Giga-projects propel Saudi Arabia’s construction boom amid global interest, study says

The report highlighted that despite political uncertainties, substantial investments are driving growth in the Gulf region as countries seek to diversify beyond traditional energy sources. Shutterstock
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Updated 20 June 2024
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Giga-projects propel Saudi Arabia’s construction boom amid global interest, study says

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s state-backed initiatives, including NEOM and Vision 2030, are driving growth in the construction sector, attracting substantial domestic and international investments, an analysis showed.    

In its latest report, global consultancy firm Turner & Townsend highlighted that the construction activities are also driven by the Kingdom’s preparations for EXPO 2030 and the 2034 FIFA World Cup.   

This comes as Saudi Arabia emerged as the leader in global construction activity for the first quarter, with the Kingdom having $1.5 trillion of projects in the pipeline, according to a report released earlier this month by real estate services firm JLL. 

The JLL analysis further highlighted that the Kingdom accounted for a 39 percent share of the total construction projects in the Middle East and North Africa region, valued at $3.9 trillion. 

“The stand-out story is the accelerated development of Saudi Arabia, where vast ambitions are being realized via projects like The Line, King Salman Park and Diriyah Gate,” said Mark Hamill, director and head of Middle East real estate and major programs, at Turner & Townsend.   

The Line is a linear smart city currently under construction in Saudi Arabia’s $500-billion megacity NEOM, while King Salman Park is a 4102-acre large-scale public park and urban district which is being developed in Riyadh.   

The report highlighted that despite political uncertainties, substantial investments are driving growth in the Gulf region as countries seek to diversify beyond traditional energy sources.  

This occurs against the backdrop of Turner & Townsend ranking the Kingdom as the 19th most expensive country for construction globally, contrasting sharply with the US, which dominated the top 10 list. 

The report further noted that construction cost inflation in Riyadh is easing from the highs of 7.0 percent seen in 2023, but is forecasted to remain high at 5.0 percent through 2024.   

The analysis also highlighted Saudi Arabia’s efforts to attract global corporate occupiers through its Regional Headquarters Program.  

It added: “This scheme encourages companies to launch offices in Saudi Arabia and there are cost advantages to office investment with an average high-rise central business district office in Riyadh costing a relatively low $2,266 per sq. m.”   

The UK-based company also pointed out that Saudi Arabia is also facing a shortage of skilled labor which is crucial to materialize and fulfill construction activities as planned.   

“Skilled labor shortages are also keeping costs elevated as Saudi Arabia suffers from a distinct shortage of skilled labor that is vital to deliver its most ambitious programs. The talent and resources needed for giga-projects in the country are also stretching overall supply chain capacity across the Middle East,” said the report.     

Regional insight  

According to the report, Qatar’s capital city Doha is the second most expensive market in the region at $2,096 per sq. m.   

However, following the high output in the lead-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, construction cost inflation is projected to fall from 3.5 percent in 2023 to 2.5 percent in 2024, the study said.   

On the other hand, Dubai has an average cost to build of $1,874 per sq. m., supported by high tourism activity and residential sector development.  

“The UAE has been a hotspot for tourism in the region in recent years and its relatively low cost of construction, when compared with Western markets, still makes it an attractive place to build the hubs and amenities for international visitors,” said the report.     

It added: “In Dubai, residential development is buoying the local market as the city aims to support its growing population. Its attractiveness as a market is bolstered by its comparably low cost of construction.”   

On the other hand, Abu Dhabi is the fourth most expensive market in the Middle East at $1,844.2 per sq. m.   

Hamill noted that there are considerable real estate opportunities in the UAE and Qatar as inflation cools.   

He added: “Nevertheless, with labor capacity being stretched across the region, clients will need to review their procurement and contracting models to help mitigate supply chain disruption and maximize the potential opportunities on offer.”   

Global outlook  

The report revealed that construction pipelines globally are set to grow this year, but skill shortage could remain a major concern.   

“The global real estate market is emerging from a challenging period of inflationary pressures, volatility and disruption. Our sector has proved resilient, and a focus on building new approaches to procurement and supply chain development to drive efficiency and productivity is opening new opportunities across many markets,” said Neil Bullen, managing director, global real estate at Turner & Townsend.   

He added: “Clients need to understand where labor bottlenecks may constrain their capital investment programs and work collaboratively with the supply chain to understand how best to mitigate the risk to delivery.”   

The US dominated the rankings of the most expensive places to build, with six cities from the country grabbing their spots in the top 10 list.   

New York retained its position as the most expensive market to build in for the second year running at an average cost of $5,723 per sq. m., closely followed by San Francisco at $5,489.   

Zurich came in the third spot as it surpassed Geneva in the ranking with an average cost of $5,035 per sq. m. Geneva, which came in the fourth spot, averaged $5,022 per sq. m.   

US cities Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and Chicago came in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth spots respectively in the list.   

From Asia, Hong Kong came in the ninth spot with an average cost of $4,500, followed by London at $4,473.   

The report also highlighted that implementing technology in the construction sector could help overcome various challenges faced by the industry.   

“Accelerating digitalization also presents a huge opportunity, but this requires us to keep up with the demand for skilled labor, and persistent shortages risk constraining potential growth,” said Bullen.   

He added: “As interest rate cuts become an increasing possibility for many markets, and pent-up investor appetite can be unlocked, capacity could be tested still further.” 


Saudi Arabia closes July sukuk issuance at $856m 

Updated 23 July 2024
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Saudi Arabia closes July sukuk issuance at $856m 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia completed its riyal-denominated sukuk issuance for July at SR3.21 billion ($855.7 million), according to the National Debt Management Center.  

The level once again remained above SR3 billion, following a June issuance level of SR4.4 billion, SR3.23 billion in May, SR7.39 billion in April, and SR4.4 billion in March. 

NDMC revealed that the Shariah-compliant debt product in July was divided into five tranches. 

The first tranche is valued at SR612 million and is set to mature in 2029, while the second amounted to SR159 million maturing in 2031. 

The third tranche’s value stood at SR961 million, maturing in 2034, and the fourth was a SR1.25 million tranche with a maturity date in 2036. 

The fifth tranche had a size of SR226 million maturing 2039. 

This is part of the Kingdom’s Sukuk Issuance Program, which started in 2017, with the aim of establishing an unlimited riyal-denominated sukuk initiative under the NDMC. 

The announcement from NDMC came as Kuwait’s financial center Markaz published its own figures for bond and sukuk issuance across the Gulf Cooperation Council region for the first half of 2024.

The analysis showed that Saudi Arabia was the leading player in the six months to the end of June, raising $37 billion through 44 issuances.

A report released by S&P Global in April said that sukuk issuance globally is expected to hover between the $160 billion to $170 billion mark in 2024, holding steady compared to the $168.4 billion seen in 2023 and $179.4 billion in 2022. 

According to the US-based firm, the issuance of this Shariah-compliant debt product began on a “strong footing” in 2024, with Saudi Arabia becoming a key contributor to the performance. 

The credit rating agency also noted that the sukuk market will continue to grow in the near term driven by financing needs in core Islamic finance countries, along with the ongoing economic transformation programs which are currently underway in nations like Saudi Arabia. 

It added: “The drop in issuance volumes in 2023, which mainly resulted from tighter liquidity conditions in Saudi Arabia’s banking system and Indonesia’s lower fiscal deficit, was somewhat compensated by an increase in foreign currency-denominated sukuk issuance.” 

In April, another report released by Fitch Ratings also echoed similar views and noted that global sukuk issuance is expected to continue growing in the coming months of this year. 

Fitch noted that economic diversification efforts and the rapid development of the debt capital market in the Gulf Cooperation Council region will propel the growth of the sukuk market in the coming months. 


Flydubai in early talks for largest ever airplane order

Updated 23 July 2024
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Flydubai in early talks for largest ever airplane order

FARNBOROUGH, United Kingdom: Government-owned airline flydubai is in early talks with planemakers Boeing and Airbus to place its largest-ever airplane order, CEO Chief Executive Ghaith Al-Ghaith said on Tuesday.
“The last order we did was 175 and this (next one) is going to be the biggest, I’m sure,” Al-Ghaith told Reuters in an interview at the Farnborough Air Show. Flydubai announced the purchase of 175 Boeing 737 MAX airplanes in 2017. 


Closing Bell: Saudi main market slips to close at 12,105

Updated 23 July 2024
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Closing Bell: Saudi main market slips to close at 12,105

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index slipped on Tuesday, losing 69.22 points, or 0.57 percent, to close at 12,105.54.        

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR6.8 billion ($1.8 billion) as 55 of the listed stocks advanced, while 173 retreated.    

The MSCI Tadawul Index also dropped 10.49 points, or 0.69 percent, to close at 1,512.94.    

The Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu gained 123.53 points, or 0.47 percent, to close at 26,164. This comes as 33 of the listed stocks advanced, while 32 retreated.  

Sumou Real Estate Co. was TASI’s best-performing stock as the company’s share price surged 9.98 percent to SR47.95.        

Other top performers included Kingdom Holding Co. as well as Perfect Presentation for Commercial Services Co., whose share prices soared by 9.93 percent and 4.04 percent, to stand at SR7.86 and SR15.96 respectively.        

Other top gainers included Nayifat Finance Co. and Gulf Union Alahlia Cooperative Insurance Co.      

Miahona Co. was the worst performer, wth its share price dropping by 6.82 percent to SR39.60.    

Nama Chemicals Co. and Jadwa REIT Saudi Fund saw their share prices drop by 3.39 percent and 3.22 percent to SR27.10 and SR12.02, respectively.

Other poor performers included Rasan Information Technology Co. and National Medical Care Co.

On the announcements front, First Mills Co. reported a net profit of SR45.5 million in the second quarter of the year, representing a rise of 30.3 percent compared to the same period in 2023.

Revenue also saw an annual increase of 13 percent in the second quarter of this year to reach SR242.3 million.

The company announced that it will distribute cash dividends of SR1.55 per share to shareholders for the first half of 2024.

The total dividend distribution amounts to SR86.03 million, to be allocated across 55 million shares.    

Saudi telecom Etihad Etisalat Co., also known as Mobily, reported a 33 percent increase in profits, reaching SR661 million in the second quarter of 2024, compared to SR497 million in the same period last year.  

The company attributed the rise in net profit to higher operating profits and a 26.2 percent reduction in financing expenses, which decreased to SR130 million due to a reduced debt portfolio.    

Lower zakat and income tax expenses also contributed to the improved financial performance, it added.  

Saudi Telecom Co. also reported a 9 percent increase in profits, reaching SR3.3 billion in the second quarter, compared to SR3.0 billion in the same period last year.  

The company attributed the rise in net profit to a revenue increase of SR828 million, which was partially offset by a SR272 million rise in the cost of revenues, resulting in a gross profit increase of SR556 million.    

Operating expenses decreased by SR48 million, and zakat and income tax expenses fell by SR23 million, it added.


Fitch Ratings withdraws from Lebanon 

Updated 23 July 2024
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Fitch Ratings withdraws from Lebanon 

RIYADH: The unavailability of certain key data has led Fitch Ratings to withdraw from categorizing Lebanon, as the agency no longer has sufficient information to maintain its assessment of the nation. 

The global credit rating agency has affirmed Lebanon’s long-term foreign and local-currency issuer default ratings as restricted and has subsequently withdrawn the nation’s IDR and country ceiling. 

Restricted default indicates a country has neglected specific financial obligations while continuing to meet others. 

This means that the agency has confirmed Lebanon’s long-term debt ratings as restricted and ceased providing assessments and analysis for the country due to insufficient data. 

Lebanon has been in default on its foreign-currency obligations since March 2020, significantly influencing its rating assessment. 

The government’s failure to repay the Eurobond, which was due on March 9, 2020, led to its categorization as restricted default.

“The government has stopped servicing its outstanding stock of Eurobonds pending a debt restructuring,” the agency said.  

The local-currency IDRs remain in restricted default due to the government’s failure to resume interest payments on Banque du Liban’s holdings of local-currency securities despite continuing to serve local-currency debt to private creditors. 

Fitch also stated that the authorities have not initiated a local-currency debt restructuring. 

The agency’s decision to withdraw Lebanon’s ratings was driven by the issuer’s cessation of publishing national accounts and fiscal data, which are now only available up to 2021. 

This lack of up-to-date financial information has made it unfeasible for Fitch to maintain accurate ratings. 

The agency added that Lebanon’s environmental, social, and governance relevance score for political stability and rights and for the rule of law, institutional and regulatory quality, and control of corruption stands at five. 

This reflects the high impact of the World Bank Governance Indicators in Fitch’s Sovereign Rating Model. 

“Lebanon has a low WBGI ranking at 14.8, reflecting the absence of a recent track record of peaceful political transitions, relatively weak rights for participation in the political process, weak institutional capacity, uneven application of the rule of law and a high level of corruption,” the agency added. 


Qatar Airways orders 20 Boeing 777X long-haul jets

Updated 23 July 2024
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Qatar Airways orders 20 Boeing 777X long-haul jets

  • The order was worth $8.8 billion at catalogue prices
  • Qatar Airways held out the prospect of a ‘sizeable’ order for wide-body jets around the turn of the year

FARNBOROUGH, United Kingdom: Qatar Airways on Tuesday ordered 20 Boeing 777X long-haul aircraft worth $8.8 billion at list prices, boosting the US aviation giant at Britain’s Farnborough International Airshow.
“Qatar Airways is proud to announce an expansion to the existing Boeing 777X aircraft order with an additional 20, totalling 94 Boeing 777X aircraft,” said the airline’s chief executive Badr Mohammed Al-Meer.
“We... are an industry leader and operate one of the youngest fleets, offering unparalleled innovation and quality. Keeping an eye on the future, we continue to ensure that all Qatar Airways passengers are only met with the best products and services available in the industry.”
The order was worth $8.8 billion at catalogue prices although major aviation customers typically secure big discounts from aircraft manufacturers.
Boeing’s 777X began test flights earlier this month in preparation for certification to enter service. That is expected in 2025, which is five years behind schedule.

The blockbuster news came on the second day of the biennial Farnborough Airshow, which traditionally features a dogfight between Airbus and Boeing for multi-billion-dollar orders.
More plane orders flowed in at the Airshow on Tuesday despite supply chain pressures on jetmakers and the complaints from airlines about delivery delays.
Airbus announced deals with Japan Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, while Boeing bagged an order from Macquarie Airfinance. 
Delegates have been expecting limited deal-making at this year’s showcase aviation industry event, with Airbus and Boeing sold out for several years of production and struggling to ramp up output amid supply chain problems.
Delays in plane deliveries have limited some airlines’ ability to take advantage of a post-pandemic travel boom which some say is starting to fade.
“I think all of us on the airline side are slightly surprised by the long impact of COVID on the supply chain,” Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss told Reuters, as his airline ordered seven Airbus A330-900s in a deal worth $807 million, according to estimated delivery prices from Cirium Ascend.
“We’re urging our ... engine suppliers, the manufacturers, to do everything they can to get back on track.”
Boeing in particular had to scale back production as it came under legal and regulatory scrutiny after a panel blew off mid-air on a near-new 737 MAX 9 in January.

RUNNING PLANES FOR LONGER
Japan Airlines finalized an order for 20 Airbus A350-900 and 11 A321neo jets to be delivered from 2028, worth just over $3 billion in total, according to Cirium Ascend estimates.
The airline had said in March it would buy 21 wide-body A350s and 11 A321neo narrow-body jets, but it is only ordering 20 A350s now as it will receive one as a replacement for a jet destroyed in January in a collision with a Coast Guard aircraft.
Macquarie Airfinance, meanwhile, ordered 20 Boeing 737 MAX-8 planes to be delivered in 2029-2030, worth just over $1 billion, according Cirium Ascend estimates.

Also at the show, Al-Meer said Qatar Airways would decide on a “sizeable” new order of wide-body jets around the end of this year or in the first quarter of 2025.
He added the company had also decided to extend the service life of its Airbus A380 jets and would carry out upgrades including new wifi.
Airlines are increasingly looking to run existing planes for longer as jetmakers struggle to deliver on their order backlogs.
Consultancy Bain said in a report last week that airlines faced their longest-ever waits for engine maintenance amid the shortfall in new aircraft, adding to their costs.
British Airways CEO Sean Doyle said at the air show that his airline was being “very vigilant” on new plane deliveries, but that at the moment “our planes are broadly coming in the timelines that we need them to come.”
(With AFP and Reuters)