Saudia targets post-pandemic profitability, privatization

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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)
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Ibrahim AlKoshy
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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)
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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)
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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.”


World Economic Forum to return in-person as it aims to shed light on ‘History at a Turning Point’

Updated 18 May 2022

World Economic Forum to return in-person as it aims to shed light on ‘History at a Turning Point’

  • This year’s meeting will bring together about 2,500 leaders and experts from around the world, including more than 50 heads of state and government, more than 1,250 leaders from the private sector and nearly 100 Global Innovators and Technology Pioneers

LONDON: The World Economic Forum announced on Wednesday that the theme of its annual meeting for 2022 will be ‘History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategies’ in its return to an in-person conference since the pandemic forced it to go virtual since 2020.

“The Annual Meeting is the first summit that brings global leaders together in this new situation characterized by an emerging multipolar world as a result of the pandemic and war,” said Klaus Schwab, the WEF’s founder and executive chairman.

This year’s meeting — which is happening in the spring rather than its usual January slot — returns after a two-year hiatus and will bring together about 2,500 leaders and experts from around the world, including more than 50 heads of state and government, more than 1,250 leaders from the private sector and nearly 100 Global Innovators and Technology Pioneers.

“The fact that nearly 2,500 leaders from politics, business, civil society and media come together in person demonstrates the need for a trusted, informal and action-oriented global platform to confront the issues in a crisis-driven world,” Schwab said.

Civil society will be represented by more than 200 leaders from NGOs, social entrepreneurs, academia, labour organizations, faith-based and religious groups, and at least 400 media leaders and reporting press. The Annual Meeting will also bring together younger generations, with 100 members of the Forum’s Global Shaper and Young Global Leader communities participating.

Against a backdrop of the global pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and geo-economic challenges, the meeting convenes at a strategic point where public figures and global leaders will meet in person to reconnect, exchange insights, gain fresh perspectives and advance solutions.

Topics that will be discussed at the annual meeting range from COVID-19 and climate change to education, technology and energy governance.

These include the Reskilling Revolution, an initiative to provide 1 billion people with better education, skills and jobs by 2030; an initiative on universal environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and disclosures to measure stakeholder capitalism; and the One Trillion Trees initiative, 1t.org, to protect our trees and forests and restore the planet’s ecosystems.

The programme will have six thematic pillars, including fostering global and regional cooperation; securing the economic recovery and shaping a new era of growth; building healthy and equitable societies; safeguarding climate, food and nature; driving industry transformation, and finally; harnessing the power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


Bank of England official warns of tough times for crypto

Updated 17 May 2022

Bank of England official warns of tough times for crypto

  • G7 to discuss crypto-asset regulation, says French central banker

RIYADH: Investors in crypto currencies should expect more difficult times ahead as tightening financial conditions around the world stoke appetite for safer assets, Bank of England Deputy Gov. Jon Cunliffe said on Tuesday.

Asked at a Wall Street Journal conference if rising interest rates would ramp up pressure on crypto currencies, Cunliffe said: “Yes, I think as this process continues, as (quantitative tightening) starts in the US ... I think we’ll see a move out of risky assets.” Cunliffe added that the conflict in Ukraine also had the potential to cause a renewed flight to safer assets.

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, fell as low as $25,401 on Thursday, its lowest since Dec. 2020. It hit a record high of $69,000 in November. 

However, it traded higher on Tuesday, up 0.2 percent to $30,418 as of 08:52 a.m. Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, was priced at $2,077, up 0.32 percent, according to data from CoinDesk.

G7 meeting

The regulation of crypto-assets is likely to be discussed at a meeting of Group of Seven finance chiefs this week in Germany, French central bank head Francois Villeroy de Galhau said on Tuesday.

“What happened in the recent past is a wake-up call for the urgent need for global regulation,” Villeroy told an emerging markets conference in Paris, referring to recent turbulence in crypto-asset markets.

“Europe paved the way with MICA (regulatory framework for crypto-assets), we will probably ... discuss these issues among many others at the G7 meeting in Germany this week,” he added.

Grayscale to launch digital assets

Grayscale will list an exchange-traded fund in Europe made up of companies representing the “Future of Finance,” the world’s largest cryptocurrency asset manager said in a statement on Monday. 

The ETF, tracking the “Bloomberg Grayscale Future of Finance Index,” will be listed on the London Stock Exchange, Italy’s Borsa Italiana and Germany’s Deutsche Börse Xetra and begin trading on May 17. It is the first time that US-based Grayscale has listed a fund in Europe.

The index contains a mixture of companies involved in digital currencies including asset managers, exchanges, brokers, technology firms, as well as firms directly involved in cryptocurrency mining. “For us, the digital economy is primarily being driven through the proliferation of digital assets,” said Grayscale CEO Michael Sonnenshein.

Related


NEOM ‘fully under Saudi sovereignty, regulations,’ says government official refuting inaccurate media reports

Updated 16 May 2022

NEOM ‘fully under Saudi sovereignty, regulations,’ says government official refuting inaccurate media reports

RIYADH: NEOM, a project fully owned by Saudi Public Investment Fund, is “completely under Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty and regulations,” the Saudi Press Agency reported early Monday, citing an official source.

The clarification came after NEOM's tourism sector head Andrew McEvoy made comments to media during his participation at Arabian Travel Market in Dubai about demographic status within the megacity, suggesting that residents within NEOM will have a special status, distinguishing them from others.


Read More: NEOM seeks to regenerate the area, offer ‘guilt-free’ vacations


NEOM City will have some special regulations related to investment reflecting its strategy as part of the Kingdom's Vision 2030, to make 'the city of the future' an effective driver in supporting the Saudi economy and the prosperity of the region, according to the company.

Economic legislation specific to the project area will be developed to achieve the best concepts of governance of economic zones in the world, making NEOM one of the most important attractions globally, SPA quoted the source as saying.

The point was underlined by Manar Al-Munif, chief investment officer of NEOM, while speaking at the Saudi-Thai Economic Forum in Riyadh on May 16.

She said the $500-billion future city will have its own regulations based on best practices from around the world that will allow businesses to grow and develop.

Al-Munif revealed that NEOM is the largest Environmental, Social, and Governance initiative in the world, and added that the project will create several investment opportunities for businesses. 

“We have identified a number of investment opportunities across 16 sectors in NEOM. These sectors represent the future, and we have outlined 150 investment initiatives. Each of these initiatives is going to have hundreds of opportunities regardless if it is a direct investment, joint venture, or merging,” Al-Munif added. 

She also said the NEOM project is trying to reinvent and introduce environmental factors, thus ensuring harmony with nature. 


Top CEO Conference and Awards to recognize industry leaders in GCC

Updated 15 May 2022

Top CEO Conference and Awards to recognize industry leaders in GCC

  • Publicly listed firms in GCC bourses are evaluation on their annual financial performance

DUBAI: Braving the setbacks they had faced during the pandemic, head honchos of top companies will be attending the Top CEO Conference and Awards to be held in the city from May 17-18 to celebrate leadership in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

According to the organizer’s statement, the Top CEO Awards are based on the financial performance, size and corporate governance of GCC-listed companies.

Julien Hawari, organizer of the TOP CEO, Special Edition, said in the statement: “All of the publicly listed companies in the Arabian Gulf stock markets are evaluated on their annual financial performance, and the ranking is not a result of a nomination by a jury relying on undisclosed metrics.”

The statement added that companies are evaluated if they are listed on any of the seven GCC stock markets. Moreover, Hawkamah Institute has provided corporate governance guidelines developed by the Top CEO in partnership with INSEAD Business School.

One of the Big Four has audited the results, and KPMG is auditing the Top CEO ranking for the 2022 awards, the statement said, while adding that Arab News and Al Arabiya News channel were chosen as media partners of the event.

According to Hawari, the awards were created in 2012 to recognize those who created value and boosted the region’s economy while maintaining transparency and good corporate governance.

FASTFACT

One of the Big Four has audited the results, and KPMG is auditing the Top CEO ranking for the 2022 awards.

The statement added that there are 10 categories of companies to be divided into, and the Top 10 CEOs in each category are recognized, totaling 100 awards.

The 10 categories are banking, energy and utility, financial services and investment, insurance, logistics and industrials, malls, real estate and construction, mining, metals and chemicals, retail, FMCG and consumer care, Shariah-compliant banks and financial services and telecom, tech and media.

Commenting on the event, Hawari said: “Global market forces are coming together in the post-pandemic economies to rebuild communities and businesses, and our region is no different.”

Compared to the pause of business in 2020 and slow growth in 2021, the first three months of 2022 saw Arabian Gulf stock markets increase by the most since the global financial meltdown.


Pakistan’s oil, food bill swells to $24.8 billion amid rising commodity prices, rupee depreciation

Updated 15 May 2022

Pakistan’s oil, food bill swells to $24.8 billion amid rising commodity prices, rupee depreciation

  • Petroleum products make up for 26% of Pakistan's overall imports worth $65.53 billion
  • Finance minister says he will talk to the IMF but refuses to withdraw energy subsidies

KARACHI: Pakistan’s oil and food import bills have swelled to $24.8 billion during the current fiscal year due to increasing global commodity prices and weakening national currency, according to official data and analysts. 

The oil and food import bills of the South Asian country, which is struggling with a worsening balance-of-payment crisis in the face of declining foreign exchange reserves, rose by 96 percent and 12.3 percent respectively from July 2021 till April 2022. 

Pakistan imported oil products worth $17.03 billion during this period, compared to imports worth $8.69 billion during the corresponding period last year. It contributed 26 percent to the country’s overall $65.53 billion imports, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). 

The food import bill during the period stood at $7.75 billion against the $6.9 billion recorded during the same period last year. The import of palm oil worth over $3 billion alone made up for a major share of the import bill, which surged by 44 percent from July till April. 

“The surging global commodity prices are a major reason behind high oil and food prices, mainly due to the Russia-Ukraine war and revival of COVID-19 that have disrupted the supply and demand balance,” Ahsan Mehanti, chief executive officer of the Arif Habib Commodities investment firm, told Arab News on Sunday. 

“Inflation triggered by the import of energy and food items at higher prices will continue to persist as long as the rupee does not recover.” 

The Pakistani currency continues to hit new lows against the United States (US) dollar as the demand for import payments continues to build pressure on the rupee. On Friday, the rupee hit yet another historic low as the greenback closed at Rs192.53 in the interbank market.    

The US dollar has gained 6 percent or Rs10.98 against the rupee since April 16, when it was trading at Rs181.55.  

Experts believe the Pakistani currency will recoup some of the lost ground after Islamabad and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sign a deal for the revival of $6 billion loan program. 

“We see the dollar hitting Rs200 mark against the rupee before falling back to around Rs180,” Mehanti said. "We expect the rupee to recover after Pakistan signs a deal with the IMF next week." 

Pakistan and the IMF are currently negotiating the country's seventh review under the $6 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF), which has so far disbursed $3 billion. Islamabad is expected to receive another $1 billion after the completion of the review.    

The review has been stalled since the previous government announced in February around $1.7 billion relief in energy prices while deviating from the objectives of the IMF program.  

“I am going to talk to the IMF and will find out the solution to the issue amicably,” Miftah Ismail, the Pakistani finance minister, said at a press conference in Islamabad on Sunday. 

“The government has no intention to further increase the petroleum prices. The prime minister has refused to burden the people further.” 

Pakistan’s imports of machinery also posted an increase by 20.5 percent to $9.5 billion from July till April as compared to $7.9 billion during the same period last year. Imports of telecom equipment jumped by 14 percent to $2.4 billion, while mobile phone imports rose by 7.4 percent to $1.8 billion.   

The South Asian nation imported vehicles worth $3.7 billion, which shows over 60 percent growth in 10 months of the current fiscal year.   

Pakistan suffered $39.3 billion trade deficit from July till April due to the highest ever imports of $65.53 billion. Experts call for addressing the situation by restricting the import of non-essential and luxurious goods.