Investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia abound beyond major cities 

As Saudi Arabia steers toward a more resilient and inclusive economy, the growing fascination with these areas underscores the evolving priorities guiding the Kingdom’s economic trajectory. (SPA)
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Updated 20 April 2024
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Investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia abound beyond major cities 

  • Decentralized development shifts attention away from the cities to the lesser-explored corners of the Kingdom

JEDDAH: In the heart of Saudi Arabia, amidst the towering skylines of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam that have long symbolized the nation’s economic strength, a new narrative is taking shape. It is a story of decentralized development, where attention is shifting away from the bright lights of the cities to the lesser-explored corners of the Kingdom.
In recent years, there has been a noticeable pull towards the untapped potential of smaller towns and regional municipalities, captivating the interest of investors, entrepreneurs, and policymakers alike.
This shift marks a departure from the traditional belief that growth is solely concentrated in urban centers, signaling a fresh era of exploration and diversification.
As Saudi Arabia steers towards a more resilient and inclusive economy, the growing fascination with these areas, which had not received much attention before Saudi Vision 2030 was announced, underscores the evolving priorities and ambitions guiding the Kingdom’s economic trajectory.
Talat Hafiz, a renowned economist, told Arab News that the focus on developing small towns, helps to limit internal movement of people to urban and large cities to seek job opportunities and look for better living.
“It also supports the government efforts in reaching comprehensive sustainable economic development,” he said.




Economist Talat Hafiz

Commenting on what sectors or industries within these smaller towns are experiencing the most significant growth, Hafiz said that the case differs from one place to another as each city has its own economic characteristics and competitive advantages.
“In some towns, tourism is the most competitive advantage while the industrial sector is more competitive and advantageous in the others,” he pointed out.
The economist noted that Saudi Vision 2030 has fostered the capabilities of local planning decentralization, which would allow municipalities to undertake tasks that boost the city in collaboration with the private sector.
He added that that, as a result, several small towns and cities have been upgraded to the level of urban cities which in turn has improved the infrastructure and public services.
“Boosting the capability of small towns is coupled with the development of universities and medical and educational facilities, which in turn has attracted investment, created job opportunities and limited internal immigration,” Hafiz said.
Nasser Al-Qaraawi, another economist, said that Saudi Vision 2030 took into consideration the need to alleviate congestion within major cities due to the excessive focus on them.


He added that the excessive population density in these major cities, compared to other cities, has made life difficult, noting that ineffective urban planning strategies contributed to the overcrowding, especially by young people seeking job opportunities and education.
“This was followed by the aftermath of the stock market crisis in 2006,” he told Arab News.
Al-Qaraawi added that when the 2030 plan was announced, developing areas surrounding the larger cities and less developed regions were given the opportunity for growth.
However, he further said, these regions unfortunately vary in success as some municipalities are unable to perform to their full potential due to bureaucratic hurdles.
Al-Qaraawi recommended restructuring the municipalities, as development indicators highlight the pressing need to catch up and enact meaningful change within these local governments to fulfill the state’s goals and meet the citizens’ aspirations.
Investment opportunities in smaller municipalities include the following:

Diverse investment opportunities in EP municipality 

Eastern Province’s urban administration has unveiled 362 diverse investment opportunities, spanning cities and governorates.

Covering over 20,000 assets across 116 million sq. m., the initiative includes sectors like infrastructure, transportation and tourism. Investors were urged to capitalize on incentives like contractual extensions and exemption periods.

These investment portfolios serve as a database for significant investment growth in the region, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Jazan as key investment hub, coffee capital
With its significant port and refinery, Jazan has experienced a surge in investment, driven by rapid infrastructure expansion. The economic zone aims to attract SR11 billion ($2.93 billion) in foreign investments by 2040, leveraging its untapped mining reserves. The region is poised to become a hub for the mining sector, projected to be Saudi Arabia's third pillar of industry.
Additionally, Jazan’s integrated economic center is expected to generate 17,000 direct jobs by 2040 and contribute significantly to the gross domestic product.
During the Cityscape Global Exhibition, held in Riyadh from Sept. 12-13 last year, Jazan Municipality announced 5,000 investment opportunities to be launched from 2023 to 2027, with a total value exceeding SR5 billion.
Among the most prominent developmental and investment projects presented were the Jazan Gateway, Water Park City, Al-Wadi Park, and Jazan Private University as well as Jazan Private Medical City.
On the other hand, the region’s renowned coffee industry adds to its cultural heritage, with plans for the International Saudi Coffee Exhibition to support local farming initiatives and transform Jazan into a global trade center.
The Sustainable Rural Agricultural Development Program has provided more than SR155 million in support to the coffee sector, benefiting over 3,000 farmers. The Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture, in collaboration with the private sector, is implementing various projects, including opportunities for coffee cultivation.

Northern Borders region attracts more investors 

The Kingdom seeks to establish a logistics zone in Arar, where investors will be granted land plots, according to Minister of Commerce Majid Al-Qasabi, who made the statement during his speech at the Northern Borders Investment Forum, held in November 2023.  
According to a release issued by the Arar Municipality in January 2024, Saudi Arabia’s Northern Borders region saw a 58.3 percent growth in factory numbers in the third quarter of 2023, with total investment hitting SR74.3 billion. 
The statement added that the area, driven by a strategic regional development office, attracted increased corporate spending for business setups during that period, rising from SR73.9 billion in the third quarter of 2023.
In February 2023, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the establishment of the Strategic Office for the Development of the Northern Borders region to enhance the quality of life in the area. 

Asir region to exploit huge tourism potential

In September 2021, the crown prince unveiled a SR50 billion tourism strategy for Asir, aiming to attract over 10 million visitors by 2030. Dubbed “The Arabian Highland,” the plan entails comprehensive development, focusing on cultural and natural assets to establish Asir as a year-round destination.

Projects include enhancing tourist attractions on Asir’s mountains, leveraging the region’s rich culture and heritage for social and economic growth. The strategy taps into Asir’s tourism potential, emphasizing geographical diversity and modernizing infrastructure.
In October 2023, the crown prince announced a master plan for the new Abha International Airport, increasing capacity to accommodate 13 million passengers annually and enhancing air connectivity to 250 destinations, aligning with Saudi Vision 2030.
In the same month, he launched Ardara Co. to develop the Abha Valley project, contributing to Saudi Arabia’s National Tourism Strategy to position the Kingdom as a global tourism hub by 2030. These initiatives create opportunities across sectors like hospitality, agriculture, and entertainment, bolstering private sector growth. 

Taif attracts investments of over SR11 billion

Investment agreements exceeding SR11 billion were announced on the first day of the Taif Investment Forum, held in November 2023, according to the Saudi Press Agency. 
Under the theme “Invest in Taif,” the three-day forum saw active participation from industry leaders in the UK, China and South Korea. Several high-ranking officials from Saudi government agencies and the private sector also attended. 
Sultan Al-Saadoun, the general supervisor of the forum, emphasized that the investment agreements are the result of partnerships between the public and private sectors in over 27 projects.
He added that these projects will create more than 10,000 job opportunities for the people of Taif of both genders.  
Ghazi Al-Quthami, president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, underscored Taif’s potential for investments in various sectors, such as tourism, agriculture, industry, and healthcare.
He added that the chamber is actively collaborating with relevant entities to expand investment opportunities in the city. 

Al-Jouf provides 700 investment opportunities in 2023

The municipality of the northern region of Al-Jouf, which is home to the Sakaka solar power plant, announced in February 2024 it had introduced more than 700 opportunities in the municipal sector of the region during 2023 through the ‘Furas’ municipal investment portal.
The region’s mayor, Atef Al-Shara’an, emphasized the municipality’s commitment to presenting the available investment opportunities to investors in accordance with the plans of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing, and the goals of Vision 2030 of the Kingdom, according to SPA.

Al-Shara’an added that the investment opportunities presented during the past year varied between major, medium, small, and temporary opportunities in all commercial, recreational and tourist as well as sports, service, seasonal events, and other fields.
Recently, the region’s mayoralty announced the bid opening for eight commercial and residential investment opportunities for national investors and institutions at Al-Esawia sub-municipality. The bid evaluation meeting is scheduled for April 15.

Yanbu emerges as entertainment hub 
A contract worth SR1.1 billion has been granted to build a new entertainment hub in Yanbu to boost economic diversification in Saudi Arabia.
The contract was awarded by Public Investment Fund subsidiary Saudi Entertainment Ventures, also known as SEVEN, to a joint venture between Al Bawani Co. and UCC Saudi, according to a press release.
The statement emphasized that the entertainment hub will be located along the seafront promenade on Al Nawras Island, aiming to greatly enhance the city’s local entertainment scene.
In a press statement, issued in September 2023, SEVEN said that the company is investing more than SR50 billion to build 21 entertainment destinations across Saudi Arabia.  
The company has earlier announced that it had already begun construction works on its entertainment destinations in the Al Hamra district of Riyadh and Tabuk. 

Buraidah Municipality unveils 28 investments opportunities

The Qassim region, home to Buraidah city, stands as a province abundant in natural and agricultural resources. Notably, it hosts the Middle East’s only bauxite mine, yielding approximately 5 million tonnes of ore and contributing to the Kingdom’s aluminum production of 1.8 million tonnes in 2020.
The Buraidah Municipality has recently unveiled 28 investment opportunities for the first quarter of 2024.
These opportunities encompass a wide range of sectors, from commercial, health, and tourism activities to transportation, construction, and entertainment projects. Additionally, investors can explore prospects in agriculture, education, and other sectors, promising diverse avenues for growth and development.

It is apparent that, by tapping into regional potential and spreading development initiatives, the Kingdom aims to reduce reliance on oil revenues, stimulate job creation, and foster widespread prosperity, in line with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.
 


Closing bell: Saudi main index slips to close at 11,850 

Updated 26 May 2024
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Closing bell: Saudi main index slips to close at 11,850 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index slipped on Sunday, losing 145.35 points, or 1.21 percent, to close at 11,850.64.    

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR4.37 billion ($1.16 billion) as 55 of the stocks advanced, while 166 retreated.   

Similarly, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu slipped 41.38 points, or 0.16 percent, to close at 26,638.19. This comes as 26 of the listed stocks advanced while 33 retreated.   

Meanwhile, the MSCI Tadawul Index slipped 20.47 points, or 1.37 percent, to close at 1,473.08. 

The best-performing stock of the day was Bupa Arabia for Cooperative Insurance Co. The firm’s share price surged 4.79 percent to SR240.80.  

Other top performers include Saudi Fisheries Co. as well as National Medical Care Co. 

The worst performer was Al-Baha Investment and Development Co. whose share price dropped by 7.14 percent to SR0.13. 

Other worst performers were Electrical Industries Co. as well as Saudi Arabian Mining Co. 

On the announcements front, East Pipes Integrated Co. has announced its annual financial results for the period ending on March 31.  

According to a Tadawul statement, the company’s net profit hit SR267 million in the year ending in March 2024, reflecting a 167 percent surge when compared to the corresponding period a year earlier.   

The increase is mainly due to a sustained rise in average sales prices as well as a decrease in the cost of production per tonne. 

Moreover, Saudi Ground Services Co. has announced that the board of directors has approved establishing a 100 percent owned new subsidiary as a limited liability company in Saudi Arabia under the name “Ground Service Co. for Travel and Tourism Services.”  

A bourse filing revealed that the new subsidiary will have a share capital of SR500,000. 

This decision comes after meeting the requirements set by the relevant authorities and regulations for operating travel agency services and air transport procedures, which are in line with the National Economic Activities Classification Guide, following the necessary approvals from the authorities. 

This step aligns with the strategic direction of Saudi Ground Services Co., aiming for growth, business development, and diversification of its revenues. 

Furthermore, MBC FZ-LLC, a subsidiary wholly owned by MBC Group, has announced the signing of a production contract worth SR65 million with MedYapim Middle East Audiovisual Media Production Co., a related party, for the production of a television series. 

The contract is expected to be completed by February 2025, in accordance with the terms and conditions of the agreement and is projected to have a positive impact on the firm’s financial statements of 2025. 


DP World, Mawani launch $250m logistics park project at Jeddah Islamic Port

Updated 26 May 2024
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DP World, Mawani launch $250m logistics park project at Jeddah Islamic Port

RIYADH: The Saudi logistics sector is poised for growth with DP World’s investment of SR900 million ($250 million) to build a distribution center at the Jeddah Islamic Port.

With this strategic move, the UAE multinational logistics company will also enhance its operational capabilities, providing more efficient and comprehensive services to its clients.

 Sunday’s announcement signals the start of construction on the quarter-billion-dollar project, which will be developed in two phases and is scheduled to open in the second quarter of 2025.

The park offers an in-land container depot with a handling capacity of 250,000 twenty-foot equivalent units and warehouse space of 100,000 sq. meters, said a press release.

Integrated with the recently awarded 30-year concession for the South Container Terminal, the state-of-the-art facility will bolster trade to enable Saudi Arabia’s strategy to become an economic powerhouse by 2030.

In June 2022, DP World and the Saudi Ports Authority, known as Mawani, signed a 30-year agreement, with an investment exceeding SR500 million, to construct a cutting-edge, port-centric logistics park in Jeddah.

The deal aims to develop the park, covering 415,000 sq. meters, featuring an in-land container depot capable of accommodating around 250,000 TEU and warehousing storage space totaling 100,000 sq. meters. Potential expansions could raise the storage capacity to 200,000 sq. meters.

The agreement was signed under the patronage of Saudi Minister of Transport and Logistic Services Saleh Al-Jasser, who is also chairman of the board of Saudi Ports Authority,

According to a statement from the Dubai government’s media office, the 415,000 sq. meter greenfield facility will include 185,000 sq. meters of warehousing space and a vast multi-purpose storage yard, establishing it as the largest integrated logistics park in the Kingdom.

The statement further mentioned that the park will accommodate over 390,000 pallet positions, providing customers with an efficient platform for the smooth movement of goods to and from Jeddah.

The collaboration between Mawani and DP World also includes the management of the South Container Terminal through a separate 30-year concession signed in 2020, the media office said in its release.

It added that the terminal is currently in the final phase of a comprehensive modernization project, scheduled for completion in the last quarter of 2024. This project will ramp up the handling capacity to 5 million TEU. 

“Saudi Arabia has always been a deeply important market for DP World, and this milestone represents our ongoing commitment to the Kingdom,” Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman and CEO of DP World, said.

He added that Jeddah Logistics Park, strategically located on the vital Asia-Europe shipping route, will provide world-class multimodal connectivity and market access for customers while supporting the ambitious aims of Saudi Vision 2030.

“This investment marks a significant step as we mark 25 years of operations in Jeddah and underscores our enduring commitment to facilitating the flow of trade,” Sulayem added.

On the other hand, Mawani President Omar bin Talal Hariri highlighted that this new logistics area will be connected to DP World’s South Container Terminal at Jeddah Islamic Port, facilitating growth and increasing the number of containers handled at the terminal.

“The project is part of Mawani’s broader efforts to expand the number of logistics centers in Saudi ports, in partnership with major national and international companies, and in line with the objectives of the National Transport and Logistics Strategy and Vision 2030,” Hariri said.


King Khalid International tops Saudi airport rankings with 82% compliance rate: GACA report

Updated 26 May 2024
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King Khalid International tops Saudi airport rankings with 82% compliance rate: GACA report

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid International Airport emerges as one of the top three performing terminals in the Kingdom, according to official data. 

The Riyadh-based aviation facility topped the category for international terminals with over 15 million passengers annually, achieving an 82 percent compliance rate with the General Authority of Civil Aviation’s standards. 

In its monthly report for April, GAC outlined the performance of the country’s airports, highlighting King Fahd International Airport and Abha International Airport as premier travel hubs. 

Based on 11 key criteria, the evaluation aims to improve service quality and enhance the passenger experience.  

King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah came second with the same commitment rate but was outperformed by King Khalid International in meeting the criteria. 

King Fahd International Airport led the category for international airports with 5 to 15 million passengers annually, also with a 91 percent commitment rate. Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah, which had the same commitment rate, was second. 

In the category of international airports with 2 to 5 million passengers annually, Abha International Airport secured the top spot with a 100 percent commitment rate, outperforming King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Airport in Jazan, which also had a 100 percent commitment rate but lagged in meeting the criteria. 

Al-Qaisumah International Airport ranked first among international terminals with fewer than 2 million passengers annually, with a 100 percent commitment rate, excelling in average waiting times for departure and arrival flights. 

Arar Airport achieved the highest performance among domestic terminals, with a 100 percent commitment rate, leading in average waiting times for departure and arrival flights. 

GACA’s performance evaluation is based on essential criteria such as passenger waiting times, time spent at baggage claim, and passport and customs areas, alongside standards related to accessibility for persons with disabilities and other global best practices. 

In an additional report released earlier in April, GACA revealed that the volume of air cargo handled by airports in the Kingdom saw an annual rise of 7 percent in 2023 to reach 918,000 tonnes.  

The analysis stated that the Kingdom’s aviation sector strongly rebounded in 2023, with airports witnessing a 26 percent rise in passenger transportation compared to 2022. 

GACA said that flight facilities in Saudi Arabia transported 112 million passengers last year, an 8 percent increase compared to 2019.  

The report revealed that the number of flights through the Kingdom’s airports in 2023 reached about 815,000, an increase of 16 percent compared to 2022. 

In 2023, airports in Saudi Arabia handled 394,000 international and 421,000 domestic journeys, the authority added. 


SME financing in Saudi Arabia surges 20.4% in Q4 of 2023

Updated 26 May 2024
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SME financing in Saudi Arabia surges 20.4% in Q4 of 2023

RIYADH: Financing provided to small and medium enterprises in Saudi Arabia surged by 20.4 percent year on year to $73.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2023, official data showed. 

In its latest quarterly report, the Kingdom’s Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority said that credit facilities provided to micro and SMEs amounted to $6.7 billion and $24.6 billion, respectively, in the last three months of 2023. 

On the other hand, medium enterprises in the Kingdom secured finance worth $42.2 billion in the last quarter of the previous year. 

The authority, also known as Monsha’at revealed that banks in Saudi Arabia provided credit facilities worth $68.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2023, representing a rise of 21.1 percent compared to the same period of the previous year. 

On the other hand, finance companies in the Kingdom provided loans amounting to $4.6 billion in the last three months of 2023, marking a year-on-year rise of 9.3 percent. 

Developing the SME sector is crucial for Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom is currently on a path of economic diversification, as it steadily reduces its dependency on oil. 

The report revealed that 9,644 SMEs were benefitted from Monsha’at support centers in the first quarter of this year. 

Moreover, three SMEs had their initial public offering on the parallel market Nomu through the Tomoh program in the first quarter of 2024. 

Monsha’at also revealed that Saudi Arabia led venture capital funding in the Middle East and North Africa region with $240 million deployed across 35 deals in the first quarter of this year. 

“With $240 million deployed across 35 deals to Saudi-based companies, the Kingdom accounted for a remarkable 65 percent of all VC funding in the region,” said the authority. 

The report attributed 54 percent of this VC funding to the $130 million pre-initial public offering secured by Salla in March. 

“While the $240 million invested in the first quarter maintains the Kingdom’s dominance, it did reflect a considerable quarterly drop of 70 percent from the fourth quarter of 2023, along with a 42 percent year-on-year drop. This downturn mirrors the broader trend across the MENA landscape,” said Philip Bahoshy, founder and CEO of venture capital data platform MAGNiTT. 

He added: “Digging deeper, it becomes evident that while the overall funding has diminished, the Kingdom’s entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to attract investors.” 


Oman’s banking sector sees 2.9% rise in credit to $80bn by end of March

Updated 26 May 2024
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Oman’s banking sector sees 2.9% rise in credit to $80bn by end of March

RIYADH: Oman’s banking sector experienced a 2.9 percent rise in total credit, reaching 30.8 billion Omani rials ($80 billion) by the end of March, official data showed. 

In its monthly review of banking and monetary developments, the Central Bank of Oman disclosed that credit to the private sector rose by 3.6 percent year-on-year, reaching 25.9 billion rials by the end of March. 

Non-financial corporations held the largest share of the total private sector credit, accounting for approximately 45.4 percent by the end of March, followed closely by households at 45 percent. 

Financial corporations constituted 5.8 percent of the total, while the remaining 3.8 percent was allocated to other sectors. 

Total deposits held with other depository corporations witnessed a significant year-on-year growth of 11.7 percent, reaching 30.3 billion rials at the end of March, while total private sector deposits grew by 13.7 percent to 20.2 billion rials. 

The increase in private sector credit and deposits reflects robust economic activity and confidence in the financial system. 

Regarding the sector-wise composition of private sector deposits, household holdings contributed the most at 49.8 percent, followed by non-financial corporations at 30.9 percent, financial corporations at 16.5 percent, and other sectors at 2.8 percent. 

The combined balance sheet of conventional banks showed a year-on-year growth of 0.8 percent in total outstanding credit as of the end of March. 

Credit to the private sector increased by 1.6 percent, reaching 20.3 billion rials, while overall investments in securities surged by 28.0 percent to 5.7 billion rials. 

Investment in government development bonds decreased by 17.1 percent to 1.8 billion rials, while investments in foreign securities saw a dramatic increase of 139.0 percent to 2.3 billion rials. 

Moreover, aggregate deposits in conventional banks experienced significant growth, while government deposits declined. Public enterprise holdings increased substantially, and private sector deposits rose. 

Simultaneously, Islamic banks and windows witnessed notable growth in total assets, financing, and deposits, underscoring their expanding role within the banking system. 

The report further highlighted that the nation’s nominal gross domestic product declined by 2.8 percent at the end of the fourth quarter of 2023, primarily due to a significant drop in the hydrocarbon sector despite growth in the non-hydrocarbon sector. 

However, real GDP increased by 1.3 percent during the same period. Both the average oil price and daily production saw decreases, while inflation remained minimal.