Riyadh steps up the Vision 2030 tempo

22 March 2023


Riyadh has begun pushing ahead with many of its Vision 2030 initiatives at a faster pace and in a much more tangible manner in the past six months, with the go-ahead given for several infrastructure packages on the kingdom’s flagship Neom project.

More than $13bn-worth of work has been awarded on Neom-linked projects since the start of 2022, including initial piling and tunnel blasting and drilling work for the Line development. More than $7bn has also been awarded in just the past five months, including $4.5bn across community housing schemes.

There has been equally robust activity on the other four official Public Investment Fund (PIF) gigaprojects. Projects worth another $1.8bn have been awarded since 2021 on the Diriyah Gate project, alongside $1.5bn-worth on the Roshn housing programme and $1.1bn each on the Red Sea Project and Qiddiya entertainment city.

Investment uptick

The shift in project tempo has also been matched by a step-up in other Vision 2030 initiatives, including the Shareek investment programme, which is aimed at supporting large Saudi companies in boosting the economic contribution of the kingdom’s private sector.

On 1 March, Saudi Arabia announced $51bn-worth of investments across eight Saudi companies as part of the programme. By 2030, Riyadh wants to increase the private sector GDP contribution to 65 per cent, while increasing the country’s non-oil exports from 16 to 50 per cent.

For external investors too, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plans are the top opportunity in the region, according to a recent poll by Egyptian financial services firm EFG Hermes. The survey showed that 34 per cent of respondents viewed Vision 2030 as the most important source of current investment opportunities.

There are meanwhile 23 companies waiting to list on the Saudi stock exchange. Those companies “are essentially on the runway waiting for the appropriate time, and obviously market conditions”, according to Mohammed ElKuwaiz, the chairman of the Capital Market Authority.

Last year was a record-breaking year for Saudi Arabia’s capital markets, with companies raising about $10.7bn (SR40bn) from initial public offerings (IPOs). The country also led regional IPO activity, with 34 out of the 48 GCC IPOs debuting on either the Tadawul or the Nomu.

Looking ahead, the Saudi market regulator is reviewing a further 77 IPO applications. It is also formulating a framework for dual listings, following the example of Americana, the first company to be dually listed in the kingdom and the UAE.

More broadly, the business confidence in the non-oil private sector continues to swell. In February, Saudi Arabia’s non-oil business activity reached its highest level in eight years due to a surge in demand, according to the Riyad Bank–S&P Saudi Arabia Purchasing Managers’ Index.

The index – in which a figure above 50 indicates expansion – increased from 58.2 to 59.8 in the fastest rate of increase since March 2015. The new orders component of the index rose to a record high of 68.7, with over 42 per cent of surveyed companies reporting a rise in new orders. The overall higher output also saw further employment and purchasing expansion.

Despite tighter monetary conditions, Naif al-Ghaith, Riyad Bank’s chief economist, noted the robust demand and supply balance spurred by the ongoing projects in the kingdom, which has caused “sharper uplifts in output and new orders for firms, as well as rising demand for labour”.

He added that while “prices have responded to the surge in demand, with the increase in input costs evident especially in the services and construction sectors”, business confidence remains high amid expectations for strong ongoing activity over the next 12 months.

Growth forecast

Despite the positive economic signs, the IMF reduced its 2023 GDP projection for Saudi Arabia to 2.6 per cent in January. This is in response to Opec+ agreements to restrict oil production 1.3 percentage points below the projection of 3.9 per cent growth in its October outlook.

Though non-oil growth remains strong, the reduction in oil output will unavoidably impact Saudi Arabia’s topline GDP. At the same time, the toll on oil revenue should be relatively contained and not unduly affect the kingdom’s capital spending, which is at this point being backed by a diverse pool of both sovereign and private assets.

According to a late February forecast by Riyad Capital, Saudi Arabia’s economy could grow by 3 per cent in 2023, driven principally by a pick-up in the non-oil sector, which it predicts will see a growth rate of 5 per cent this year.

In 2022, Saudi Arabia witnessed its strongest growth in the third quarter, when the GDP rate hit 8.8 per cent, according to the IMF, boosted by a 6.2 per cent growth rate for non-oil activity.

Riyad Capital also expects the weaker oil prices during the first half of 2023 to recover in the second half of the year, with Brent crude expected to end 2023 at a level above $100 a barrel.

MEED's April 2023 special report on Saudi Arabia includes:

> CONSTRUCTION: Saudi construction project ramp-up accelerates

> UPSTREAM: Aramco slated to escalate upstream spending

> DOWNSTREAM: Petchems ambitions define Saudi downstream

> POWER: Saudi Arabia reinvigorates power sector

> WATER: Saudi water begins next growth phase

> BANKING: Saudi banks bid to keep ahead of the pack

John Bambridge
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