Saudi Central Bank outlines COVID-19 strategy to IMF

Saudi Arabia’s economy is expected to grow at 2.9 percent in 2021 and 4 percent in 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 08 April 2021

Saudi Central Bank outlines COVID-19 strategy to IMF

  • When it comes to GCC, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the shining lights — both having rolled out successful vaccination programs for their populations

BERN: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) published its updated growth forecasts for the next five years in time for the World Bank and IMF Spring meetings, which are taking place this week. Things look better than anticipated than they did six months ago, or even in January, when the IMF provided its latest update.

The world economy is expected to grow 6 percent, compared to 5.5 percent projected in January, with China and the US providing the lion’s share. The Middle East and Central Asia stand at 3.7 and 3.8 growth rates for 2021 and 2022.

These numbers are important, because they tell us that after the biggest slump in economic activity since the great depression, there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, this mainly applies to countries, which have the means to immunize their people against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

When it comes to GCC, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the shining lights — both having rolled out successful vaccination programs for their populations. The Kingdom is expected to grow at 2.9 percent in 2021 and 4 percent in 2022.

In an interview with Jahad Azour, director of the IMF’s Central Asia and Middle East department, Fahad Almubarak, governor of the Saudi Central Bank, outlined how Saudi Arabia achieved the positive outlook by applying necessary measures during the pandemic.

The governor pointed out that several Saudi government programs cushioned the pandemic’s blow to the economy by supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with $74 billion in terms of deferred loan payments and loan extension guarantees, as well as cash injections worth $13 billion to those companies.

“Where are the maximum risks in our economic sector? We found that SMEs are the most impacted. Therefore, we started several programs,” Almubarak said in the interview with the IMF. “One of them is we asked the banks to defer payments due by the SMEs. (An) additional program is guaranteeing finance. The central bank, along with other government entities, we would help SMEs by guaranteeing their loans for them to be able to sustain the temporary situation.”

Shrewd macro-prudential management and appropriate support of the SME sectors will ensure that the Kingdom emerges relatively unscathed from the pandemic induced 2020 annus horribilis.

In this context, we have to pay tribute to OPEC+, which effectively managed the supply and demand picture for oil. A stable and predictable outlook on oil prices, which is achieved with forward-looking and prudent supply management by OPEC+, remains the silver bullet in terms of how the global investor community looks at GCC economies. All in all, the macroeconomic outlook for the global economy as forecasted by the IMF looks better than only three months ago.


Turkey bans crypto assets over illegal transaction fears

Updated 19 April 2021

Turkey bans crypto assets over illegal transaction fears

  • The much-criticized move against the digital currency will come into effect on April 30

ANKARA: Turkey’s Central Bank has banned the use of crypto assets in payments as part of the country’s efforts to regulate cryptocurrencies, which have gained huge popularity in recent months.

The government has been closely monitoring cryptocurrencies for some time, alleging that extremists might use them to fund illegal activities or facilitate money laundering.

“Their use in payments may cause irreparable damages for the parties to the transactions, and include elements that may undermine the confidence in methods and instruments used currently in payments,” the bank said.

The new regulation will come into effect by April 30, but the legislation’s announcement lowered the value of Bitcoin by more than 4 percent on Friday.

Besides forbidding crypto  payments for buying goods and services, the regulation also bans transferring money to cryptocurrency platforms via fintech systems. But many investors in Turkey view Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a shelter against inflation, with the lira facing a significant devaluation against foreign currencies due to the country’s financial volatility.

The lira has lost about half of its value since the 2018 currency crisis.

Increasing inflation rates, which reached a six-month high last month of 16 percent, as well as official unemployment rates hitting 13.4 percent are making people turn to cryptocurrency to gain money and compensate their losses with stable assets.

The booming business of cryptocurrencies has replaced Turks’ rush for gold and real estate as a hedge against the struggling lira and rising interest rates. This new digital money is mostly used by the country’s tech savvy younger population, which is seeking to protect its livelihood against Turkey’s recent economic troubles.


• Turkey bans crypto payments for buying goods and services.

• The regulation also forbids transferring money to cryptocurrency platforms via fintech systems.

• Many investors in Turkey view Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a shelter against inflation.

The government’s crypto asset ban drew anger from domestic investors. About 100,000 tweets were sent from Turkey-based social media accounts in one day criticizing the legislation.

The country’s main opposition Peoples’ Republican Party (CHP) also criticized the government’s midnight move against cryptocurrency use. 

“Rather than issuing a midnight legislation, you should have decided on such sensitive issues after consulting all relevant parties,” CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.

Regulation in the field of cryptocurrencies was not a new debate for Turkey, where the government expected to achieve some political goals from blockchain technology, according to Dr. Mehmet Bedii Kaya, an expert of IT law at Istanbul Bilgi University.

The government, in line with its 11th Development Plan, was set to implement a digital central bank based on blockchain technologies.

“On the other hand, there is a significant number of Turkish citizens who use cryptocurrencies for short and long-term gains,” Kaya told Arab News. “I think that this latest regulation has been prepared with a quick reflex, without considering the potential financial losses it might generate with the wave of resulting misinformation.”

Kaya said that payment institutions were already under the close supervision of the Central Bank. “These fintech institutions, which are active in the cryptocurrency market, are very innovative and dynamic. Therefore the Turkish state considered this dynamism as a risk and source of complexity. However, these key players shouldn’t have been disqualified.”

After Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced it was now possible to buy Tesla vehicles in the US with Bitcoin, an Istanbul-based luxury car distributor called Royal Motors began accepting payments in cryptocurrencies last week.

Crypto trading volumes hit $27 billion between early February to March 24, according to data analyzed by Reuters, while trading gained momentum especially after the Central Bank governor was dismissed by presidential decree and further weakened the lira.

Last week, the Turkish government asked crypto trading platforms to provide it with user information.

France’s Alstom on track to expand presence in Saudi Arabia

Updated 19 April 2021

France’s Alstom on track to expand presence in Saudi Arabia

  • The French technology provider has been part of several other key projects in the Kingdom

RIYADH: French transport technology provider Alstom, which is working on the Riyadh Metro project, is targeting expansion in Saudi Arabia.

Andrew DeLeone, who is president of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia at Alstom, said the company was a  long-standing partner of Saudi Arabia.

“We have been active for decades and played an integral role in the Kingdom’s energy sector,” he told Arab News. “We installed the first gas turbine in the Kingdom in 1951. We are one of the largest technology players in the Riyadh Metro program, which is one of the largest public transport systems in the world. We are supplying solutions and the Riyadh Metro’s lines 3, 4, 5 and 6 have been built by Alstom and its civil partners, as part of the FAST consortium, and the system is set to provide comprehensive, citywide, mass-transit coverage.”

The Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper reported in January that the Riyadh Metro would be launched in the third quarter of this year. 

When fully operational, it will comprise six lines with a total length of 176 km, and 85 stations. Once launched, Alstom will continue to provide services for the metro. 

“We will be continuing in Riyadh for many years as part of the O&M (operations and maintenance) for these four lines and (as a) major presence in the metro system,” DeLeone added.

Alstom has supplied 69 trains for the Riyadh Metro and an Urbalis signaling system. 

It has also implemented HESOP (harmonic energy saver) technology in the project. HESOP recovers the electrical energy generated by trains during braking which, in addition to reducing operational costs, will cut about 3 million kilos of carbon emissions and decrease power consumption by 6.6 million kilowatts a year.

Alstom also has a number of other projects in its current Saudi portfolio.


• Alstom installed the first gas turbine in the Kingdom in 1951.

• It is one of the largest technology players in the Riyadh Metro program.

• Alstom has supplied the key components for the high-speed trains that connect Makkah and Madinah.

“We will also deliver the transit solutions for the King Abdullah Financial District when the project resumes and completes. We have supplied the key components for the high-speed trains that connect Makkah and Madinah. We will also be delivering the people mover system in the Kingdom, which is now operating in Jeddah airport.”

DeLeone said that Saudi Arabia was already making inroads into driverless technology solutions. 

“We already see it in Jeddah airport as our people mover system is driverless. Our monorail system is also driverless. Riyadh Metro system is also a driverless transportation system. Driverless transport is here in the Kingdom and will be an essential part of the Riyadh Metro system.” 

Andrew DeLeone

With Saudi Arabia committing to developing an additional 10,000 km of rail and metro by 2030, and a key factor in this commitment being its ambition to lead the way in reducing transport emissions, relieving traffic congestion, and improving residents’ health and quality of life, DeLeone was confident Alstom could win even more projects in the Kingdom and wider region.

“Alstom has secured a five-year service contract extension for automated people mover systems at Dubai Airports and to provide comprehensive O&M services. We had a similar contract in Jeddah airport and (an) extended service contract. Despite the pandemic, our technology and services have seen growth. We will supply tram orders for the city of Casablanca.”

Last week, at a webinar organized by the Future Investment Initiative, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) Yasir Al-Rumayyan said that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programs made solid business sense in the Kingdom and worldwide. 

Alstom was already making progress on developing sustainable and greener modes of transport.

“Today is a big day for Alstom, with our first order of hydrogen trains in France, which is really a historic step in our leadership around CO2-free sustainable urban mobility. The dual mode electric-hydrogen train will mark a historic step in rail transport’s reduction in CO2 emissions, and in the development of a hydrogen ecosystem,” DeLeone said.

In January, Alstom merged with Canada’s Bombardier Transportation. 

Reuters reported the deal to be worth around €5.5 billion ($6.7 billion) and the combined conglomerate will have €15.7 billion in revenues with an order book of €71.1 billion. It will also employ around 75,000 staff in 70 countries.

The Kingdom and the wider region was a significant area for the new combined entity, with over 1,500 people delivering major projects in Riyadh, Dubai, and Qatar, according to DeLeone.

“A large percentage of our workers are in Saudi Arabia, delivering the programs, and we look forward to growth. It’s a place where we (can) grow our business, so we are going to grow our employee presence, supplier presence and grow the local impact.”

Saudi unemployment rate drops in Q4 2020

Updated 19 April 2021

Saudi unemployment rate drops in Q4 2020

  • Unemployment among young people decreased from 34.2 percent in Q3 2020 to 28 percent in Q4

JEDDAH: The unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia decreased to 12.6 percent in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020, down from 14.9 percent the previous quarter, according to the latest data from the General Authority for Statistics (GaStat).

According to a report by Riyadh-based investment management advisory Jadwa Investment, the decrease in joblessness was due to more women and young people joining the Saudi labor force at the end of 2020.

“The recovery in the labor market has proceeded quicker than we anticipated (with Saudi unemployment at 12.6 percent at the end of 2020, versus our forecast of 14 percent). At the same time, however, the swift recovery reinforces our view that Saudi unemployment will decline to 12.1 percent by the end of 2021,” the Jadwa report said.

Unemployment among young people decreased from 34.2 percent in Q3 2020 to 28 percent in Q4. Among men it declined from 7.9 percent to 7.1, while for women it was down from 30.1 percent to 24.4 percent, across the same period. 

According to GaStat’s numbers, 200,000 new private sector expatriate work visas were issued in Q4, compared to 46,000 in Q3. The sharp increase was largely due to a big increase in female expat visas, which increased by 181,000 in Q4 compared to just 4,000 in Q3.

Across the various sectors, public administration and accommodation and food services recorded the largest increase in employment among Saudi nationals and expat workers.

“That said, with the ongoing roll-out of vaccines in the Kingdom, we are expecting a more vigorous economic recovery in the second half of 2021, which, along with ongoing localization efforts (such as the recent
Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development decision to raise the level of Saudization in shopping malls, supermarkets, restaurants and coffee shops), will help create more employment opportunities for citizens,” Jadwa said in its report.


PIF’s Noon launches Ramadan drive to help poor families

Updated 19 April 2021

PIF’s Noon launches Ramadan drive to help poor families

  • The project runs until May 12

RIYADH: Noon, an online platform backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Dubai businessman Mohamed Alabbar, have teamed up with a charity to let online shoppers donate food to needy families during Ramadan.

Noon Daily, which is’s grocery website, will partner with Bunyan Women’s Charitable Association for the initiative. 

The project runs until May 12.

Kaushik Mukherjee, senior vice president of customer experience and seller operations at Noon, said: “We’re proud to work with Bunyan to help our customers and team more easily contribute to people in need. Noon Daily will pack and ship Ramadan donation bundles purchased by customers and our own employees to Bunyan throughout the holy month. Thousands of families and frontline workers across the country will benefit from the food parcels distributed by the charity, and we couldn’t be happier to provide a service that helps bridge the donation process between customers and the community.”

Bunyan Women’s Charitable Association was established in 2011 with the aim of improving the physical and social conditions of poor families by assisting them through significant charity initiatives.

Noon was launched in the UAE and Saudi Arabia in Dec. 2017, and in Egypt in Feb. 2019. 

With an initial investment of $1 billion and working from headquarters in Riyadh, Noon said in 2016 that it aimed to expand online sales in the region from 2 percent of the total retail market ($3 billion) to 15 percent ($70 billion) within a decade.


Chalhoub Group organizes Ramadan initiatives

Updated 19 April 2021

Chalhoub Group organizes Ramadan initiatives

  • Employees from the group will also be able to participate in the “mychalhoub” Eid initiative for orphans

JEDDAH: Luxury retailer the Chalhoub Group has launched a number of initiatives for Ramadan.

The company launched the Chalhoub Impact program before Ramadan, in which about 200 food packages were distributed to the poor through the office of the mayor in Old Jeddah District.

Employees from the group will also be able to participate in the “mychalhoub” Eid initiative for orphans. 

Level Shoes, the group’s designer footwear and accessories operation, will run a social media campaign to donate Ramadan meals. MUSE, the group’s loyalty program, in collaboration with the Al-Ahyaa Centers Association, will donate 1,000 iftar meals to those in need.

“The holy month of Ramadan is the season for giving and an important opportunity to make a difference to the community,” Bachar Sabbagh, managing director, KSA, at Chalhoub Group, said in a press statement.