Diversity and sustainability top Riyadh conference agenda

Business leaders and experts discussed a number of issues related to the world of business at the Asia House Middle East Trade Dialogue in the Saudi capital on Tuesday. (File photo)
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Updated 26 February 2020

Diversity and sustainability top Riyadh conference agenda

  • Saudi British Bank chair Lubna Olayan expects global GDP growth to be driven by emerging economies

RIYADH: Sustainability, renewable energy and the role of women in the economy were on the agenda at the Asia House Middle East Trade Dialogue conference in Riyadh on Tuesday.

In her opening remarks, Lubna Olayan, chair of the Saudi British Bank, which is sponsoring the event, said: “We are standing at a fork in the road of global trade.”

“There were regions or communities that were left behind in the global race for prosperity,” she said, but added: “Domestic demand is growing and it is easier to meet the demand locally.”

There was a global pivot toward emerging markets and China in particular, she said. “The growth of GDP will come from emerging markets.”

Joining the conference from Beijing via Skype was Victor Gao, vice president of the Center for China and Globalization, who said: “China right now is undergoing this epic struggle, coronavirus, and even though we are not out of the woods, the situation is getting much better.”

He discussed the trade war between China and the US, saying that it was “mutually destructive” but “started by the US.”

However, Gao added: “Both the US and China really need to get their act together and put the war behind us.”

One of the panel discussions emphasized the importance of having a diverse workplace that included women. “We are seeing change, but the entertainment sector is pretty much still male-dominated,” said Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen, the first female CEO in the entertainment industry in the Middle East.

We are standing at a fork in the road of global trade.

Lubna Al-Olayan

“It’s not about men vs women but it’s about creating diversity. It’s about having the right person in the right role, whether male or female, and creating a balance,” Stanford-Kristiansen said.

Ghada Al-Jarbou, general manager of global liquidity and cash management at Saudi British Bank, said: “What I’d like to see personally are more women in STEM jobs. Under Vision 2030, lots of fields have opened for women that were previously off limits. We want to see more of that and, in the end, it increases the GDP.”

Khaled Al-Dhaher, country managing director of Accenture Saudi Arabia, said: “It starts with leadership, in creating a diverse and inclusive environment. It’s important to drive targets, it’s about bringing value. When there are teams with diverse leaderships, everyone wins. It creates a better environment for everyone.”

Sylvain Cote, senior economist at Saudi Aramco, said: “Oil will remain an important source of energy for at least the next 20 years. We haven’t seen a source of energy replaced by another one, they tend to build on one another. It doesn’t look like it will disappear.”

Lord Green, Asia House chairman, delivered the closing statement, remarking that he had lived in Saudi Arabia for a year in 1978 and loved it. “Riyadh left it’s imprint on me,” he said, adding that it had changed a great deal.

“The city (Riyadh) is 10 times bigger, has the most dramatic architecture in the world, income per head has at least doubled,” he said.

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S&P cuts Australia’s sovereign outlook, affirms AAA rating

Updated 08 April 2020

S&P cuts Australia’s sovereign outlook, affirms AAA rating

  • S&P affirmed Australia’s prized rating but said a downgrade was possible within the next two years
  • Australian long-dated bonds sold off after S&P’s outlook downgrade

SYDNEY: Global ratings agency S&P on Wednesday lowered its outlook on Australia’s coveted ‘AAA’ rating to “negative” from “stable” in anticipation of a “material” weakening in the government’s debt position as it splashes out a large fiscal stimulus package.
S&P affirmed Australia’s prized rating but said a downgrade was possible within the next two years if the economic damage from the COVID-19 outbreak is more severe or prolonged than it currently expects.
Australia is among a handful of countries in the world to boast the best ranking from all three major ratings agencies.
But it has come under a cloud as the pandemic has dealt Australia a severe economic and fiscal shock, with S&P predicting the A$2 trillion ($1.23 trillion) economy would plunge into recession for the first time in nearly 30 years.
This would cause a “substantial deterioration of the government’s fiscal headroom at the ‘AAA’ rating level,” S&P said in a statement.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the outlook downgrade was “a reminder of the importance of maintaining our commitment to medium term fiscal sustainability.”
The government has pledged A$320 billion ($197.73 billion) in fiscal spending, or 16.4 percent of annual economic output, to backstop the economy and prevent a crisis as the pandemic shuts companies and leaves many unemployed.
Some fund managers said Wednesday’s outlook downgrade was unlikely to raise the government’s borrowing costs by much though it could hurt Australian companies whose ratings are dependent on the sovereign rating.
“A large proportion of credit funds are mandated to maintain funds in a specific ratings bucket,” said Asmita Kulkarni, Director Investment Strategy at FIIG.
“With potential widespread downgrades we could see funds being forced to sell-down investment which would result in a widening of credit spreads.”
Australian long-dated bonds sold off after S&P’s outlook downgrade with 10-year yields jumping to 0.967 percent from 0.909 percent at Tuesday’s close.
Economists said they do not expect a rating downgrade prior to the federal budget due on Oct. 6.
It was only in September 2018 that S&P upgraded Australia’s outlook to “stable” from “negative” as the budget came close to balance. The government had even projected a surplus for the current fiscal year and next.
While all those predictions are now under water, Australia’s public debt is still in good shape, S&P noted.
“While fiscal stimulus measures will soften the blow presented by the COVID-19 outbreak and weigh heavily on public finances in the immediate future, they won’t structurally weaken Australia’s fiscal position,” S&P said.
“This expected improvement is a key supporting factor of our ‘AAA’ rating.”