Saudi inflation slows to 4.9% in March as VAT effect lingers
Saudi inflation jumped to 6.1% after VAT was increased last July
Food and beverages were the biggest contributors to inflation in March
Updated 16 April 2021
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s annual inflation rate fell marginally in March as last July’s increase in value-added tax (VAT) continued to assert an effect on prices.
The consumer price index rose an annual 4.9 percent in March, compared with a 5.2 percent increase in February, the General Authority of Statistics (GASTAT) said in a statement on Thursday.
The inflation rate jumped to 6.1 percent in July 2020 from 0.5 percent in June as the VAT rate was increased from 5 percent to 15 percent and has mainly been drifting lower since.
The biggest contributors to March’s reading were food and beverage prices, which increased 10.2 percent from a year earlier, driven by a 12 percent increase in the cost of meat and 10.9 percent higher prices for vegetables, GASTAT said.
Transport costs rose 10.5% as vehicle prices rose 9.6%, while tobacco gained 13.1 percent and communication added 13.2 percent.
The cost of education fell 9.5 percent year over year, while housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels declined 2.7 percent, driven by a 3.9% drop in housing rentals.
Saudi Arabia’s acting information minister said in November last year the kingdom could review its VAT increase once the coronavirus pandemic ends. Analysts at Al Rajhi Capital predicted the higher VAT rate would generate SR28 billion ($7.5 billion) in 2020 and SR88 billion in 2021 if maintained.
In 2018, Saudi Arabia and the UAE became the first two countries in the Arabian Gulf to introduce VAT.
Saudi banks shut down 42 branches in 12 months, increase digital presence
More banks are switching to increased virtual interactions and digitalization, and new banks are opening entirely on that premise
Updated 15 August 2022
Hala Hisham Koura
CAIRO: Saudi banks shut down 42 branches over the year ending in June, revealed the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA.
The number of bank branches in Saudi Arabia also inched lower to 1,927 in the second quarter this year from 1,932 in the same quarter last year.
So, what are the reasons behind this decreased number of bank branches, and when did this trend begin?
The most common assumption would be the COVID-19 pandemic and its prolonged effect on the entire economy, including the financial and banking sectors.
Between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2021, which includes the peak of the pandemic, 68 branches were closed.
Also, bank branches continued to decrease quarterly long after lifting COVID-19 restrictions, albeit there was no clear trend.
Between May 2020 and June this year, 137 bank branches in the Kingdom shut shop.
It is worth mentioning that branches that have closed are not second-tier or underperforming banks but some of the largest and well-performing ones. For instance, Al Rajhi Bank, which had 543 branches in the fourth quarter of 2020, reduced it to 515 by June this year.
While COVID-19 sparked the digital revolution, advanced and innovative technologies did the job.
The past three years of the pandemic slowly began the transformation toward digital banking, which can be seen closely in the Saudi banking sector.
More banks are switching to increased virtual interactions and digitalization, and new banks are opening entirely on that premise.
Last February, SAMA licensed and welcomed the Kingdom’s third digital bank D360 Bank, following the launch of STC and Saudi Digital Bank in June last year.
Similarly, according to SAMA, 19 Saudi fintech companies have been authorized to provide payment services, consumer microfinance and electronic insurance brokerage over the past few months.
So, what does the future of digital banking in the Kingdom hold and will the population accept this digital revolution?
In a survey conducted by Ipsos in the Kingdom in October 2021, the research major pointed out that 61 percent still trust traditional banks, while 47 percent counted on mobile service providers and 40 percent depended on popular digital brands to carry out financial transactions.
The report added: “63 percent said that they will be making all their financial transactions through digital banking in the future, and 58 percent believe that people would no longer use cash as a payment method.”
Kingdom is moving toward Vision 2030 by developing the trade sector and ensuring its sustainability
Updated 14 August 2022
CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s bank loan portfolio rose by SR289 billion ($77.1 billion) in the second quarter of this year from the same quarter a year ago, according to a recent statistical bulletin released by the Saudi Central Bank, also known as SAMA.
Bank loans totaled SR2.42 trillion at the end of the second quarter of 2022, up from SR1.95 trillion in the second quarter of 2021, showed the SAMA report.
The SR289 billion increase was led by an SR191.1 billion growth in miscellaneous activities. Its share increased by 2 percentage points to 52 percent in the second quarter of 2022.
The data showed that the value of Saudi banks’ aggregate loan portfolio totaled SR2.24 trillion at the end of the second quarter of 2022, up 14.8 percent from the year before and up 4 percent from the previous quarter.
The annual growth in bank loans dropped to a negative in 2017 and remained below zero until the third quarter of 2018. However, bank loans have been seeing an upward trend ever since, according to the SAMA report.
From the third quarter of 2018 until the end of 2019, the value of Saudi bank loans grew at an average rate of 3.7 percent year on year; between 2020 and the second quarter of this year, it grew at an average rate of 14.8 percent year on year.
The dominating segment in the Kingdom’s loans was miscellaneous economic activity, which acquired 52 percent of the total loans this quarter.
Commerce came in second, holding 17.2 percent of total loans in the country, recording SR385.7 billion in the second quarter, showed the data.
The Ministry of Commerce in the Kingdom has been moving toward the Saudi Vision 2030 by developing the trade sector and ensuring its sustainability, according to the Kingdom’s Unified National Platform.
The platform stated: “The Ministry of Commerce’s mission focuses on improving the business environment in Saudi Arabia through enacting, developing and supervising the implementation of flexible and fair trade policies and regulations.”
Even though total bank loans expanded this quarter, two economic activities saw a quarterly decline in bank credit in the second quarter of this year: manufacturing and processing and transport and communication.
Bank loans to transport and communication fell by SR6.2 billion in the second quarter of 2022 from the same quarter the previous year.
Compared to the previous quarter, the sector dropped from 2.1 percent of total loans in the first quarter to 1.9 percent, showed the SAMA bulletin.
Bank loans given to manufacturing and processing fell by SR4 billion in the second quarter of 2022 from the same quarter the previous year.
The data showed that the sector dropped from 7.2 percent of total loans in the first quarter to 6.9 percent compared to the previous quarter.
Platform currently operates in 72 countries: Managing director Burak Karapinar
Updated 15 August 2022
RIYADH: UAE-based global food trade startup QS Monitor has created a platform for food traders to ship their goods risk-free.
Established in 2020, the company mitigates the risk for exporters as they streamline their shipments to avoid food loss by providing traders with the requirements for their goods to pass security measures.
Burak Karapinar, the managing director and founder of QS Monitor, told Arab News that the platform currently operates in 72 countries, which amounts to almost 90 percent of the global food trade industry.
“We are in 72 countries and growing, but this represents almost 90 percent of the global food trade. So, the ones we don’t have on the platform right now are either small countries or ones that are not big in the food trade,” Karapinar said.
Calling it the “Google for food trade,” Karapinar explained that traders input the product along with the destination, and QS Monitor will provide a complete list of requirements.
But that is not at all. Joe Hawayek, the board member of QS Monitor, told Arab News that the platform also links users to testing laboratories in their country.
“We are linking them with a testing laboratory in their country that can conduct these tests, issue them with the relevant certification that says they have passed, and they take it and travel with it for their product from the start,” he added.
By linking these players, Karapinar is trying to mitigate the food loss in the supply chain caused due to contamination.
• As the Ukraine-Russia war affected the global food trade sector, the company plays a huge role in ensuring importers are still connected with exporters.
• Saudi Arabia and the UAE import most of their eggs from Ukraine, and because of the platform, importers could find alternative sources for their products.
“To give you an idea, 72 percent of global food loss happens in the supply chain, not at home or on the consumer’s plate,” he pointed out.
As the Ukraine-Russia war affected the global food trade sector, the company plays a huge role in ensuring importers are still connected with exporters.
“That’s another beauty that we can provide to this platform. The onboarding of a supplier takes months. You need to be able to verify all the information and make sure the supplier meets your criteria and standards.
“Through our platform, you don’t need to do that. You can gather this information. And you can make your decision. So, we also add the trust element between the buyer and the seller,” Karapinar said.
Hawayek also added that Saudi Arabia and the UAE import most of their eggs from Ukraine, and because of the platform, importers could find alternative sources for their products. With a network of over 400 laboratories, the company provides several services through its platform and certification for Halal requirements for certain foods.
“We did more than 10,000 transactions last year; this includes certification testing, inspection, product registration, and supplier audits,” Karapinar added.
With 6,000 traders on the platform, Karapinar stated that the company currently has 1,000 traders on QS Monitor from the Kingdom and is planning to grow that number by a minimum of five times.
In addition, the company is currently in series A funding stage and is on its way to raising $8 million and expanding its staff from 18 to 60 people in the next five months.
QS Monitor also won UAE’s FoodTech Challenge provided by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, which features almost 600 companies.
Gazprom ramps up gas flow to Hungary via Turkstream pipeline, official says
The agreement with Gazprom is for 15 years, with an option to modify purchased quantities after 10 years
Updated 13 August 2022
BUDAPEST: Russia’s Gazprom has ramped up flows to Hungary via the Turkstream pipeline that brings gas to Hungary via Serbia, a Hungarian Foreign Ministry official said on Saturday.
EU member Hungary has maintained what it calls pragmatic relations with Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, creating tensions with some EU allies keen to take a tougher line.
Hungary, which is about 85 percent dependent on Russian gas, firmly opposes the idea of any EU sanctions on Russian gas imports and Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also lobbied hard to secure an exemption from EU sanctions on Russian crude oil imports.
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow last month, seeking a further 700 million cubic meters of gas on top of an existing long-term supply deal with Russia.
Under a subsequent agreement, Gazprom started ramping up gas flows to Hungary on Friday, Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Tamas Menczer said in a statement.
Menczer said Gazprom would add 2.6 million cubic meters of additional gas per day to previously-agreed deliveries via Turkstream through August, with the amount of September deliveries being negotiated.
Hungary’s reserves stored 2.84 billion cubic meters of gas by the middle of July, the lowest level for that period over the past five years based on data by the national energy regulator.
Under a deal signed last year, before the start of the war in neighboring Ukraine, Hungary receives 3.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year via Bulgaria and Serbia under its long-term deal with Russia and a further 1 bcm via a pipeline from Austria.
The agreement with Gazprom is for 15 years, with an option to modify purchased quantities after 10 years.