RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing issued 238,800 commercial licenses in 2021, down 31 percent from 2020, according to a report published in Argaam.
In 2021, Saudi Arabia issued 62,300 new licenses were issued, accounting for 26 percent of the total licenses issued.
That year, 176,500 licenses were renewed, which accounts for 74% of total licenses.
In the same year, 88,100 of total issued licenses were in the wholesale trade and retail sector.
In addition, 73,790 licenses were issued in the electricity, gas, steam supply, and air conditioning sector.
JEDDAH: Zamzam, an online platform for Umrah travels, has been clocking record numbers with scores of pilgrims opting to undertake the arduous journey to the holy sites of Saudi Arabia in a few clicks.
The company served over 350,000 travelers and booked transfers for around 170,000 pilgrims in the last six months.
The numbers reflect the resurgence of religious tourism in a post-pandemic world and speak volumes on the role of technology in facilitating one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.
“Travelers no longer have to wait for days to visit the embassy and physically collect their visas. Instead, they could do all of it in a few clicks,” Omar Akbar, founder and CEO of Zamzam.com, told Arab News.
Launched in 2019, the Jeddah-based travel platform offers flight reservations, hotel bookings and ground services, besides issuing Umrah visas to people who need them.
It recently launched a dedicated call center facility with experienced multilingual staff, an automated WhatsApp chatbot and email support, serving customers round the clock throughout the year.
“We had started this venture just before the pandemic with the idea of creating the first online portal that caters to religious tourism. Thankfully, we had a successful launch, but everything came to a standstill when the pandemic struck. So, rather than brooding over the stalemate, we spent the following two years improving our portal and adding more services,” recollected Akbar.
After two years of the pandemic restrictions, the perseverance paid off when the Kingdom raised the number of Hajj pilgrims per day by one million, bringing a new dimension to Umrah.
“Pilgrims today don’t want to restrict themselves in a room during their two-week stay in the Kingdom. Instead, they want to follow the trail of Prophet Muhammad and experience the authentic stories,” said Akbar.
The company is in an advanced stage of talks with the Ministry of Tourism to avail a license to create tourism packages that trail the footprint of Prophet Muhammad.
Established through a joint venture with TBO.com, Zamzam.com also offers high-end services such as VIP meet and assist services at Jeddah airport, guided Umrah tours, special programs to enrich the visitors’ experience, and premium services for executives, royal delegations and guests.
In addition, the platform has partnered with several financial institutions such as VFS, Merit, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and Buy Now Pay Later to offer exclusive loyalty programs for customers with relevant credit cards.
The platform is committed to creating meaningful pilgrimage experiences for religious travelers coming to the Kingdom from over 110 countries across the globe and has nurtured an efficient network of partner agents, industry professionals, and destination managers.
On April 19, Zamzam announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Al-Birr Charitable Society in Makkah.
Under the MoU, Zamzam will donate a certain amount from every booking completed on its site toward Al-Birr over the next year. The donation will be used to support the various charity programs undertaken by Al-Birr to serve the community.
It will be interesting to see how good intentions could further influence the future of religious tourism. For more on this, watch out for this space.
RIYADH: Anybody purchasing a car on finance in Saudi Arabia is likely to face a bewildering array of leasing options. The vexed question on top of their minds: What is the best option given their credit rating?
Arib, a Riyadh-based fintech startup launched in December 2018, helped consumers solve the problem. The company’s journey started when the founders came across customers caught off balance by the deluge of choices.
“I was shocked,” Waleed Talat, CEO of Arib, told Arab News, “when I discovered that many customers spent weeks or even months to find the best financing offer. We started to think about how to resolve this issue.”
Talat, an Egyptian national residing in the Kingdom for 22 years, reached out to his friend and co-founder Mohammed El-Dessouki, who worked with a top auto leasing company, and reflected his thoughts.
A computer engineer with rich project management experience in various government entities, Talat pulled in the reins and developed a digital loan broking app called Syaarat, later christened Arib.
Instead of visiting every lender and asking them for their best quotes, the platform allowed a prospective loan applicant to fill out an online form and receive within 48 hours a tailor-made choice from about 25 lenders.
“Since the first month, we found a real demand from end-users because we solved a real problem,” Talat said.
Arib now has a staff of 25, with a technical team located in Cairo and a marketing team based in its Riyadh head office. Talat manages operations. El-Dessouki heads sales, marketing and finance. Omar Al-Hammad, the third co-founder, handles government and banking relationships.
In April 2020, Arib applied for a digital brokerage and financing license from the Saudi Central Bank, also known as the Saudi Arabia Monetary Authority. The permit covers auto-leasing and other personal financing products. The company expects approval within the next month.
“For now, we manually refer to the banks and get their response on each application. With the license, we will be able to integrate with the Saudi Credit Bureau (SIMAH) and see the credit score ourselves and connect with the financing institutions to get a real-time online offer for the end-user,” said Talat.
• Arib allows a prospective loan applicant to fill out an online form and receive within 48 hours a tailor-made choice from about 25 lenders.
• In April 2020, Arib applied for a digital brokerage and financing license from the Saudi Central Bank, also known as the Saudi Arabia Monetary Authority.
• The permit covers auto-leasing and other personal financing products. The company expects approval within the next month.
He further added the license could enable his company to venture into home financing, personal loans, credit cards and other financing products available in the Kingdom.
The license will also boost the company’s earnings. Arib’s existing revenue model is based on commissions from car dealers with an incentive of 0.5-1 percent for each financing transaction. By the end of 2021, Arib achieved a total financing transaction of SR55.3 million ($14.75 million). Its total revenue to date is SR2.8 million.
“Once we integrate with SIMAH, our revenue could multiply three to four times. The whole process will be automated. In 2022 we hope to achieve around SR100 million in finance transactions and SR5.5 million in revenue.”
The numbers are stacked in Arib’s favor. According to Focus2move.com, a market intelligence firm specializing in the auto industry, the Kingdom in 2021 reported an annual increase of 24.6 percent in new cars to 585,351.
Recent data from SAMA also revealed the Kingdom’s car financing sector was worth over SR75 billion in 2021, with the entire market for consumer finance exceeding SR1 trillion annually. The business opportunity is already offering early birds a leg up.
“We’ve made two investment rounds,” Talat said. “We closed a pre-seed round in February 2021, in which we collected $800,00 from five angel investors, mostly linked to Riyadh Angel Investors.
“Then, at the end of 2021, we opened a seed round led by Merak Capital. They invested $1.5 million,” he said while adding that he plans to deploy these funds primarily on regulatory, development and marketing expenses.
The government, on its part, has been supporting fintech innovators through the Fintech Saudi programs and developing an ecosystem to nurture the industry. Soon, the digital broking opportunity will be huge, and no one will want to miss the bus this time.
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is expected to grow by around 10 percent in 2022, well above the current consensus expectations of 6.3 percent, according to a recent report by Capital Economics.
The economic research consultancy attributed future growth to the expected rise in oil sector output and the likelihood of a more relaxed fiscal policy in the Saudi economy.
Saudi Arabia’s economy expanding at the fastest rate in a decade
Saudi Arabia’s economy expanded by a robust 2.2 percent quarter-on-quarter in Q1, which translates into year-on-year growth of 9.6 percent, the fastest rate since 2011, according to the report.
This expansion resulted from a rise in output from all sectors, but was mainly driven by a sharp rise in the oil sector which grew 2.9 percent over the quarters, reported the General Authority for Statistics.
Saudi Arabia continued to increase oil production in accordance with the OPEC+ deal, with last year’s 1 million barrel per day output cut creating favorable conditions that led to a boost in output by 20.4 percent.
Oil production in Saudi Arabia was 10.3 million bpd in March, which translated into a growth of 26.7 percent year-on-year.
It also marked the fastest pace recorded since 2003, said Capital Economics in another report released in April.
Non-oil sector plays pivotal role in Saudi Arabian economy
The non-oil sector saw a growth of 2.5 percent as the economy continues to move toward being fully reopened after the COVID-19 pandemic.
A previous report from Capital Economics also noted that the non-oil sector has rebounded strongly since the omicron wave ended in January 2022.
Last year’s advancement in the fourth quarter also led Capital Economics to forecast a robust growth rate for this year. Interestingly, the growth in the fourth quarter of 2021 was largely led by the non-oil sector which rose 4.9 percent.
Point of sales transactions rose from 2.1 percent 3m/3m in March to 5.0 percent over the first half of April. Furthermore, mobility declined only slightly in the country since the start of the holy month of Ramadan.
RIYADH: While Fitch cut China’s 2022 gross domestic product forecast to 4.3 percent from 4.8 percent, South Korea’s April consumer price index, a gauge to measure inflation, has exceeded expectations, hitting a 13-year high.
Elevated employment levels in Ireland have kept the manufacturing growth booming, while German unemployment levels have fallen.
Australia’s central bank raised its main cash rate by 25 basis points to 0.35 percent, its first hike in more than a decade.
S.Korea April CPI growth hits over 13-year high, tops expectations
South Korea’s consumer prices rose much faster than expected in April, and at their fastest pace in more than 13 years, government data showed on Tuesday.
Statistics Korea showed the country’s CPI increased 4.8 percent in April from a year before, up from a 4.1 percent rise in the previous month.
It was the fastest annual growth since October 2008 and stood above the central bank’s 2 percent target for a 13th consecutive month.
Employment boost keeps Irish manufacturing growth booming — PMI
Rapid Irish manufacturing growth continued at a similar level in April to the previous month as the strongest boost to employment in almost a year mostly offset a slight slowdown in new orders and output growth, a survey showed on Tuesday.
The AIB S&P Global manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index fell slightly to 59.1 from 59.4 in March. That was still among the highest marks set in nearly 24 years of data collection.
“The Irish data for April paint a very similar picture to March, with strong growth in orders, output and employment, but less confidence on the outlook for business activity and continuing very elevated inflationary pressures,” AIB chief economist Oliver Mangan said.
Australia’s central bank hikes rates 25 bps to 0.35 percent
Australia’s central bank on Tuesday raised its main cash rate by a surprisingly large 25 basis points to 0.35 percent, its first hike in more than a decade, and flagged further tightening to come as it runs down the curtain on pandemic stimulus.
Wrapping up its May policy meeting, the Reserve Bank of Australia said now was the right time to begin withdrawing some of the extraordinary monetary support that was put in place to help the economy during the pandemic.
A majority of analysts in a Reuters poll had expected a rise to 0.25 percent given inflation had shocked by surging to 20-year highs in the March quarter.
German unemployment sinks in April as pandemic measures ease
German unemployment fell in April, Labour Office figures showed on Tuesday, though the continued recovery prompted by the easing of coronavirus pandemic measures was slowed by the war in Ukraine.
The Federal Labour Office said the number of people out of work fell by 13,000 in seasonally adjusted terms to 2.287 million.
Analysts polled by Reuters had on average expected a decrease of 15,000.
The seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained stable at 5.0 percent.
China’s 2022 GDP forecast cut to 4.3 percent from 4.8 percent on COVID hit
Fitch said on Tuesday it has cut China’s GDP growth forecast for 2022 to 4.3 percent from 4.8 percent, saying pandemic-related disruptions have had an impact on the country’s economy in the first two quarters of the year.
The rating agency said it still expects a quarter-over-quarter GDP contraction in the second quarter, before the economy starts to recover.
Fitch raised its 2023 growth forecast for the country slightly higher to 5.2 percent from 5.1 percent.
Pfizer Inc. maintained sales forecasts for its COVID products on Tuesday after a series of hikes to the sales outlook for its COVID-19 vaccine last year, in a sign that dizzying growth has slowed, according to Reuters.
Several countries across the globe have eased pandemic-linked restrictions and relaxed rules related to masking and quarantines, even as cases rise in some regions.
Diminished concern over COVID among both patients and governments could generate uncertainty over Pfizer’s ability to exceed sales forecasts for its vaccine and pill, Citi analyst Andrew Baum said in a research note.
The company said it expects $22 billion in sales of its COVID pill Paxlovid this year, compared with analysts’ average expectation of $26.1 billion.
Pfizer had previously said its forecast for $22 billion in Paxlovid sales only represents a fraction of the 120 million courses the company is able to manufacture this year.
The company’s reluctance to lift that forecast could suggest a dearth of new sales contracts for the pill during the first quarter.
In prepared remarks for the company’s conference call with investors, Chief Executive Albert Bourla said the company had seen a significant pickup in the drug’s use in the United States recently, and that some countries experiencing recent outbreaks had asked for more treatment courses.
“We expect the recent trends to expand access, as well as inquiries received from governments as the virus mutates and causes spikes in infections around the world, to result in increased orders in the coming months,” Bourla said.
The drugmaker also reiterated its forecast of $32 billion in sales from the vaccine it developed with BioNTec. It had raised the forecast for the vaccine’s sales every quarter in 2021.
Pfizer expects to submit data supporting authorization of a three-dose regimen of the vaccine for children under the age of 5 to US regulators by early June. The US Food and Drug Administration has already scheduled meetings later in June to consider authorization in that age group.
The company is also working on a potential update of its vaccine to combat the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which it hopes will help provide broad coverage in the fall.
Pfizer earned $1.67 per share excluding items in the first quarter, according to Refinitiv, beating estimates for $1.47 per share.
Sales of the COVID-19 vaccine were higher than analysts had forecast in the quarter as they had been booked earlier, according to SVB Securities analyst Mani Foroohar. Foroohar said that the front loading of sales was “a clear signal of slowing in the vaccine end market.”
Pfizer’s shares were down about 1.2 percent in premarket trading.