Saudi Arabia biggest winner from US electric-vehicle startup boom as Lucid goes public

Lucid’s expected market capitalization is nearly twice the valuation of Nissan Motor Co. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 July 2021

Saudi Arabia biggest winner from US electric-vehicle startup boom as Lucid goes public

  • PIF will own more than 60 percent of Lucid after listing
  • Lucid expected to have a market cap of $36 billion

RIYADH: The kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands to record a profit of nearly $20 billion on a $2.9 billion investment in Lucid Motors Inc., a San Francisco Bay Area electric-car maker that is set to list publicly after it completes a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The Saudi Public Investment Fund will own over 60 percent of the company, which is expected to have a market capitalization of about $36 billion based on the SPAC’s current share price.

The listing represents the fruits of a well-timed 2018 investment in Lucid when it was struggling for survival. Its Saudi lifeline came thanks to Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince who was pushing his country’s Public Investment Fund to spend unprecedented sums on startups as part of a bid to diversify the country’s wealth away from oil.

More recently, the Saudi investment in Lucid benefited from the meme stock phenomenon that has reshaped financial markets. A flood of amateur stock traders has pushed up prices of companies merging with SPACs, especially in the electric-vehicle space, as traders bet that startups will emulate Tesla Inc.’s stock market success leveraging the auto industry’s shift away from gasoline engines.

Lucid and the SPAC it is merging with, Churchill Capital Corp. IV, gained a particularly avid following on Reddit and Twitter. After the pending merger of the two companies was reported in January, an online frenzy pushed Churchill’s stock up more than 500 percent by February before shares retreated significantly.

Lucid’s expected market capitalization is nearly twice the valuation of Nissan Motor Co. and about two-thirds that of Ford Motor Co. , which delivered more than 4 million cars last year. Lucid has yet to sell any cars. It plans to start production later this year.

In all, more than 23 companies making electric vehicles or batteries have struck deals to go public through SPACs in the past year. The deals have raised over $17 billion for the companies, many of which have no revenue and have won over investors with projections of rapid growth. Lucid has said it expects revenue of $22 billion in 2026.

Lucid is substantially more valuable than any of the other US electric-vehicle startups that have gone public recently, and the Saudi gains are far and away the largest by total dollars. The second-most-valuable US company in the sector to list recently, battery maker QuantumScape Corp., is valued at around $9 billion. Large shareholder Volkswagen AG has logged a gain of over $1 billion on its $300 million investment in QuantumScape.

Lucid, Churchill and the Saudi Public Investment Fund declined to comment.

Lucid, formed in 2007, initially tried to make batteries before shifting its business model to making cars. For years, electric-vehicle companies weren’t en vogue among venture capitalists, and the company couldn’t find funding to build its factory.

Then Prince Mohammed embarked on a plan to sell some of the country’s state-owned oil company and plow the money into sectors including tech and electric vehicles. The Saudi fund held early talks about a possible buyout of Tesla in the summer of 2018 before later opting to take majority ownership in the much more nascent Lucid with an initial commitment of $1.3 billion. As part of the deal, Lucid committed to build a factory in Saudi Arabia, according to the company’s securities filings.

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Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban

Updated 51 min 6 sec ago

Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban

  • The Houthi ban has forced travelers to Sanaa and other areas controlled by the militant group into buying old banknotes from the black market at a higher rate

ALEXANDRIA: The Central Bank of Yemen in Aden has injected billions of riyals in old large-sized 1,000 banknotes into the market to address a chronic shortage of cash.

The bank also implemented several other economic measures to control the chaotic exchange market and put an end to the fall in the Yemeni riyal.

Since late 2019, the Iran-backed Houthis have banned the use of banknotes printed by the Yemeni government in Aden, creating a severe cash crunch in areas under their control which has led to local exchange firms and banks stopping paying salaries and raising remittance charges.

The Houthi ban has forced travelers to Sanaa and other areas controlled by the militant group into buying old banknotes from the black market at a higher rate and carrying Saudi riyals or US dollars.

In a challenge to the Houthis, the central bank has put billions of riyals in old banknotes into the market and started withdrawing the newly printed 1,000 banknote. Yemenis can get old banknotes from local banks and exchange firms.

However, the Houthis warned people against using the large banknotes and published copies and serial numbers of the newly circulated cash.

In a bid to regulate the exchange market and curb the plunging value of the riyal, the central bank has tightened regulations for opening new exchange shops or firms, demanding that applicants produce a three-year feasibility study prepared by a certified accountant showing estimated budgets.

Existing exchange companies must now send their annual financial statements to the bank, use an approved software for their financial activities, apply international financial reporting standards, and audit their accounts by accountants certified by the central bank.

Some Yemeni economists, however, have cast doubt over the central bank’s ability to enact the regulations after the Yemeni riyal on Wednesday broke another historic record low against the dollar.

Local money traders told Arab News on Wednesday that the Yemeni riyal was trading at 1020 to the dollar in government-controlled areas, compared to less than 980 a month ago. When the war broke out in late 2014, the Yemeni riyal was sold at 215 to the dollar.

The Yemeni government previously relocated the central bank’s headquarters from Sanaa to Aden, floated the Yemeni riyal to bridge the gap between the official rate and the black market, closed many exchange shops, and printed billions of riyals to pay public servants. But all the measures proved ineffective on the ground as the Yemeni riyal continued to drop.

Waled Al-Attas, an assistant professor of financial and banking sciences at Hadhramout University, told Arab News: “The central bank is required to control the market and close unlicensed exchange shops in parallel with tightening control and procedures on existing exchange entities.”

He noted that the latest injection of cash into the market had boosted foreign currency speculation activities and pushed up inflation.

“The large 1,000 banknote that the central bank pumped into the market represents an additional burden and additional liquidity that will cause more inflation, higher prices, and speculation on exchange rates,” he added.

The continuing devaluation of the Yemeni riyal has pushed up food and fuel prices in government-controlled areas and triggered protests.

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Cryptocurrencies look up despite regulatory issues

Updated 04 August 2021

Cryptocurrencies look up despite regulatory issues

RIYADH, DUBAI: While regulatory issues continue to chase cryptocurrencies, their stock saw a rise on Wednesday with Bitcoin trading higher by 1.28 percent to $39,037.94 at 5 p.m. Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, traded at $2,609.22, up 3.56 percent, according to data from Coindesk.

The pressure on the digital currency continues, as HSBC became the latest lender to have suspended payments to cyrptocurrency exchange platform Binance in the UK.

“We have made this decision due to concerns about the possible risks to you,” the bank said in a statement, where it cited a consumer warning by the country’s financial regulator.

Regulators in Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Germany have previously issued warnings against Binance.

HSBC earlier said it was not planning to launch a crypto trading desk or offer digital coins as an investment, describing these assets as “volatile” and lacking of transparency.

But Wells Fargo, one of the largest wealth managers in the US, has a different stance on cryptocurrency, as it recently launched crypto investment offerings to its clients.

This was confirmed to Business Insider by the company’s spokesperson, Bitcoin.com has reported.

Also in the US, NCR Corp., a global leader in ATM software applications, said it was acquiring Libertyx, an American crypto company that claims to be the US “first and largest network of bitcoin ATMs, cashiers, and kiosks.”

In Argentina, two blockchain-based digital identity projects are being developed, according to a report by Bitcoin.com.

One of the projects is aimed at improving government-citizen relationships in Misiones, and the other seeks to promote financial inclusion in the Gran Chaco region. They are being organized by Project Didi, which financed by the Inter-American Development Bank.


Saudi property market adapts to new tax

Updated 04 August 2021

Saudi property market adapts to new tax

RIYADH: The Saudi Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority registered over 543,000 transactions related to the Real Estate Transaction Tax (RETT) since its implementation in October 2020, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The highest number of tax transactions was reported in Riyadh with 125,110 followed by Jeddah (55,680), Buraidah (50,462), Makkah (18,955) and Madinah (18,557).

“This gives a positive impression to the property market,” Khaled Almobid, CEO of Riyadh-based Menassat Reality Co. told Arab News.

He said many thought the new tax might contribute to a decline in the demand of property but “the market started to adapt to it,” which is a positive sign for the Kingdom’s real estate sector.

Property deals in Saudi Arabia are exempted from a 15 percent value-added tax (VAT) as the government seeks to support the real estate sector.

Instead a 5 percent tax was introduced last year to boost the economy as it was hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and weaker oil prices.

“The buyer used to pay a value-added tax (VAT) of 15 percent, and due to the real estate conditions in the Kingdom, it was turned into a tax paid by the seller, not the buyer, called the real estate transaction tax, and it was reduced to 5 percent,” Almobid said.


Tabby raises $500 million, eyes new GCC markets

Updated 04 August 2021

Tabby raises $500 million, eyes new GCC markets

RIYADH: Tabby, the leading buy now, pay later (BNPL) provider in Saudi Arabia and the UAE has raised $50 million in a new equity round valuing the company at $300 million.

Global Founders Capital and STV led the funding round, with participation from Delivery Hero and CCVA. Existing investors, including Arbor Ventures, Mubadala Investment Capital, Raed Ventures, Global Ventures, MSA Capital, VentureSouq, Outliers VC, JIMCO, and HOF, also participated.

This comes one month after the firm raised $50 million in debt financing bringing its total funding to over $130 million in less than two years.

The fintech firm’s Series B financing will be used to expand its product portfolio and enter new markets.

The funding will help tabby further service the growing demand for its BNPL products as customer usage continues to soar, especially in Saudi Arabia, the firm’s largest market.

Ahmad Al-Shammari, a partner at STV, said: “As the global BNPL market is expected to grow at 30 percent CAGR over the next five years, we estimate that MENA will grow at least twice as fast, further accelerated by a rapid switch to contactless payments, e-commerce growth, and access to credit.”

Financial technology startups in Saudi Arabia and the UAE offering online short-term credit say they are enjoying exponential growth as the coronavirus pandemic drives a shift in consumer spending online.

BNPL purchasing is relatively new to the region where consumers have traditionally been skeptical of paying for goods before getting them.

But Saudi-based Tamara and UAE’s Spotii, Tabby, and Postpay all say the take-up has far exceeded initial expectations. And investors are paying attention. Tamara recently raised $110 million in debt and equity, a large amount for an early-stage Middle East startup.

“With global players consolidating the MENA BNPL space, we are proud to continue building a local business and work with investors who understand its value. This investment will enable us to deliver the most rewarding and relevant shopping experience for regional consumers and retailers,” said Hosam Arab, CEO, and co-founder of the fintech firm.

This investment marks Delivery Hero’s first fintech investment in MENA. Delivery Hero, which owns and operates several regional food and grocery delivery companies including Talabat, InstaShop, and Hunger Station, has one of the largest customer bases in the Middle East and Africa (MENA) region.

“We are excited to be investing in tabby as our first FinTech investment in MENA, a strategically important region for Delivery Hero. We see great potential in tabby to drive the industry forward and are proud to be supporting the company on its growth journey,” Mark Venema, senior vice president, strategy at Delivery Hero, said.


Inflation in Saudi Arabia likely to decline in coming months

Updated 04 August 2021

Inflation in Saudi Arabia likely to decline in coming months

  • Credit to private companies will increase, depending on the Saudi economy recovery, says Al-Sudairi

RIYADH: The inflation rate in Saudi Arabia is expected to be 3.2 percent and the rate would decline because of a higher base, Mazen Al-Sudairi, head of research at Al-Rajhi Capital, told Arab News.

The cost of living index of Saudi Arabia remained in the positive trajectory and increased by 6.2 percent year-on-year in June 2021, mainly driven by a rise in value-added tax (VAT) from 5 percent to 15 percent in July 2020, according to Al-Rajhi Capital.

Saudi spending in the local market, especially in the retail, food, and beverages, and health segments continues to support the economy, it added.

Point of sales transactions continued their uptrend, increasing 4.6 percent in June 2021 compared to June of last year, primarily driven by an increase in restaurants and hotels, clothing and footwear, and health segments, Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) data revealed.

Credit to the private sector increased 16.8 percent year-on-year in June, while bank claims on the public sector increased 9.6 percent and the deposits grew by 10.2 percent, the official data showed.

Credit to private companies will increase, depending on the Saudi economy recovery, said Al-Sudairi.

SAMA also pointed out in its latest monthly report that remittances from Saudi nationals increased by 56 percent year-on-year in June 2021, while remittances growth from non-Saudi nationals declined 3.4 percent.

Remittance for Saudis increased due to an increase in travel while for expats the trend remains broadly flat, Al-Sudairi added.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that Saudi Arabia’s economy is recovering well from the pandemic, and the Kingdom opened its doors to vaccinated foreign tourists on Aug.1.