that the influx of senior Saudi talent into the consulting industry presents an opportunity for firms to leverage their experience and insights to drive business growth.

Sectors to be affected  

The localization push of course expands beyond the consultancy sector, Zainulbhai noted.

“Tourism and hospitality can really use local insights to attract more visitors and celebrate Saudi culture. Major construction and engineering projects, like the NEOM and the Red Sea Project, will also benefit from having local experts who understand the specific requirements and standards needed,” he said.

The Outsized executive also shed light on the fact that the healthcare, IT, cybersecurity, and renewable energy sectors are all set to improve with more local consultants who bring a deep understanding of regional needs and regulations.

“Local financial experts will be key in adapting to Saudi Arabia’s unique market, especially as it continues to grow and change,” Zainulbhai commented.

Overall, sectors essential to the diversification from oil will see substantial growth and development from this localization.  

“When looking at various sectors, certain areas are poised to benefit more prominently than others. For example, the government and public sectors are likely the first to benefit in light of the transformation journey towards Vision 2030,” El-Jawhari affirmed.

The consulting partner explained that as Saudi Arabia continues its journey toward achieving the ambitious goals outlined in Vision 2030, there is a growing emphasis on enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations.

“Consulting services play a vital role in supporting this transformation by providing strategic guidance and expertise in areas such as organizational restructuring, process optimization, and performance management,” El-Jawhari commented.

He added: “Furthermore, nationals equipped with experience in operational excellence are well-positioned to contribute to these efforts by implementing measures aimed at optimizing operational processes, reducing costs, and enhancing productivity.”

Potential opportunities

The plan is a huge opportunity for Saudi Arabia to boost local jobs and reduce its reliance on foreign workers, which aligns perfectly with the broader Vision 2030 goals.

“By having more Saudis in consulting, businesses can better navigate local market dynamics and regulations,” added Zainulbhai.

He continued to underscore that local consultants can offer insights that make companies more competitive, especially in sectors where understanding local consumer behavior is crucial.

He also clarified that businesses that follow these new hiring rules may find it easier to onboard government clients.

“The focus on local talent is also great for fostering innovation and could help companies set up successful programs to nurture new ideas in fields like digital tech and sustainability,” Zainulbhai explained.

From El-Jawhari’s point of view, the localization plan presents opportunities for Saudi nationals to enter the consulting profession, contributing to the development of a vibrant knowledge-based economy.

Potential challenges  

While there are many benefits, the plan also brings several challenges. According to Zainulbhai, those include filling talent gaps, adjusting to cultural shifts, and meeting new regulatory standards.

“To tackle these, businesses could set up mentorship programs where seasoned international consultants train up-and-coming Saudi professionals. Setting up special training centers to quickly upskill workers could also help,” the co-founder described.

Bashar El-Jawhari, Consulting partner at PwC Middle East

“There might be some resistance to these changes within companies, so promoting a culture that values diverse perspectives will be important,” he added.

Zainulbhai also believes that consulting with local legal experts will be crucial to stay on top of new regulations.

We anticipate several key transformations that will contribute to the development and empowerment of local talent.

Bashar El-Jawhari, Consulting partner at PwC Middle East

“Although initial costs might be high, businesses can look into government subsidies or focus on tech solutions to reduce long-term expenses and increase efficiency,” he said.

From PwC’s perspective, El-Jawhari said that the availability of fresh, well-educated Saudi graduates provides consulting firms access to junior talent.

“The challenge lies in retaining them beyond the first 4 to 5 years. Government and semi-government entities begin to recruit these nationals, who have gained experience in international consulting firms, to join their workforce,” he stressed.

The consulting partner went on to explain that another challenge is attracting mid-career Saudi consultants who are in high demand and short supply.

“The third challenge is distinct specialties. For example, with the strong drive toward diversifying the economy, there is a need for consulting experience across sectors such as industrial, defense, tourism and culture, sports, and entertainment, supported by international experience,” El-Jawhari revealed.

He further disclosed: “Overall, finding Saudi talent in relatively new sectors of the economy is quite challenging.”

“To expand the pool of mid-career Saudis, a program between government entities and consulting firms could be established. The program could include seconding talented mid-career Saudis into consulting firms for 1 to 2 years,” El-Jawhari clarified.

He wrapped up with this regard saying that this gives consulting firms access to mid-career Saudi talent and in return, government entities gain a mid-career professional equipped with consulting experience.

Vision 2030 implications  

Undoubtedly, this plan provides a key piece of the bigger Vision 2030 puzzle, which aims to diversify the economy beyond oil and boost public services like health and education.

“By increasing Saudi involvement in consulting, the plan helps keep more money in the country and creates high-value jobs that are crucial for modernizing the economy,” Zainulbhai said.

The co-founder also mentioned that it also focuses on upgrading the skills of the Saudi workforce, which is essential for innovation and sustained economic growth.

“More local consultants mean the private sector can grow stronger and more independent, making Saudi Arabia a more appealing place for investors and helping develop key sectors,” he concluded.

On the other side, El-Jawhari shed light on how two key outcomes of Vision 2030 are a thriving economy and a vibrant society.

“Pushing for a higher level of consulting localization will create higher-paid jobs for Saudi nationals, resulting in a more vibrant society that enjoys a higher quality of life,” the consulting partner reiterated.

“Additionally, local talent can provide the necessary expertise in specific consulting services to catalyze economic diversification,” he concluded.


Aramco seals deals with three US firms focused on low-carbon energy solutions

Aramco seals deals with three US firms focused on low-carbon energy solutions
Updated 17 May 2024

Aramco seals deals with three US firms focused on low-carbon energy solutions

Aramco seals deals with three US firms focused on low-carbon energy solutions

RIYADH: Energy giant Saudi Aramco has signed Memorandums of Understanding with three US firms to advance the development of potential lower-carbon solutions.

The deals with Aeroseal, Spiritus and Rondo were inked in the presence of the Kingdom’s Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, and his White House counterpart Jennifer Granholm. 

The agreements camed after the two officials agreed a roadmap for cooperation between the countries in the sector, amid discussions around carbon management, clean hydrogen, and nuclear energy, as well as electricity and renewables, innovation, and energy-sector supply chain resilience.

Ali Al-Meshari, senior vice president of technology, oversight and coordination at Aramco, said: “Aramco has stated its ambition to achieve net zero Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions across its wholly-owned operated assets by 2050, and sees opportunities to potentially build a lower-carbon new energy business. Innovative technologies deployed at scale can help reduce the costs of reducing carbon emissions, and we are investing in developing these through our R&D, venture capital, and technology deployment programs. We see the technologies of Aeroseal, Spiritus’, and Rondo to have the potential to scale globally, and specifically in the Middle East.”

Following a successful trial of Aeroseal’s technology in Saudi Arabia, Aramco and the company agreed to explore opportunities to accelerate the deployment of Aeroseal’s technology in the company’s building fleet and elsewhere; pursue joint testing of building ductwork and envelopes nationwide to uncover the most prominent opportunities; and commercialize the technology in novel applications such as gas pipelines.

The deal with Spiritus saw Aramco agree to explore opportunities in the field of direct air capture, with the US firm’s approach in this area potentially addressing major cost challenges.

Aramco and Rondo agreed to explore deployment of heat batteries in the Saudi firm’s global facilities to reduce operating costs and support emissions reduction initiatives.

The companies have started engineering studies for a first industrial scale deployment of Rondo Heat Batteries that could contribute to reduction of emissions from Aramco facilities, with subsequent scale up to 1 gigawatt per hour.


Saudi cement sector poised for global lead through digital maturity and circular economy practice

Saudi cement sector poised for global lead through digital maturity and circular economy practice
Updated 18 May 2024

Saudi cement sector poised for global lead through digital maturity and circular economy practice

Saudi cement sector poised for global lead through digital maturity and circular economy practice

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s cement industry is poised to maintain its position as a key player in the global market, by harnessing circular economy principles and navigating challenges using digital innovation, according to an industry expert.

Amr Nader, CEO and co-founder of cement consultancy A3&Co, told Arab News that most of the Kingdom’s plants in the sector boast state-of-the-art technologies, which will enable them to reach digital maturity for achieving operational excellence and de-carbonization goals.

While some plants are initiating proper strategic initiatives in this area, others are still in the early stages of trials. 

However, Nader believes that the transition to digital maturity is on the priority list of most plants and is expected to materialize within the next 2 to 5 years.

According to TechSCI Research, Saudi Arabia’s white cement market reached a value of $165.11 million in 2022, and is anticipated to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 11.93 percent during the forecast period spanning from 2024 to 2028.

Key projects like NEOM and Qiddiya, along with the expansion of transportation networks and entertainment centers, have spurred a notable increase in the demand for high-quality cement in the Kingdom.

Nader believes this growth will come alongside major shifts in the sector, and said: “We anticipate a cost reduction and improved value addition, leveraging circular economy and even for net-zero transition if the right technologies at the efficient sizes are adopted.”

The CEO elaborated on the significance of adopting oxy-fuel technology at suitable scales, emphasizing its use of oxygen and recirculated flue gasses for burning fuels instead of air.

This approach, combined with increased reliance on renewable energy sources and the anticipated integration of low-carbon hydrogen as a fuel source, indicates the potential for Saudi Arabia’s cement industry to sustain its competitive advantage beyond 2030 according to Nader.

These initiatives form part of a comprehensive de-carbonization strategy aimed at lessening the sector’s ecological impact while preserving its market standing.

Nader further highlighted that the Saudi competitive pricing edge is driven by lower production costs even after factoring in carbon adjustment border taxes, potentially increasing exports to regions with stringent carbon regulations.

“In regard to the carbon boundary tax of Europe and other carbon boundary taxes in the world, we see that as an opportunity for further export from Middle East plants that will early adopt near-zero transitions in a time frame between 2024 and 2028,” he said.

Carbon boundary taxes, also known as carbon border adjustment mechanisms, are policies implemented by governments to address carbon leakage.

They ensure that industries subject to carbon pricing within their jurisdictions remain competitive with foreign industries that may not face similar levies..

These taxes aim to prevent the relocation of industries to countries with weaker climate policies while also encouraging other nations to adopt similar carbon pricing measures.

Projects like OXAGON at NEOM have been fueling the cement sector. File

Nader highlighted challenges affecting demand in the cement sector, such as heightened sea freight costs, reduced vessel availability due to geopolitical tensions, and increased pricing by Saudi plants to counter higher energy costs from Aramco.

“Despite the increase in fuel prices by average 100 percent for all fuels, the production cost in efficient Saudi plants is still lower than the global average by approximately 15 percent and there is still room to improve that by adopting operational excellence,” he added.

He explained that large companies in the Kingdom, with capacities exceeding 8,000 tonnes per day, have significant opportunities for improvement by implementing Operational Excellence Strategies and early adoption of near-zero science-based targets initiative verified strategies.

This will not only reduce costs further but also enables them to remain below the global cost average by the same 15 percent, even with the anticipated increase in energy prices next year, he added.

Reduced government investment has posed another challenge according to Nader, causing a slowdown in large-scale projects and consequently diminishing the demand for cement.

This trend translated into a 4 percent decline in domestic sales and a 30 percent drop in exports for Saudi Arabia’s 17 cement firms during the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same period last year, as reported by Al-Yamama Cement. 

Notably 97 percent of cement sales were domestic, with only 3 percent being exported.

Despite this drop in sales, the Kingdom stands as the largest cement producer in the region, housing several of the most significant cement-manufacturing firms in the area, according to Global Cement.

The most prominent firms in Saudi Arabia, based on market capitalization according to Bloomberg data, include Al Yamama Cement, with a market cap of SR6.95 billion, followed by Saudi Cement at SR6.82 billion, Southern Province Cement at SR5.5 billion, then Qassim Cement, and Yanbu Cement.

Nader linked the recent decline in domestic sales to certain giga-projects in the Kingdom that demand green cement, a product not commonly manufactured in most of Saudi Arabia’s plants.

“Nevertheless it must be noted that Saudi Arabia consumption per capita is still one of the highest in the world at approximately 1.3 tonnes per capita yet the utilization of the sector is less than 60 percent due to high installed capacity in the period between 2013 and 2017,” Nader added.

In its April report, Al-Jazira Capital also associated the decline with the increased influence of Ramadan on sales, noting that the holy month spanned 21 days in March 2024, compared to just 9 days in the previous year.

Nader had emphasized in a February interview with Aggregates Business that the Middle East’s cement plants, characterized by their large size, enjoy advantages in economies of scale and operational efficiency. With most plants equipped with modern technology and automated processes, they outperform their European counterparts, some of which date back to the 1950s.

Additionally, the region’s abundant solar, wind, and land resources present opportunities for the adoption of green energy, positioning the Middle East cement sector to lead in sustainability initiatives globally.

Looking ahead, Nader foresees a growing emphasis on sustainability and de-carbonization in the region, leading to increased production of green products.

Furthermore, he predicts a doubling of cement exports from the Middle East within the next two to three years, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Algeria currently leading as the largest exporters.