Fitch lifts Saudi outlook to stable on higher oil prices, improved state finance
If oil averages $63 a barrel this year, the agency predicts the Kingdom’s budget deficit will fall from 11.2 percent of GDP last year to 3.3 percent
Updated 16 July 2021
RAYANA ALQUBALI Jana Salloum
RIYADH: Ratings agency Fitch on Thursday revised its outlook for Saudi Arabia to stable from negative, citing rising oil prices and the government’s continuing efforts to adjust its finances. Fitch maintained the Kingdom’s sovereign rating at “A.”
“The outlook revision reflects prospects for a smaller deterioration in key sovereign balance-sheet metrics than at the time of the previous review, owing to significantly higher oil prices and continued government commitment to fiscal consolidation,” the agency said.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, was hit last year by the twin shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and record-low oil prices. However a rebound in demand for crude and the easing of coronavirus restrictions have helped to lift the economy in recent months.
Most of the improvement in oil prices came as Saudi Arabia worked with Russia and other allied producers to balance the market through voluntary cuts in production. The alliance, known as OPEC+, is in discussions to extend this agreement until the end of 2022.
The speed of recovery in the Saudi economy was evident in the first quarter of 2021, as real non-oil output grew by 2.9 percent and the private sector recorded growth of 4.4 percent, Fahad Al-Mubarak, governor of Saudi Central Bank, said on Wednesday. Private final consumer spending rose by 1.3 percent.
Mazen al-Sudairi, the head of research at Al Rajhi Capital, told Arab News that with government reforms helping to support economic recovery in the Kingdom at a time when other economies worldwide are still suffering as a result of the pandemic, the improved Fitch rating was not a surprise.
“With the non-oil economy continuing to grow and the budget deficit falling on the back of higher oil prices, ratings agencies are expected to positively change their outlook,” he added.
Saudi Arabia’s budget deficit jumped to 11.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) last year, from 4.5 percent in 2019, but Fitch said the increase was less pronounced than the one that followed the 2014-2015 oil-price shock, due to Saudi fiscal reforms.
The Kingdom last year introduced a range of austerity measures, including the tripling of the value-added tax rate and the withdrawal of a cost-of-living allowance.
It also transferred $40 billion from the central bank to the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund at the center of plans to transform the Saudi economy, to spur investment.
Assuming Brent prices average $63 a barrel this year, Fitch forecasts the Kingdom’s budget deficit will narrow to 3.3 percent of GDP this year, an improvement on the 4.9 percent deficit projected by the government.
Net foreign assets at the central bank recently dropped to about $433 billion, their lowest level in more than a decade. Fitch expects reserves at the Saudi central bank to increase to $470 billion in 2022-2023 as the current account switches to a surplus and PIF increases domestic investments.
Indian currency seen at record low as dollar, US yields surge; RBI eyed
The rupee is tipped to open at around 81.30 per US dollar, down from 80.9900 in the previous session
Updated 26 September 2022
MUMBAI: The Indian rupee is poised to hit a new lifetime low against the US currency on Monday, as worsening risk sentiment and a tumbling pound lifted the dollar index to its highest since 2002.
The rupee is tipped to open at around 81.30 per US dollar, down from 80.9900 in the previous session.
The local unit had reached a record low of 81.2250 on Friday, prompting the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to sell dollars, according to traders. The RBI’s intervention had aided the rupee to turn briefly higher on Friday.
“It will be another choppy and volatile session. All eyes will be on state-run banks at open,” a trader at a Mumbai-based bank said, alluding to intervention from the RBI through these banks.
“The intervention by RBI at 81.20 was quite forceful and markets will want to know if that level will be protected again,” the trader said, adding, the RBI may not be too inclined to intervene given the “carnage” across Asian currencies.
The dollar index in Asia trading climbed above 114.50, the highest since May 2002, thanks to demand for safe-haven assets and a collapsing British pound.
The pound tumbled to a record low on Monday on fears the new government’s economic plan will stretch its finances to the limit. The rout prompted speculation of an emergency response from the Bank of England.
Asian equity gauges fell by as much as 2.4 percent and futures pointed to more losses for the S&P 500 Index. The offshore Chinese yuan declined below 7.16 to the dollar and the Korean won dropped more than a percent.
Treasury yields continued to march higher, not benefiting from the risk-off sentiment. The 2-year Treasury yield reached a fresh multi-year high of 4.27 percent on bets that the Federal Reserve will continue to hike rates aggressively despite the mounting growth risks.
The Gulf country will see modest hike in oil production in 2022 to 0.19 mbpd
Updated 25 September 2022
RIYADH: Bahrain’s gross domestic product grew 6.9 percent year on year in the second quarter of 2022, posting the biggest annual increase since 2011, Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa said on Twitter on Sunday.
In the first quarter, the Gulf country’s GDP grew 5.5 percent year on year at constant prices. The country’s non-oil economy recorded growth of 7.8 percent in the same period.
According to the latest Economic Insight report for the Middle East, commissioned by ICAEW and compiled by Oxford Economics, Bahrain’s oil sector growth will be driven by higher oil production, despite a decline in the first quarter. Since 2015, the annual real growth of Bahrain’s oil sector has only expanded once relative to the previous year, in 2019. Based on the current OPEC+ agreement, Bahrain will see a modest increase in oil production in 2022 to 0.19 million barrels per day from 0.17 million bpd.
This small increase, combined with elevated prices, will return the oil sector to growth in 2022 before stagnating again as the government continues its diversification efforts. The forecast is for oil production to expand by 5.8 percent in 2022, compared to 2.4 percent in 2021.
Scott Livermore, ICAEW economic adviser, and chief economist and managing director, Oxford Economics Middle East, said: “The surge in oil prices and introduction of a 10 percent VAT is supporting Bahrain’s revenues and will help authorities come close to balancing the budget in 2022, two years earlier than the 2024 target set in the Fiscal Balance Program.”
The rise of inflationary pressures and rate hikes by the US Fed will force the Central Bank of Bahrain into more rate increases, beyond the 225 basis points cumulative increase in the key policy rate already this year.
Inflation averaged 3.4 percent in the first half this year, a level not seen since 2016, before rising to 3.9 percent in July.
ICAEW expects inflation to average 3.9 percent this year after prices fell annually in both 2020 and 2021.
Consumer spending is likely to be increasingly constrained going into 2023, leading to a GDP growth slowdown to below 2 percent by 2024.
As of now, the central bank has sufficient reserves to maintain the currency peg with the US dollar and is likely to follow policy moves by the Fed closely so it’s not expected to have significant pressure to devalue the dinar.
The current account returned to surplus in 2021 at 6.7 percent of GDP, the largest surplus since 2013. ICAEW expects the higher price of oil exports and a continued resurgence of international travel to push this surplus above 10 percent in 2022.
Saudi Arabia focuses on AI-driven economy, considers data the new oil: SDAIA
The technology will contribute billions to the Saudi national gross domestic product, says SDAIA's Mishari Al-Mishari
Updated 25 September 2022
Fahad Abuljadayel & Dana Alomar
RIYADH: The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority is aiming to create a leading data and AI-driven economy and make Saudi Arabia one of the top countries in the technology, the agency’s deputy director said.
Mishari Al-Mishari, the deputy director of SDAIA, told Arab News on the sidelines of the Global AI Summit in Riyadh that SDAIA was created to be the custodian of the national agenda on data and AI.
“SDAIA was created to have an entity that will be the custodian of the national agenda of data and artificial intelligence to create a leading data and AI-driven economy,” he said.
The conference, which SDAIA organized, hosted up to 30,000 hybrids and in-person attendees and had representatives from more than 90 countries, he said.
“In this summit, we didn’t restrict it to the dialogues and the discussion; we emphasized the experience as well,” he added.
The conference, which SDAIA organized, hosted up to 30,000 hybrids and in-person attendees and had representatives from more than 90 countries, Mishari Al-Mishari, deputy director of SDAIA, said.
Over 40 use cases designed by leading companies and institutes in AI were presented at the conference, allowing attendees to interact with, live, and experience AI and understand how it could improve their lives, Al-Mishari said.
During the event, SDAIA President Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi announced that the Kingdom is joining the World Bank’s Digital Development Partnership.
“We share a common vision with the DDP. The partnership will bring together the public and the private sector and accelerate safe and inclusive digital transformation in developing countries,” said Al-Ghamdi.
He added: “I am confident we will make a real difference. I am looking forward to a fruitful collaboration.”
Al-Mishari said the initiative would help underdeveloped economies adopt AI for the benefit of their citizens.
The technology, according to Al-Mishari, will contribute billions to the national gross domestic product. In addition, it could boost the economy with jobs, investments and opportunities for the Kingdom.
“Data is the new oil, and that’s our perception and belief of how much we could make out of data,” Al-Mishari said.
Public sector cloud
“SDAIA operates one of the biggest governmental clouds in the region, hosting approximately 140 governmental entities and providing 35 different cloud services,” Nawaf Al-Sahan, head of cloud computing at the National Information Center, told Arab News.
NIC has also been harnessing its governmental cloud DEEM, founded in late 2018, as a proof of concept and has grown rapidly since then.
At this point, NIC’s mandate is only to serve public sector undertakings, so he added that the DEEM exclusively serves public projects.
Their internal team, entirely made up of Saudi female and male engineers, developed the cloud.
“I am glad our team is all Saudis, young engineers, males and females. So that cloud is fully built by our Saudi talent,” Al-Sahan said.
When it comes to cloud security, NIC implements strict measures. Two teams are responsible for securing the cloud, a larger team entrusted with governance, risk, and compliance does the monitoring for them, and an internal team performs penetration testing and their daily security operations, he said.
Al-Sahan said that NIC is currently finished with its three-year strategy for 2025.
As part of that strategy or roadmap, external vendors and partners participate in the government cloud, he said.
“So, we’ll open up a little bit for trusted partners to be part of the government cloud and provide unique services to the government entities,” he concluded.
A 1-million-riyal idea
SDAIA, in partnership with the Ministry of Rural Affairs and Housing and the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, announced “Smartathon — The Smart Cities Challenge” with prizes totaling SR1,000,000, according to Sattam Alsubaiee, assistant director for insights at NIC.
The competition is open for anyone globally, he said. SDAIA wants participants to develop AI models that detect visual pollution automatically.
“We give them the data, and everyone is invited to participate, take that data and build AI models that can detect the visual pollution,” Alsubaiee told Arab News.
Because humans have limited resources, SDAIA and its partners do not want to deploy a vast workforce to detect that visual pollution with their eyes.
“You cannot deploy thousands of inspectors trying to find all the visual pollution in all the cities. So, we want the machine to help us automate in solving that problem,” he added.
Alsubaiee cited graffiti on walls, poor-looking billboard signs and potholes as examples of visual pollutants.
SDAIA is publishing data they already have and collected to invite everyone to contribute and help them solve those problems, he said.
“We want to make Saudi Arabia one of the smartest countries in the world, not just at the city level, but at the country level,” he concluded.
Saudi Arabia’s refinery output down for third month in a row: JODI
Kingdom’s refinery output grew 8.3 percent from 2.56 million bpd, and exports rose 8.0 percent from 1.32 million bpd, compared to July 2021
Updated 25 September 2022
Hala Hisham Koura
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s refinery output has inched lower for the third month in a row, while oil product exports met the same fate, the Joint Organizations Data Initiative reported.
The Kingdom's refinery output decreased to 2.76 million barrels per day in July, from 2.85 million bpd in June, while oil product exports decreased from 1.60 million bpd in June to 1.43 million bpd in July, JODI revealed.
While production saw a 3.1 percent month-on-month decline from June to July, total oil exports experienced a bigger 10.6 percent decrease over the same period, distorted from their growth in the past two months.
Year-over-year, the Kingdom’s refinery output grew 8.3 percent from 2.56 million bpd, and exports rose 8.0 percent from 1.32 million bpd, compared to July 2021.
All components of refinery output decreased from June’s values, bar the production of motor and aviation oil where the 23 percent constituent remained almost unchanged at 628,000 bpd in July, from 626,000 bpd the previous month.
Gas or diesel oil — by far the highest contributor to refinery oil production at 43.4 percent —went down slightly by 1.8 percent, from 1.22 million bpd in June to 1.20 million barrels per day in July.
Moreover, fuel oil showed its second consecutive monthly decline of 6.2 percent from 503,000 to 472,000 million bpd. Fuel oil is a prominent proportion of total oil products as it makes up 17 percent of total refinery oil production.
Smaller components of total oil products like kerosene, which includes jet fuel, recorded a 6.4 percent monthly decrease in July 2022.
Naphtha and liquefied petroleum gas fell 3.2 percent and 30.8 percent respectively over the same period.
Oil products falling into the classification ‘other’ almost doubled over the year from 121,000 bpd last July to 237,000 bpd this year, fueled by their 75.7 percent growth in June, where they reached 246,000 barrels of production per day.
However, like most oil products, they contracted 3.7 percent in the transition between June and July this year.
Exports of refinery oil
Refinery oil exports were pushed down this month by reductions in all components apart from fuel oil.
Motor and aviation oil exports plummeted 23.2 percent from 280,000 bpd in June to 215,000 bpd in July — falling for the third consecutive month in contrast to their fixed output in production.
Gas or diesel, oil which comprises 48.7 percent of refinery oil exports making it the highest exported product, went down 5.9 percent from 740,000 bpd to 696,000 bpd over the same period.
Although Kerosene and Naphtha make up smaller portions of total oil exports, their decreases also brought down oil exports.
Fuel oil, the second largest contributor alongside motor and aviation, went up 12.2 percent from 198,000 bdp to 222,000 bpd, showing a growth in exports for the first time in four months.
The Kingdom’s closing stocks of all oil products decreased by less than one percent, due to declines in gas or diesel oil, motor and aviation oil, and kerosene.
The total closing stock was equivalent to 92.13 million barrels by the end of July, down 700,000 from 92.83 million barrels in June.
Hospitality training programs step up to support Saudi youth
Companies throughout the Kingdom are cultivating careers in hospitality through vocational training programs
Updated 25 September 2022
RIYADH: As Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector continues to grow, with the Kingdom expecting to attract 100 million annual visitors and creating one million jobs by 2030, building a resilient hospitality industry has become a core focus.
The hospitality sector has risen up to the challenge by ensuring that there is enough qualified manpower to handle the ever-increasing demand by providing training programs for nationals to develop their skills across all career levels. The intention is to equip young Saudis with essential skills in the hospitality, tourism, and travel industries through programs supported by the world’s best tourism training schools.
Companies throughout the Kingdom are cultivating careers in hospitality through vocational training programs that emphasize resource efficiency and provide globally recognized qualifications.
In August, the Radisson Hotel Group launched a training program, A Brilliant Journey of Advanced Development Programme, aimed at developing Saudi talent. The program targets supervisors and equips them with the expertise to fill managerial positions across its portfolio of 26 operational hotels.
“All the programs that we have launched target Saudi employees. And that works well with Vision 2030 offering new jobs for Saudis,” Managing Director of RHG Saudi Arabia Basel Talal told Arab News.
Talal added that 14 Saudis, over half of them women, are in the program at supervisory and assistant managerial levels.
According to him, the group remains committed to upskilling Saudi nationals working in the hospitality sector as part of its expansion strategy in the Kingdom.
Talal said that the initiative aligns with the Saudi 2030 Vision, which aims to increase tourism’s contribution to the domestic product to 10 percent.
Among the group’s initiatives is the Concierge Navigation to Success program, which aims to provide Saudis working in the hospitality industry with the tools and resources they need to advance their careers and ultimately enrich customer experiences.
Talal said that five males and two females are currently enrolled in the concierge program.
The NTS program was launched as a response to COVID-19, Talal said, adding, “As a result of the lack of visitors and business during COVID-19, the Ministry of Tourism advised all hotels to focus on concierge services.”
The programs will be offered twice a year, “The idea is that we repeat the program every six months, twice annually,” he informed.
To cover certain core elements or pillars, RHG partners with training programs like Atton or Maximus: “We’ve seen that there are parts or gaps in the training program that require us to reach out to third parties,” Talal said.
With those programs, RHG improves employee retention and creates more loyalty to the brand, and to the unit as a whole. “Higher retention or improved retention will only result in a better quality of service, and reduce cost because you don’t get any employees to train them, you just work with the existing employees,” he said.
RHG employs over 450 Saudi line employees and another 200 are supervisors and managers, he added.
RHG also has a follow-up process for graduates on their progress, their skill set, and how to improve, which is reflected in their annual performance reviews, Talal concluded.
Leading the way
The Red Sea Development Co. is also leading the way in establishing undergraduate and postgraduate hospitality programs.
TRSDC, in partnership with the University of Prince Mugrin and the École hôtelière de Lausanne, offers scholarships to high school graduates who are interested in studying international hospitality management, Fadi Alaseri, TRSDC’s associate educational director told Arab News.
“TRSDC’s transformative education programs are designed to develop the brightest minds in the tourism and hospitality fields, by equipping young Saudis with the needed skills and competencies, allowing them to realize their full potential,” Alaseri said.
There are two tracks available in the program: Fast Track, which is a four-year program with no preparatory year, and Full Track, which is a five-year program with a preparatory year, which qualifies students to begin the major.
TRSDC and its partners will provide suitable job opportunities to graduates upon successful completion of the program, he added.
“The program aims to prepare leaders and specialists in international hospitality management by providing a curriculum that combines theoretical knowledge and hands-on experiences based on Swiss and international hospitality standards,” Alaseri said
There were 2,653 applicants for the scholarship, 1,883 of whom were males and 770 were females. However, only 26 were selected, of which 14 were males and 12 were females.
“Our talents will run the ground-breaking luxury, regenerative tourism destination in alignment with the Saudi labor market needs within our destination,” Alaseri said.
“TRSDC reshapes educational opportunities by opening new doors and empowering young Saudi professionals with the required skills and knowledge to excel in the hospitality field and tourism sectors,” he added.
Upskilling Saudi youth
In order to provide students with job opportunities at Hilton Hotels in Saudi Arabia upon graduation, the group entered into a partnership with Bunyan Training Academy in July 2022.
The training program, which is accredited by the Saudi Technical and Vocational Training Corporation and certified by the EHL, is available to select young Saudi talent, Hilton Group’s Senior Director of Human Resources for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Levant Fawaz Moumina told Arab News.
“This is the first time in Saudi that an international hospitality provider such as Hilton is collaborating with EHL to offer this program,” he added.
Students will receive sought-after theoretical and practical lessons across various functions of the industry, Moumina said.
Furthermore, participants will be able to pursue bachelor’s degrees based on the variety of professions they will be trained in, including culinary, F&B, front office, and housekeeping, if they choose to do so, he said.
This program aims to identify more than 30 Saudi talents who are interested in pursuing a career in hospitality. “Following a meticulous selection process, Bunyan Training Academy carefully selected applicants with Hilton’s input,” Fawaz said.
In 2024, students who complete the program will receive a diploma accredited by both the Saudi TVTC and EHL, he said.
As part of its efforts to mobilize the nation’s labor force, Moumina said the group has also established close ties with the King Khalid Foundation, the International Youth Federation, King Saud University and ministries and governmental organizations like the Saudi Tourism Authority.
Fawaz stated that Hilton has 2,400 team members in Saudi Arabia across 16 hotels, to reach 10,000 by 2030 — half of whom will be Saudi nationals.