Saudi business community buoyant as optimism levels advance in Q4

At the press conference are, Said A. Al-Shaikh, group chief economist at National Commercial Bank (NCB), Sharihan Almanzalawi, economist at NCB, and Mohammed Hussein, economic analyst at Dunand Bradstreet South Asia Middle East Ltd.

At the press conference are, Said A. Al-Shaikh, group chief economist at National Commercial Bank (NCB), Sharihan Almanzalawi, economist at NCB, and Mohammed Hussein, economic analyst at Dunand Bradstreet South Asia Middle East Ltd.

Dun & Bradstreet South Asia Middle East Ltd. (D&B) in association with the National Commercial Bank released the D&B Business Optimism Index (BOI) survey for Saudi Arabia for Q4, 2014.

The BOI survey highlights the increasing optimism levels of both the hydrocarbon and non-hydrocarbon sectors in Saudi Arabia.

Background to the survey

Saudi Arabia’s economy is likely to grow 4.6 percent this year, more than previously estimated, aided primarily by the robust performance of the private sector, according to the IMF.

Saudi Arabia has been one of the best performing G-20 economies in recent years, and has supported the global economy through its stabilizing role in the global oil market.

Real oil sector GDP growth for 2014 is projected to be 0.6 percent, as the Kingdom has kept its output high this year to make up for Libya’s outage, but is expected to trim production in 2015-16 to take account of Iran’s likely return to oil markets and the continued gains in the North American supply. This scenario assumes that the situation in Iraq will remain contained, but in a worst case scenario, Iraq’s exports of around 2.5 million bpd could be lost all together. The Kingdom’s oil production averaged 9.769 million bpd in Q3, 2014, 9.715 million bpd in Q2, 2014 and 9.723 million bpd in Q1, 2014 compared to 9.637 million bpd in 2013 (OPEC data).

The Central Department of Statistics and Information’s GDP data for Q2, 2014 revealed that the oil sector grew by 2.5 percent y-o-y, compared to 6.1 percent in the previous quarter. The oil output in Q2, 2014 rose by 1.9 percent y-o-y, to 9.7 million bpd. The IMF expects the Kingdom’s current account surplus to decline from $ 134.3 bn in 2013 to $ 120.2 bn in 2014 as oil production remains flat and prices continue to weaken. The OPEC reference basket fell for the third consecutive month in September 2014 ($107.89 per barrel in June versus $ 95.98 per barrel in September 2014) as weak demand, ample supply, a stronger US dollar, and weak economic data from China and Europe continued to put pressure on the oil market since the end of June this year.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, harihan Almanzalawi, economist of the National Commercial Bank, said: “Despite the continuation of weakening of oil markets since mid-year 2014, with Brent crude prices declining to the $70-$80 per barrel range, both non-hydrocarbon and hydrocarbon composite BOI’s rose to 47 points and 34 points, respectively, in the Q4, 2014. Moreover, reflecting their confidence in the robustness of the Kingdom’s economy, 53 percent of the companies surveyed in the non-hydrocarbon sector plan on investing in expansionary activities, with the sentiment in the construction sector taking the lead as 63 percent of the respondents in this sector plan to undertake expansion activities. Meanwhile, sentiment in the hydrocarbon sector weakened, as lower percentage of 28 percent of the respondents in this sector indicated that there will be no negative factors affecting their business operations in the Q4, 2014, compared to 55 percent in the Q3, 2014.”

Hydrocarbon sector

The BOI survey for Q4, 2014 shows some strengthening in sentiments for the oil and gas sector in Saudi Arabia.

The composite index stands at 34 in Q4, 2014, which is 9 points higher on a q-o-q basis and 4 points higher on a y-o-y basis.

The BOI for selling prices has firmed up by 5 points to reach 18 in Q4, 2014, with 23 percent of the participants expecting an increase, partly to offset higher raw materials prices and partly due to anticipation of new projects.

The BOI for net profits has jumped to 68 in Q4, 2014 from 35 in Q3, 2014 and has touched the highest level in the series.

Respondents in the oil and gas sector are very optimistic on winning new projects and orders during the fourth quarter.

The hiring outlook, however, does not reflect the strength in profitability; the BOI for number of employees has decreased from 40 in Q3, 2014 to 32 in Q4, 2014.

Expectations with respect to the business environment have weakened considerably; 28 percent of the firms have indicated no hindrances to their operations during Q4, 2014 compared to 55 percent in Q3, 2014. The most important obstacle to firms in the oil and gas segment is competition as cited by 21 percent of the respondents. Issues related to government rules and regulations (14 percent), shortage of skilled labor (12 percent), political uncertainty in the region (7 percent) and slow demand for products and services (7percent) are the other concerns for firms in this sector.

The investment outlook has shown an improvement, with 68 percent of the respondents citing expansion plans during Q4, 2014 compared to 58 percent of the firms in the previous quarter.

Non-hydrocarbon sector

The current survey reveals that the non-hydrocarbon sector firms are more confident about the fourth quarter of 2014 compared to the previous quarter, but less optimistic when compared y-o-y. The composite BOI stands at 47 in Q4, 2014, 11 points higher than the index in Q3, 2014, but 7 points lower than in Q4, 2013.

The rise in optimism is due to expectations of getting new projects/contracts and rising demand in the economy.

The BOI for volume of sales has increased by 21 points to reach 62 and the BOI of new orders has gained 14 points q-o-q to stand at 57 in Q4, 2014.

Optimism with respect to selling prices has also shown an improvement; the BOI is at 21 in Q4, 2014 versus 13 in Q3, 2014.

Consistent with the improvement in the forecast for demand and selling prices, the profitability outlook is also firmer. The net profits BOI has gained 18 points from the score of 41 in Q3, 2014 to 59 in Q4, 2014.

The parameter for employment, however, has shed 6 points to stand at 38 in Q4, 2014.

The construction sector has showed a stronger outlook in the current quarter compared to Q3, 2014; the BOI stood 7 points higher at 56 this quarter.

While the demand, selling prices and profitability parameters posted gains, the employment index showed a marginal decline.

The fourth quarter’s outlook for the business environment continues to weaken with 46 percent firms reporting no hindrances to their business as compared to a corresponding 56 percent in the previous quarter. However, amid the sector’s optimistic outlook, a higher proportion (63 percent) will invest in business expansions compared to 51 percent in Q3, 2014.

Sentiments of the trade and hospitality firms in Saudi Arabia rebounded as the composite BOI gained 25 points to stand at 53 in Q4, 2014, with all the parameters comprising the index firming up over the previous quarter, with the demand and profitability indices posting the largest gains.

The rise in the overall optimism is reflected in the stronger outlook with respect to the business environment as 63 percent of the firms have indicated that they will not face any hindrances to their operations in Q4, 2014 compared to 55 percent in Q3, 2014. Fifty-six percent of the firms plan to invest in business expansion in Q4, 2014 compared to 42 percent in Q3, 2014.

In line with the overall positive trend, the Transportation, Storage and Communication sector’s composite BOI inched higher from 44 in Q3, 2014 to 49 in Q4, 2014.

The composite score was mainly supported by gains in the demand, selling prices and profitability parameters, while the hiring outlook was substantially lower.

The proportion of respondents not expecting any negative factors during Q4, 2014 stood at 57 percent, up from 45 percent in Q3, 2014. A higher number of respondents also plan to invest in business expansion in Q4, 2014 (45 percent), compared to the previous quarter (37 percent.

The composite BOI for the Finance, Real Estate & Business Services sector also rebounded this quarter, advancing by 15 points in Q4, 2014 to 45 over the Q3, 2014 score of 30. While the volume of sales, new orders, selling prices and net profits parameters have registered q-o-q gains, the employment outlook has moderated further. A higher proportion (61 percent) of the sector respondents do not foresee any hindrances to their business operations in Q4, 2014 as compared to a corresponding 54 percent in Q3, 2014. The investment outlook improved with 55 percent of the respondents planning to invest in business expansion in Q4, 2014, versus 45 percent in Q3, 2014.

The survey for Q4, 2014 shows that the outlook of Saudi Arabia’s manufacturing firms has modestly improved from the previous quarter, but is weaker than the outlook in the same quarter a year ago. The composite BOI for the Manufacturing sector has ticked up from 36 in Q3, 2014 to 40 in Q4, 2014, but is 9 points lower than the 49 recorded in Q4, 2013. Anticipation of getting new projects has lifted sentiments for this sector. The business environment outlook for the Manufacturing sector is steady; 45 percent have indicated that they will not face any hindrances to their business operations in Q4, 2014 compared to 44 percent in Q3, 2014. Competition remains the leading obstacle for manufacturing firms with 18 percent of them expecting it to hamper operations during Q4, 2014, while 9 percent are concerned about shortage of skilled labor and 8 percent about issues related to government regulations. The business expansion outlook has also firmed up with 49 percent of the respondents expecting to invest in expansion of their businesses compared to 43 percent in Q3, 2014.

The current survey revealed that large companies are more optimistic compared to SMEs, with their respective composite scores at 50 and 45 respectively. Large companies are more confident about volume of sales, new orders, net profits and employment, while SMEs hold a stronger outlook for their selling prices. SMEs remain more optimistic about the business environment; 56 percent have indicated that they do not expect any obstacles to their operations in Q4, 2014, compared with 51 percent of the large companies. A higher proportion of large companies (56 percent) plan on investing in business expansions compared to SMEs (51 percent).

A slightly higher proportion of sector respondents (55 percent) have reported an improvement in the overall business environment as compared with last quarter (50 percent). Important challenges reported by participants are competition (14 percent), government rules & regulations (9 percent) and the lack of availability of skilled labor (7 percent).

Reversing last quarter’s trend, Saudi Arabian companies have pulled up their expectations with respect to investment in business expansion. Fifty-three percent firms are planning to invest in expansion in Q4, 2014 compared to a corresponding 44 percent in Q3, 2014.

Factors Impacting Business:

A slightly higher proportion (55 percent) of respondents in the non-hydrocarbon sector have cited that there will be no negative factors impacting business operations this quarter compared to 50 percent in Q3, 2014. Similar to the previous quarter, competition (14 percent), government rules & regulations (9 percent) and the lack of skilled labor (7 percent) remain the topmost concerns of the sector in the current quarter.

However, sentiments in the hydrocarbon sector have deteriorated as a lower proportion of 28 percent highlighted that there will be no negative influence affecting business operations compared to 55 percent in the previous quarter. Competition, as cited by 21 percent of the surveyed respondents, followed by government rules & regulations (14 percent), shortage of skilled labor (12 percent), political uncertainty in the region(7 percent), and slowdown for products and services (7 percent) are the key concerns of the hydrocarbon sector this quarter.

The overall outlook in terms of business expansion plans of the non-hydrocarbon sector is bright as 53% of the firms compared to 44 percent in Q3, 2014 plan on investing in expansionary activities. Stemming from a sectoral comparison, construction sector firms continues to be the most optimistic followed by the Trade & Hospitality sector. Similar to the last quarter, the Transportation, Storage & Communication sector remains the least optimistic in this regard.

In terms of business expansion plans, sentiments in the hydrocarbon sector remain buoyed as 68 percent of the respondents plan to undertake expansion activities this quarter compared to 58 percent in Q3, 2014.

Commenting on the findings of the latest survey Prashant Kumar, associate director, Dun and Bradstreet South Asia Middle East Ltd. said:

“Reversing last quarter’s trend, sentiments in both the hydrocarbon and non-hydrocarbon sectors have strengthened. The BOI for the non-hydrocarbon sector has gained 11 points to 47, amid optimism in most of its index constituents, due to expectations of getting new projects/contracts and rising demand in the economy. Meanwhile, the composite BOI of the hydrocarbon sector stands at 34 in Q4, 2014, 9 points higher on a q-o-q basis and 4 points higher on a y-o-y basis. The BOI for the net profit parameter which jumped to 68 in the current quarter from 35 in Q3, 2014, not only backed the main hydrocarbon composite score but was at its highest level in the series.”

The D&B Business Optimism Index is widely recognized as a key measure of the pulse of the business community, serving as a reliable benchmark for investors, policy makers and other observers of the economy worldwide.

As the latest addition to D&B’s global series, the Business Optimism Index on Saudi Arabia, done in association with The National Commercial Bank, is issued on a quarterly basis.

The next Business Optimism Index on Saudi Arabia will be released in January 2015.

 
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