Japan exports to US fall, business mood sours amid fears of trade war

Exports to the US dipped 0.9 percent in June from the same period a year ago on waning shipments of cars and semiconductor manufacturing equipment. (Reuters)
Updated 19 July 2018

Japan exports to US fall, business mood sours amid fears of trade war

  • Exports to the US dipped 0.9 percent in June from the same period a year ago on waning shipments of cars and semiconductor manufacturing equipment
  • The batch of data highlighted concerns among Japanese policymakers who worry Trump may resort to tariffs or other protectionist measures to fix trade imbalances with Japan

TOKYO: Japan’s exports to the US fell for the first time in 17 months and Japanese business sentiment soured amid worries about US President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policies.
Exports to the US dipped 0.9 percent in June from the same period a year ago on waning shipments of cars and semiconductor manufacturing equipment, two of Japan’s most important export products.
Thursday’s trade data came on the heels of the Reuters Tankan, which showed business sentiment slipped in July, reflecting companies’ fears about an intensifying trade dispute between the US and China.
The batch of data highlighted concerns among Japanese policymakers who worry Trump may resort to tariffs or other protectionist measures to fix trade imbalances with Japan under his “America first” policy.
With American imports down 2.1 percent, Japan’s trade surplus with the US widened 0.5 percent year-on-year to ¥590.3 billion ($5.24 billion). That could make it a potential target for Trump’s protectionist policies.
Japan’s global exports rose 6.7 percent in June, while imports gained 2.5 percent.
“Overall exports remain healthy for now, but we are not sure how things are going to turn out on the trade policy front,” said Shuji Tonouchi, senior market economist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. “It’ possible talk of tariffs and trade friction could reduce corporate investment.”
The Reuters Tankan, which tracks the Bank of Japan’s closely watched quarterly tankan survey, found manufacturers’ sentiment index stood at 25 in July, down one point from June, and the service sector’s mood fell to 34 from 35 in the prior month.
The index subtracts the percentage of companies that feel negative about the economy from those who are optimistic, so a positive number means more businesses are upbeat.
Concerns about protectionism were widely cited in the Reuters poll of 483 large- and mid-sized companies, of which 268 responded between July 2-13, particularly among exporters of cars, precision machinery and metal products.
The US this month imposed 25 percent tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods to lower the US trade deficit, and China quickly retaliated with an increase in tariffs on US goods.
“Our clients are increasingly taking a wait-and-see stance on capital expenditure in the face of uncertainty over trade friction between the US and China and the EU,” a manager of a machinery maker wrote in the survey.
“Uncertainty is rising over capital spending plans at our client firms due to the expansion of protectionist policies and geopolitical risks,” said another machinery maker.
The manufacturers’ index is seen rising to 29 in October, while the service-sector index is expected to hold steady, after July’s decline led by real estate/construction firms.
The BOJ’s tankan showed earlier this month that big manufacturers’ mood soured for a second straight quarter in the three months to June, hurt by rising input costs and as US trade protectionism clouds the outlook for Japan’s export-dependent economy.
Still, the mood among non-manufacturers improved slightly and big firms’ solid capital spending plans offered some relief.


Egypt’s petroleum sector made up 24% of GDP — minister

Updated 15 April 2021

Egypt’s petroleum sector made up 24% of GDP — minister

  • More than 60 international oil and gas companies operate in Egypt, including well-known names such as ExxonMobil and Chevron

CAIRO: The oil and gas sector contributed 24 percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 and was one of the key sectors that helped rebuild the country’s economy in the wake of the economic challenges since 2011, according to a senior government minister.

Egyptian Petroleum Minister Tariq El-Molla said in a statement that the sector had played a significant role in the economic reforms the government had implemented, which helped to create an appealing environment for investors.

More than 60 international oil and gas companies operate in Egypt, including well-known names such as ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Egypt launched the EastMed Gas Forum in 2018, which was designed to encourage strategic dialogue between Eastern Mediterranean countries — whether they are producers or consumers — in a bid to achieve optimal economic benefits and address common regional challenges.

The minister said that the EastMed Gas Forum charter was signed in September 2020 and had succeeded in attracting the world’s attention. Several countries had expressed their desire to join the forum — including France, which had been approved as a permanent member, and the US as an observer.

El-Molla confirmed that the Natural Gas Advisory Committee has been formed with 29 members and international institutions.

He said that natural gas had emerged as an important transitional fuel due to its environmentally friendly nature and because the Egyptian government had introduced many projects as part of a bid to maximize gas use in homes and cars.

El-Molla added that hydrogen had become an important source of fuel, and gained the support of international institutions. One example was Egypt’s partnering with the EU to establish a special committee to develop a strategy for the use, production and exploration of hydrogen.


Almost half of Jeddah’s hotel rooms were booked in March

Updated 15 April 2021

Almost half of Jeddah’s hotel rooms were booked in March

  • Industry report says occupancy rates were second-highest since pandemic started

JEDDAH: The hotel industry in Saudi Arabia’s commercial center reported one of its highest monthly occupancy levels of the COVID-19 pandemic period, according to preliminary March 2021 data from the hotel management analytics firm Smith Travel Research (STR).

According to the figures, hotel occupancy in Jeddah reached 47.1 percent in March, and the revenue per available room (RevPAR) reached SR318.72 ($84.99).

March occupancy and RevPAR rates were the second-highest since February 2020, just behind figures for January 2021. However, the average daily rate for hotel rooms was SR676.36, remaining in line with the levels recorded in the second half of 2020.

Earlier this month, a report by STR found that Saudi Arabia has the world’s biggest hotel pipeline, anticipating a 67.1 percent increase in room supply over the next three years, the highest among the 50 most populated countries. The data showed 73,057 rooms in the Saudi hotel pipeline, with 16,965 scheduled to come online in 2021. 

The Jeddah hotel market is expected to increase hotel supply by more than 97 percent, with 11,198 rooms under development.


Saudia targets post-pandemic profitability, privatization

Updated 15 April 2021

Saudia targets post-pandemic profitability, privatization

  • Kingdom’s flag carrier gearing up for resumption of international passenger travel on May 17

RIYADH: A few minutes into our interview and it was clear that the CEO of Saudia, the Kingdom’s state-owned flag carrier, wanted to set the record straight about the aviation sector during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Many people believe that since flying has been reduced, we (the airline industry) have just been able to relax and take a breather,” said Capt. Ibrahim AlKoshy.

“Talking to everybody in the airline industry, it’s been one of the busiest times for anyone … We took that challenge as an opportunity to actually come out stronger.”

The aviation industry has certainly had its challenges. In February, the regional president of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) told Argaam that airlines in Saudi Arabia incurred $9.6 billion in losses as passenger traffic fell by 70 percent.

The latest figures released by IATA earlier this month showed that for Middle Eastern airlines, demand in February 2021 was down 83.1 percent compared to the same month in 2019.

Capt. Ibrahim AlKoshy
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Flights were grounded in the Kingdom in March 2020. While domestic traffic resumed at the end of May last year, and Saudia is gearing up for international flights to restart on May 17, AlKoshy said it will still be some time before a recovery to pre-pandemic levels.

“Our estimates are pretty much in line with IATA and other airlines because we’re sharing data on market recovery,” he added.

“We don’t see that full recovery taking place in international (passenger traffic) until 2024. The remainder of 2021, we do see a strong domestic (and) slight improvement in international … It seems people are still a bit cautious about long-distance traveling.”

A survey in December found that 46 percent of Saudi respondents are looking forward to traveling internationally once restrictions are lifted.

Saudia is putting everything in place to help inspire confidence in travelers to feel safe getting on an aircraft again.

FASTFACT

Operating to 90 destinations in 36 countries, Saudia has a number of code-sharing agreements and partnerships with airlines such as Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and China Southern Airlines.

AlKoshy said on April 19, Saudia will trial a digital travel and health pass developed by IATA, and has implemented around 50 COVID-related health initiatives on its flights, resulting in it being awarded Diamond status by the Airline Passenger Experience Association for its efforts to ensure the highest standards of cleanliness and sanitation across its operations. “The practices that we did at Saudia weren’t done generically. We actually hired infectious disease physicians to work with us on developing the protocols,” he added.

“We’re quite proud of how we actually put that together … It seems to have gained passenger confidence quite well.”

Rebuilding passenger confidence is important, and one of the main reasons that AlKoshy and his team have not been able to take a breather over the last year.

Operating to 90 destinations in 36 countries, Saudia has a number of code-sharing agreements and partnerships with airlines such as Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and China Southern Airlines. (File photo)

“It’s been a complete revisit to the strategy … We’re really looking at a lot of operational efficiencies, better utilization of all resources, aircraft crew etc., not just because of COVID-19 but it’s the right thing to do. We’ll come out much stronger on this one,” he said.

Reuters reported in December that the Kingdom’s Finance Ministry approved SR13.6 billion ($3.6 billion) for Saudia in 2019, and SR6.4 billion in the first half of 2020. AlKoshy acknowledged that like many companies during the pandemic, help from the government was needed.

While he did not get into exact figures, he said the impression that the airline is heavily government-subsidized is not accurate.

“Saudia is a state-owned airline at this stage. We’re working toward privatization, but the truth of the matter is many of the subsidies that historically people believe Saudia receives are no longer received,” he added.

“We’re operating already on our own budget. There’s been some support for staffing etc. for COVID-19, but I think it’s really important to understand that Saudia actually entered with a strong balance sheet at the beginning of this (pandemic) and we’re doing quite well. However, that’s not to say support hasn’t been received during this period. It’s due to COVID-19.”

AlKoshy forecasts that the airline will be back in the black within a few years. “What we’re looking at is … Saudia sees profitability in 2024 without question,” he said.

Privatization of state assets is a core priority for the Saudi government going forward. “Privatization is part of the plan at the Saudia group level and for the airline as well,” he said.

Last month, the airline signed an agreement worth SR11.2 billion to partially finance new aircraft orders up until mid-2024.

According to its 2020 official factsheet Saudia has 144 aircraft, but AlKoshy confirmed that there are plans for new orders.

“Saudia, when looking at its next fleet offers as well, we have our requirements. We’ll definitely be looking at the best options we have with both Boeing and Airbus,” he said. “And there’s another fleet expansion expected that we’ll be going through, so we’ll see how we can work with Boeing and Airbus. They’ve been partners with Saudia for quite a long time. It’s something we’ll look at.”

Operating to 90 destinations in 36 countries, Saudia has a number of code-sharing agreements and partnerships with airlines such as Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways and China Southern Airlines.

“We have very strong plans to strengthen that virtual network of codeshares, possibly through joint ventures. There are many things that are being looked at. Some of them have been actioned already,” AlKoshy said.

As the airline counts down the days to May 17, he and his team will be looking forward to getting back to some form of normalization.

But, as he was keen to point out, they certainly were not resting on their laurels over the last year.

“It’s been a very challenging time for the airline industry as a whole, but we’ll come out much stronger on this one,” he said. “Saudia has very aggressive growth plans.”


O2, Virgin Media win provisional UK approval for $43bn merger

Updated 15 April 2021

O2, Virgin Media win provisional UK approval for $43bn merger

  • The two telecommunications groups agreed last May to merge their British businesses to create a broadband and mobile powerhouse in a challenge to market leader BT Group

LONDON: Britain’s competition watchdog said on Wednesday it had provisionally cleared the £31.4 billion ($43.3 billion) merger between broadband company Virgin Media and Telefonica’s UK mobile network O2.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), addressing one of its primary concerns, said that its investigation had concluded the deal was unlikely to result in a substantial reduction of competition in the supply of wholesale mobile services.

“A thorough analysis of the evidence gathered ... has shown that the deal is unlikely to lead to higher prices or a reduced quality of mobile services — meaning customers should continue to benefit from strong competition,” said Martin Coleman, CMA Panel Inquiry Chair.

The regulator said it believed there was sufficient competition within the market to prevent either player raising wholesale broadband or mobile prices to the detriment of rivals who use its infrastructure.

The decision was welcomed by Virgin Media owner Liberty Global Plc. and Spain-based Telefonica, which took note of the CMA’s provisional conclusions.

“We continue to work constructively with the CMA to achieve a positive outcome and continue to expect closing around the middle of this year,” a spokesman for Telefonica told Reuters on Wednesday.

The two telecommunications groups agreed last May to merge their British businesses to create a broadband and mobile powerhouse in a challenge to market leader BT Group.

The two sides said earlier this month that Virgin Media boss Lutz Schuler would become chief executive of the new company.


PIF-backed fund to help UAE HR firm expand into KSA with $20m investment

Updated 14 April 2021

PIF-backed fund to help UAE HR firm expand into KSA with $20m investment

  • Dubai-based Reach Group first recipient from NBK Capital Partners’ $300m Shariah credit fund

JEDDAH: A Dubai-based human resources consultancy firm has become the first company to receive financing from a new $300 million Shariah credit fund anchored by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, it was announced this week.

Reach Group focuses on supplying skilled and semi-skilled employees to government, private-sector companies and quasi-public entities on long-term contracts.

The company has 6,000 outsourced full-time employees in the UAE, making it among the largest temporary staffing providers in the country.

It is planning to use its new $20 million investment to expand into the Saudi market through the acquisition of a local outsourcing company in the Kingdom.

“This transaction provides additional capital for us to expand into Saudi Arabia, which we’ve viewed as a natural growth area for our business,” said Reach Group’s founder and CEO Malik Melhem.

The $300 million Shariah Credit Opportunities Fund was launched in February by the Dubai-headquartered National Bank of Kuwait Capital Partners (NBKCP), a subsidiary of Kuwait’s biggest bank.

The fund’s anchor investor is the Saudi Public Investment Fund, and is expected to make 10-12 investments of $15-$50 million over the next eight years. Reach Group is the first such investment to be announced.

“Reach is a highly reputable leader in outsourced staffing solutions in the region. We were pleased to work with its founder and management team to structure a financing solution that allowed Reach to enter the Saudi market,” said NBKCP CEO Yaser Moustafa.