At its December 2019 12th edition in Dubai, the Arab Strategy Forum affirmed that a Second Great Recession highly unlikely: Report. This gathering run under the theme of ‘Forecasting the Next Decade 2020-2030’ concluded that after all, it’s business as usual with no ad-hoc surprises at all.
DUBAI — The global economy is not likely to witness another Great Recession-style collapse, despite several indicators to the contrary in recent months, according to a newly-published report by the Arab Strategy Forum in partnership with Good Judgement Inc., the world’s leading geopolitical and economic forecasting institution.
Titled ‘11 Questions for the Next Decade’, the wide-ranging and far-reaching findings and themes of the report, will be discussed in depth by former ministers, decision-makers and politico-economic thought leaders, including former US Vice President Dick Cheney, at the 12th edition of the annual Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai on Dec. 9 at the Ritz Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre.
The ‘state of the world’ style report– tackles 11 vital mega-trends and questions that will define the global social, political and economic landscape in the 10 years ahead. Unlike previous editions, this year’s report looks to predict the future leading up to 2030 – a crucial time for many Middle Eastern economies whose visions are set to come to fruition by that year.
‘11 Questions for the Next Decade’ analyses 11 major political and macro-economic situations – or ‘mega-trends’ as the report terms them – and their likely consequences to determine where the world is headed, come 2030. Topics covered range from the global recession to the fragmentation of superpowers and Brexit to the Iranian regime and America’s anticipated fall from dominance, to the emerging US-China tech war and the prospective ‘splinternet’, water scarcity in the region and the growing crop of gas fields in the East Mediterranean region.
Qualitative and quantitative feedback and data was garnered for the report’s 11 sections following rounds of discussions on Good Judgement’s online platform, with a series of ‘ignition questions’ posed to ‘Superforecasters’ – 150 experts from diverse backgrounds, such as political scientists, economics researchers, scholars, and subject-matter experts in professions ranging from finance to intelligence, to management and medicine. The ignition questions for each topic seek answers to the issues at the heart of major economic change in the years ahead. The Superforecasters’ answers serve as indicators and monitors of predicted change based on the outlined global mega-trends.
Mohammad Abdullah Al Gergawi, President of the Arab Strategy Forum, said: “The report provides answers to the most pressing questions today, these outcomes will have a significant impact on regional and global policies. It explores a range of scenarios that will support the decision-makers of today and tomorrow to guide progress and prosperity for generations to come.
“Unlike previous years, this year’s reports predict the future of the region and the world over the next decade in the context of the current events that will have a major impact. They provide an up-to-date analysis of the increasing need for decision-makers to understand future scenarios on which to base their plans.”
As the world’s first platform for forecasting geopolitical and economic events, both regionally and globally, and targeting the most influential leaders and decision-makers in the Arab world and beyond, the Arab Strategy Forum will provide invaluable insights from the world’s foremost thought leaders on the crucial topics addressed in the report and elsewhere. Below is a list of the mega-trends, their related ignition questions, and a brief summary of the findings from the ‘11 Questions for the Next Decade’ report.
• Will the world avoid another Great Recession through 2030?
Based on current global economic performance records and data from the last 100 years of economic cycles, the report sought to find out whether the next recession will be a repeat of the Global Financial Crisis / Great Recession (2007-2009) or whether we are likely to see a return to an earlier pattern of a brief economic downturn followed by resurgent and steady growth.
The report’s Superforecasters said there is a 76 per cent chance that the world will not undergo another global financial crisis similar to the one in 2007 in the next decade, citing central banks’ improved technological ability to adapt and steer skidding economies out of difficulty. In their analysis of the last 100 years’ of business cycles, the Superforecasters concluded that the Great Recession was an outlier rather than the expected norm.
• Will China, Russia, or a G7 country leave the World Trade Organization by 2030?
Considering the emerging tendency of two, or a group of countries, setting out to establish new regional trading systems, such as the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Russian-backed European-Asian Economic Union, the report noted that such new trading entities pose a populist threat to long-established global trading systems.
It goes on to rule out the possibility of China, Russia or one of the G7 countries withdrawing from the World Trade Organization by 2030, as doing so would cost more than the gains are likely to be worth in the long run. However, considering the relentless pressure on the WTO in the face of populism, the post-World War II trading body faces a big challenge in maintaining its status and platform in the next 10 years.
• Will China, Russia, the US, or the EU lose 0.5% or more of its territory or population before 2030?
After the fall of empires in the 20th century, the question lingers over whether countries and blocs will fragment in the 21st century. The Superforecasters anticipate a 5% likelihood that the EU will lose 0.5% or more of its territory or population before 2030, a 2% likelihood that Russia or China will, and 1% likelihood that the United States will. Though the uncertainties and problems hanging over the United Kingdom are mainly considered ‘peaceful’, market volatility and decreased consumer confidence could have an impact on the EU’s territory and population in the next decade. The Superforecasters also said that a split or fragmentation in China or Russia, will only occur through a violent disruption.
• Will the US economy be ranked 1st, 2nd or 3rd in 2030?
Despite being the largest economy in the world since the beginning of the 20th century, the US’s position as the world’s number one is under threat from the formation of a multipolar system and the emergence of several countries and regions that contribute today to the international community.
The report claims that there is a 65 per cent chance that the US will still be the world’s largest economy a decade from now, and a 33 per cent likelihood it will be second, after China.
The most prominent countries competing with the United States, in terms of nominal GDP, the report adds, are China, the European Union bloc, and India. And, as the US economy shrinks to the size of other countries, it will be less able to influence other nations of the world.
• Will OPEC’s share of global crude oil production remain above 33% in 2030?
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) currently holds a share of about 40 per cent of the world’s crude oil production. But the future of the organization and its domination is likely to be called into question, with the emergence of hydraulic fracturing and new oil discoveries outside the Middle East and North Africa.
There is a 90 per cent chance that OPEC will supply more than a third of the world’s crude oil supply in 2030. However, its fiscal revenue is likely to result in a decline in its production. Given its resilience and adaptation to multiple challenges in past decades, including wars, revolutions and global recessions, the organization is viable in a carbon-free world, but new and innovative adaptation measures are needed later, the report pointed out.
• Will a cyberattack shut down a major infrastructure system in a G7 country for 1+ days before 2030?
The Superforecasters see a 66 per cent likelihood of a cyberattack shutting down a major infrastructure system in a G7 country for at least one day before 2030. Outside of the G7, there are countries perhaps more vulnerable. “It will be worth monitoring these situations as harbingers of larger-scale attacks elsewhere. For instance, in the Philippines, government hearings recently raised concerns that China could remotely ‘turn off power’ in the country,” the report noted.
• Will Lebanon be involved in a major military conflict by 2030?
After the discovery of the East Mediterranean gas fields off the coast of Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt, questions have arisen over whether the East Mediterranean gas fields will enhance the stability of the region or pose a security risk. The report said there’s a risk that offshore gas fields could escalate tensions between nations over disputed drilling rights, but potential energy revenues are worthwhile, and will lead to a strengthening of the region’s economic stability, as well as the internal stability of the concerned countries and reduce risks of war.
• Will water scarcity cause a deadly conflict between Jordan & Israel, Egypt & Ethiopia, or Turkey & Iraq before 2030?
Water scarcity is unlikely to drive any regional conflict in the MENA region over the next decade, the report stated. There is a small, 1 per cent chance of a conflict on the flow of water between Jordan and Israel, according to the Superforecasters. Meanwhile, the chance of a conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia or Turkey and Iraq during the next decade will reach 3per cent.
• China-US tech war and peace
Will a ‘splinternet’ – with one Internet led by the US and one led by China – be avoided as of 2030?
The Superforecasters offer an 80 per cent chance that a ‘splinternet’ – one Internet led by the United States and one led by China — will not be in place by 2030. “Information will continue to flow across global networks, even as other types of political or ideological information will be blocked,” the report pointed out.
While it has some infrastructure and regulatory obstacles to overcome, the automotive industry in the Middle East and Africa (MENA) region is developing fast, driven by investment and innovation, as delegates heard at the ALMENA conference in Dubai last week.
Despite a sustained period of decline over the last few years affected by a fall in oil prices and geopolitical strife, the Middle East and Africa is fast becoming a region of automotive and supply chain opportunity. Carmakers such as VW, Toyota, GM, Groupe PSA and Mercedes-Benz are investing in local assembly, ranging from North African countries including Morocco, Algeria and Egypt, to sub-Saharan markets such as Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana. There are also some notable logistics developments there and in the Middle East.
According to figures from IHS Markit, light vehicle sales in the Middle East and Africa are to increase by 6% in 2020 to around 3.5m, supported by ongoing recovery in Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries. That is still below 4.65m units sold in 2015 but at that point Middle East sales were helped by increases in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the latter of which was seeing an (albeit brief) resurgence after sanctions were temporarily lifted. That said, by 2025 annual new light vehicle sales across the region are set to hit more than 5.3m, according to IHS projections.
Saudi Arabia already accounts for about 40% of total vehicles sold in the Middle East and IHS Markit forecasts annual sales could reach over 800,000 beyond units by 2030. Contributing factors including the recovery in price per barrel of oil and to a lesser extent the lifting of the ban on female drivers suggest sustained growth is expected to start in the next two years.
Countries within the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) have established a national employment challenge to employ more local workers, the so-called ‘Gulfization’ policy, which is increasing labour opportunities in the area, something also fuelled by the exodus of foreign workers and the need for investment in local skills and talent.
NAGOYA, Japan (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is set to take over the G20 presidency for a year as it seeks to bounce back from an uproar over its human rights record and last year’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Foreign ministers attend a dinner during the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting, in Nagoya, Japan November 22, 2019. Charly Triballeu/Pool via REUTERS
The kingdom’s new foreign minister, a prince with diplomatic experience in the West, landed in Japan’s Nagoya city on Friday to meet with his counterparts from the Group of 20 nations.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud was appointed in October in a partial cabinet reshuffle, joining a new generation of royals in their 40s who rose to power under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 34, the de facto ruler of the world’s top oil exporter.
Saudi Arabia – a key U.S. ally in confronting Iran – has faced heavy Western criticism over the murder of Saudi national Khashoggi, its detention of women’s rights activists and its role in the devastating war in Yemen.
Diplomats say the G20 might help put Riyadh’s problems behind it and could prompt it to close more disputed files such as the Yemen war and the boycott of Gulf neighbour Qatar, though they have yet to see much progress.
King Salman has hailed the kingdom’s G20 presidency as proof of its key role in the global economy. [nL8N28041F]
Prince Faisal will pick up the baton at a ceremony on Saturday in Nagoya, where G20 foreign ministers have gathered for talks.
Japan – which headed the G20 this year – was the kingdom’s second-largest export market last year, at $33 billion, according to IMF trade data.
Apart from its reliance on Saudi oil, Japan has deepened its ties to the kingdom thanks to Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank Group. Riyadh has been a big supporter of SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Prince Faisal he was pleased to meet him for the first time and both sides wanted to boost relations, according to a read-out from Japan’s foreign ministry.
Motegi praised Saudi work to stabilise southern Yemen, where Riyadh orchestrated a deal to end a power struggle between Yemen’s government, which it backs, and southern separatists. [nL8N27L6J1]
King Salman also said this week Riyadh wants a political settlement in Yemen, where it has battled Iran-aligned Houthis in a nearly five-year war that has killed tens of thousands and drive parts of the country to the brink of famine.
A diplomatic source said there had been an “apparent de-escalation” in Yemen’s conflict in recent weeks. The source said Saudi airstrikes killing civilians would not be “a great backdrop for hosting the G20” and would not mesh with the kingdom’s message of opening up.
Diplomats said that Saudi Arabia plans more than a dozen G20 summits throughout the year on tourism, agriculture, energy, environment and digital economy.
Top diplomatic and business contacts suggest Riyadh has already gotten over much of the opprobrium it received over Khashoggi’s murder, but it still struggles to attract foreign investors, said analyst Neil Partrick.
A Saudi court charged 11 suspects in a secretive trial and Western allies imposed sanctions on individuals. But Riyadh still faces heat from some governments saying the crown prince – known as MbS – ordered the murder. He has denied this though said he takes ultimate responsibility as de facto ruler.
Riyadh has sought to fix its image or turn attention to its social reforms since Khashoggi’s 2018 killing at the hands of Saudi agents in Istanbul.
A share sale of giant Saudi state oil firm Aramco this month and a bond sale earlier this year – under a drive to diversify the largest Arab economy away from oil – attracted interest in the traditional sectors of energy and finance.
After boycotting the Saudis’ annual “Davos in the Desert” summit in 2018, Western executives returned to the 2019 gathering last month. “Davos in the Desert” is unrelated to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Reporting by Ellen Francis in Nagoya and Stephen Kailin in Bahrain with additional reporting by David Dolan in Nagoya; Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by Mark Heinrich
China is manoeuvring to avoid being sucked into the Middle East’s numerous disputes amid mounting debate in Beijing on whether the People’s Republic will be able to remain aloof yet ensure the safety and security of its mushrooming interests and sizeable Diaspora community.
China’s challenge is starkest in the Gulf. It was compounded when US President Donald J. Trump effectively put China on the spot by implicitly opening the door to China sharing the burden of guaranteeing the security of the free flow of energy from the region.
It’s a challenge that has sparked debate in Beijing amid fears that US efforts to isolate Iran internationally and cripple it economically could lead to the collapse of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, accelerate Iran’s gradual breaching of the agreement in way that would significantly increase its ability to build a nuclear weapon, and potentially spark an unwanted military confrontation.
All of which are nightmare scenarios for China. However, Chinese efforts so far to reduce its exposure to risk are at best temporary band-aid solutions. They do little to address the underlying dilemma: it is only a matter of time before China will have no choice but to engage politically and militarily at the risk of surrendering its ability to remain neutral in regional conflicts.
That is precisely the assessment that Iran hopes will persuade China alongside Russia and the European Union to put their money where their mouth is in countering US sanctions and make it worth Iran’s while to remain committed to the nuclear accord.
The problem is that controversy over the agreement is only one of the multiple regional problems. Those problems require a far more comprehensive approach for which China is currently ill-equipped even if it is gradually abandoning its belief that economics alone offers solutions as well as its principle of no foreign military bases.
China’s effort to reduce its exposure to the Gulf’s energy supply risks by increasing imports from Russia and Central Asia doesn’t eliminate the risk. The Gulf will for the foreseeable future remain a major energy supplier to China, the region’s foremost trading partner and foreign investor.
Initially delivering approximately 500 million cubic feet of gas per day or about 1.6 percent of China’s total estimated gas requirement in 2019, the project is expected to account with an increased daily flow of 3.6 billion cubic feet for 9.5 percent of China’s supply needs by 2022.
China is likely hoping that United Arab Emirates efforts to stimulate regional talks with Iran and signs that Saudi Arabia is softening its hard-line rejection of an unconditional negotiation with the Islamic republic will either help it significantly delay engagement or create an environment in which the risk of being sucked into the Saudi-Iranian rivalry is substantially reduced.
Presumably aware that Gulf states were unlikely to engage with Iran without involvement of external powers, Iran appeared to keep its options open by also endorsing the Russian proposal.
The various manoeuvres to reduce tension and break the stalemate in the Gulf put Mr. Trump’s little noticed assertion in June that energy buyers should protect their own ships rather than rely on US protection in a perspective that goes beyond the president’s repeated rant that US allies were taking advantage of the United States and failing to shoulder their share of the burden.
Potentially, Mr Trump opened the door to an arrangement in which the United States would share with others the responsibility for ensuring the region’s free flow of energy even if he has given no indication of what that would mean in practice beyond demanding that the United States be paid for its services.
Dr James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, an adjunct senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and co-director of the University of Wuerzburg’s Institute of Fan Culture
MENA parents are attracted to e-commerce for the “Back to School” shopping, increasing their interests and buying habits at exponential levels between 2017 and 2019.
The buying trends between August 2017 and August 2019 in the Back to School category revealed that traditionally the sales spike around the month of August
In 2019, online sales reached their highest level, measuring a 6 times growth compared with August 2017
With the region opening up more to e-commerce and with the market competitive sellers, the Back to School online sales will stay on a growth pattern
ADMITAD analysts recently released an online sales report that shows Back To School shopping has grown 6 times since 2017. Analysts observed data over the course of 2 years measuring the buying trends in the Back To School categories across different countries in the MENA region.
The buying trends between August 2017 and August 2019 in the Back to School category revealed that traditionally the sales spike around the month of August. However, in 2019, online sales reached their highest level, measuring a 6 times growth compared with August 2017. With the region opening up more to e-commerce and with the market’s competitive sellers, Back to School online sales will stay on a growth pattern, expecting to reach in August 2020 the highest level measured in the past years.
“The growth we’ve seen in 2 years is indicative of MENA region developing into a more mature market in e-commerce, with giants like Amazon, Noon, Namshi creating outstanding value for the customers. Other factors are contributing too, such as the rise of social media influencers and the unparalleled cash value offers online shopping provides. Having said that, this is just the beginning as we estimate the growth to continue at a rapid rate in the next 2 years” said Artem Rudyuk, head of MENA Operations at ADMITAD.
The convenience of fast-delivery, an abundance of offers and eye-catching promotions alongside a wider diversity of the products, are some of the top reasons why MENA region Back-To-School customers’ interest in online shopping is growing.
One of the fastest-growing marketplace for parents, Sprii.com, is confirming the positive climb of the online sales during August, with a growth of 181% in the back to school category. Sarah Jones, CEO, and Founder of Sprii said: “Sprii has seen a 181% increase in sales in its back to school category over the last year. We see traffic fast moving away from your traditional bricks and mortar stores to online platforms as product ranges increase, prices are cheaper and delivery becomes easier. The leading contributor of growth in this category has been kids lunchboxes and healthy snacks, which we see in keeping with the regional movement towards healthy sustainable living, and the site-wide increase in organic product sales.”
The estimated increase in back-to-school spending represents an opportunity for MENA based e-commerce companies to capitalize on this new profit-making shopping season, together with Christmas, Ramadan, and Back Friday. The MENA region players have an unprecedented opportunity to convert customers with competitive advertising, offers, prices and bundles during the online browsing process.
Artem Rudyuk is the Head of MENA Operations for Admitad, heading the Development of affiliate partnerships between e-commerce merchants and online publishers on cost per action basis and bringing affiliate marketing in MENA region to a new level with the most transparent and tech advanced platform.
This year marks a decade since Yahoo acquired Maktoob, in a deal worth $164 million. It was the first time that a technology company based in the Middle East had attracted such significant interest from a giant of its day.
At the time, the deal paled in comparison to the acquisitions and mergers typical in the region, between telecoms operators, industry and real estate. But for the entrepreneurship ecosystem, it was a seminal moment, validating the region as a place for technology and startups.
Back when this happened, there were no venture capital (VC) funds, mobile and internet penetration was low, Apple’s iPhone was still out of reach for most people and unicorns were mythical creatures with the power of flight.
Maktoob was founded in Jordan by Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury as an Arabic webmail service. It grew to become the main destination for Arabic speakers on the internet and amassed 16 million users. Beyond the main portal, Maktoob offered online payments through CashU, an e-commerce platform that resembled US-based eBay called Souq and gaming company Tahadi MMO Games.
Yahoo was only interested in the main portal and so Toukan and Khoury established Jabbar Internet Group to absorb Maktoob’s other assets. In hindsight, Yahoo failed to see the consumer trends that unfolded in the region and the inevitable rise of online payments and shopping.
Souq became the biggest asset in Jabbar’s network. Emaar Malls reportedly made an offer of $800 million in 2017, but it was Amazon that would come to acquire the e-commerce site for $680 million of which $580 million was paid in cash. Emaar’s chairman Mohamed Alabbar decided to pump $1 billion into launching his own e-commerce platform, noon, as a result.
In between these two acquisitions, the technological landscape in the region had changed drastically. Internet penetration was on the rise, mobile penetration was close to or exceeded 100 per cent in every country of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Smartphones were also popular and Nokia’s dominance in the mobile phone market had been dismantled across the region, replaced by the app-friendly iPhones and Android-based Samsung and Huawei phones. With the introduction of 4G technology, the cost of mobile broadband fell from an average of $9.50 for half a gigabyte in 2016 to $5.27 for double the amount of data.
Empowering The Youth
Amid the protests and revolutions that disrupted the region’s economies in the so-called Arab Spring, the high youth unemployment highlighted the importance of the private sector for job creation. Entrepreneurship was presented as the silver bullet to stymie the rise of unemployment and a way to empower the youth, who make up two thirds of the region’s population.
Government policies and regulations across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) slowly became friendlier to entrepreneurs and investors. Efforts to cut down startup costs continue as regional competition to become a hub for entrepreneurship has ignited. Startups have been recognised as a way to create not only employment but a means to solve for problems that societies and economies face in the Middle East.
The general shift in attitude and government policies created fertile ground for companies like Dubizzle, Talabat and Babil to emerge, most replicating models and ideas that had proved successful in other parts of the world. Germany’s Rocket Internet arrived in 2011 and began founding startups aggressively, replicating successful business models to launch companies like Namshi, which was recently acquired by Emaar Malls, wadi.com and Carmudi. Serious investors began to emerge and institutionalise and the region became home to VCs and angel investors with an eye to reap lofty returns. Today, there are several funds dedicated to entrepreneurship and a few governments have established fund of funds, to co-match VCs and help develop a local ecosystem that can generate economic growth.
One of the most prolific of these early angel investors was Aramex founder and Wamda chairman Fadi Ghandour. He was one of the initial investors in Maktoob and then in Jabbar Internet Group before establishing Wamda Capital.
“The world was changing and I had felt the internet change the world, I already felt it affecting Aramex, so when Samih and Hussam came for investment, for me, it was a no-brainer,” he says.
Still On The Backfoot
But even after all these years, there has only been a handful of exits valued at more than $100 million across the Middle East. Oil still accounts for the majority of gross domestic product (GDP) in the GCC, youth unemployment is the highest in the world at 26.5 per cent according to the World Bank and costs to start a business in the current hub of the region, Dubai is among the highest in the world. For almost every country, regulations still need improvement beyond registering a business. Innovation is also lacking, the highest-ranking MENA country in the Global Innovation Index is the UAE at 36th place, behind smaller economies like Cyrpus and Malta.
Yet, there is hope.
“There are more mature companies and more mature VCs, so there are better deals happening. Exits like Careem and Fawry, those kinds of big companies that are having a real impact is one key metric of a potentially successful ecosystem,” says Abdelhameed Sharara, founder of RiseUp. “I think we are still very early compared to the US and China, but it’s a very promising space compared to the past.”
The region also has a more active female population in the startup sector, with 23 per cent of startups in Gaza and the West Bank led by women, while 19 per cent are led by women in Beirut, both ahead of New York which stands at 12 per cent. Even at RiseUp, women accounted for almost 40 per cent of the attendees last year.
“The region has really become a place where entrepreneurs can thrive and provides supportive environments for startups,” says Amina Grimen, co-founder of e-commerce beauty site, Powder. “In the beauty space, looking at the accomplishments of big female players like Huda Kattan and Dr Lamees Hamdan is truly inspiring.”
Per the Central Bank of Kuwait, Global uncertainty, trade tensions, fintech impact banks. Central Bank chief lays out a multipronged strategy to face these challenges. An article dated 23/09/2019 and written by Jamie Etheridge sheds some light on the stressful world trends as witnessed from Kuwait. These on-going trends if contextualised happen at a time when the global energy transition, the historic shift to low-carbon emission economies, is increasingly gaining attraction as more and more countries make the move to sustainable development in all its forms. Would not be this the real reason for the current upheaval in the financial world?
KUWAIT: Financial technologies are disrupting the global banking industry, creating concerns across the globe for what the future holds at a time when the global economy is facing many challenges. To address this issue and hear what senior regulators, policymakers and industry leaders think, the Central Bank of Kuwait organized the International Banking Conference on Shaping the Future yesterday.
In his keynote speech, Central Bank of Kuwait Governor Dr Mohammad Al-Hashel addressed the challenges facing the global banking sector today. “Three challenges are particularly worth highlighting: The state of the global economy; the revolution in financial technology; and the rapidly evolving needs and expectations of customers,” Hashel explained. He noted that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) twice lowered its global growth projections for 2019 to 3.2 percent, with developed economies expected to grow at a much slower rate of 1.9 percent. A key driver of this slowdown is economic uncertainty brought about by rising trade tensions and protectionist policies. “If trade tensions continue, the IMF may further revise down its economic growth projections,” he said. The Central Bank chief also explained that “global debt over the past 20 years has grown on average by 6 percent annually, compared to 3.5 percent for global GDP. If these rates continue, we could see global debt over the next 20 years reaching $780 trillion, or 500 percent of GDP. This is clearly unsustainable, and requires urgent action by both governments and financial institutions.”
The threat from Big Tech is also a looming concern for regulators and the banking industry. “What would happen when the likes of Facebook, Amazon, WhatsApp and Alibaba start competing with banks to provide financial services? These technology giants come with large and captive user bases, low online acquisition costs, and a better understanding of their customers through their utilization of big data. Moreover, they don’t face the same regulations and associated costs that banks do,” Hashel pointed out.
Meeting the evolving needs of customer expectations in the fast-paced global environment further adds to the weight of the need for change, and all of this is further exacerbated by heightened geopolitical tensions and trade disputes. To meet these challenges, Hashel laid out a strategy of attack that focuses on five key areas – customer loyalty, value, efficiency, resilience and talent. He also called for greater proactivity on the part of regulators and the banking industry.
“We the regulators must also consider how we should operate in the future. We need to take a proactive and dynamic approach to promote innovation, and act as a catalyst for the industry. We need to promote collaboration and share our experiences with each other to develop frameworks that will fit the needs of our societies. And we need to focus on capacity building to ensure that our staff can meet the future challenges of the industry,” he said.
Held under the patronage of HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and attended by Acting Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the conference brought together central bank chiefs from around the region, banking executives, chief economists and leaders in the industry to discuss what the future holds for banking, the impact of fintech and how banks can better collaborate, cooperate and shape a sustainable future for all.
The point of this article dated September 5, 2019, published by World Economic Forum in collaboration with Visual Capitalist and elaborated by Jeff Desjardins, Editor-in-Chief, Visual Capitalist, is to possibly enlighten us on the actual world situation. We could also get a clear picture of the actual position of the MENA region’s countries in the world economy at 5th as ranked by the World Bank.
The world economy is in a never-ending state of flux.
The fact is that billions of variables — both big and small — factor into any calculation of overall economic productivity, and these inputs are changing all of the time.
Buying this week’s groceries or filling up your car with gas may seem like a rounding error when we are talking about trillions of dollars, but every microeconomic decision or set of preferences can add up in aggregate.
And as consumer preferences, technology, trade relationships, interest rates, and currency valuations change — so does the final composition of the world’s $86 trillion economy.
Country GDPs, by Size
Today’s visualization comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it charts the most recent composition of the global economic landscape.
It should be noted that the diagram uses nominal GDP to measure economic output, which is different than using GDP adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP). The data in the diagram and table below come from the World Bank’s latest update, published in July 2019.
The Top 15 Economies, by GDP
The above 15 economies represent a whopping 75% of total global GDP, which added up to $85.8 trillion in 2018 according to the World Bank.
Most interestingly, the gap between China and the United States is narrowing — and in nominal terms, China’s economy is now 66.4% the size.
A Higher Level Look
The World Bank also provides a regional breakdown of global GDP, which helps to give additional perspective:
The low-income countries — which have a combined population of about 705 million people — add up to only 0.6% of global GDP.
Looking Towards the Future
For more on the world economy and predictions on country GDPs on a forward-looking basis, we suggest looking at our animation on the Biggest Economies in 2030.
It is worth mentioning, however, that the animation uses GDP (PPP) calculations instead of the nominal ones above.
Setting up a business is exciting, but it requires level-headed planning. To be successful you need to consider the logistics performance of the country in question, along with its reputation, ease of company setup process, simplicity of doing business, and opportunities for future growth. So, when you’re looking at where to locate in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of the different regions. If you’re considering this part of the world, here are four tips to improve your chances of finding the right place for your MENA business:
1. The best location for logistics A quick look at the World Bank Logistics Performance Index (LPI) helps define all the logistical considerations in six points: customs, infrastructure, ease of shipping, tracking and tracing, timeliness, as well as logistic services. These factors are important for all businesses and vital if you will be importing and/or exporting. Why the UAE has got logistics covered: In that World Bank Logistics Performance Index, the one MENA country that stands head and shoulders above all the rest is the UAE. It ranks 1st in the GCC and MENA. Globally it’s listed 11th, ahead of the United States and Switzerland. In terms of specifics, the UAE is placed 5th in the world for international shipments and 4th for timeliness. Meaning you can expect to have your deliveries reach their destinations by the deadline.
And it’s important not just to stop at Dubai when it comes to thinking about locations for your new MENA business. Investigate the other emirates that boast excellent logistical networks as well as ample warehousing space at a lower cost. Setting up in Ras al Khaimah, for example, is the perfect jumping-off point to do business across the UAE, the Gulf and entire MENA region, and it’s less than an hour’s drive to Dubai.
2. Finding an easy setup process Here we have to consider procedures, time, cost and minimum capital required to start a company. Different countries in the MENA region take different approaches to helping new businesses achieve this. There are a huge number of options, so it’s important to locate your company in a top-level business hub that can offer you a tailor-made solution. The UAE is always going to score highly when it comes to easy setup. Look for a hub within the UAE that gives you flexibility, allowing you to choose whether you want to set up on the mainland or in a free zone.
Why the UAE has the easiest setup process: In the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 report, the UAE was ranked 25th in the world for starting a business, with a score of 94.06 out of 100. The MENA average was 82, with only one other regional country, Bahrain (89.57), breaching the top 100. Why? Well, the UAE was deemed to have hugely streamlined procedures and greatly reduced setup times. It’s worth looking outside of Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well– Ras al Khaimah has put in place a highly-simplified and fast-tracked business setup process. So, look for a hub that offers this level of service, and get your company off to a strong start. It’s about costs as well: Choosing the right location can mean halving your setup costs.
3. The importance of a good reputation The MENA country you set up in will be a reflection of your business. Set up in one that is well respected for business equality and fairness and this rubs off on the organization itself. It also affects how you are perceived by companies in the MENA (and wider) region with which you do business.
Why the UAE’s reputation speaks well for your business: The UAE has a great reputation for business for a number of reasons. It’s politically stable, has a strong economy, and offers state-of-the-art infrastructure. Its laws prohibit monopoly and encourage competition, while maintaining intellectual property rights and trademarks. No surprise then that it’s probably the major international business hub of the Middle East. Even if you do business outside of the UAE, being based there puts you in great standing with the MENA region.
4. Having the room to expand Whatever the size of your business right now, you’re probably aiming to grow. This means you need to keep options open because what might be the best choice now, especially in terms of location and suppliers, may change in the future. You need a location that offers flexibility. One that has good access to other markets and one that lets you expand your offering. For example, you could be attracted by the easy setup process and zero taxation offered by many UAE free zones, but perhaps one day you will want to do business directly with the mainland. Finding the right hub that allows that type of flexibility will be a vital part of your decision-making. So, it’s important to think about your immediate requirements, and how those requirements might change down the road.
Why the UAE helps your company grow: On top the strong economy and great transport links, choosing the right business hub in the UAE brings peace of mind that you are set up for years to come. You haven’t just taken an ‘off the shelf’ solution but got one that truly reflects the kind of business you want to run today, and tomorrow.
Question your way to success
When setting up in the MENA region, you need to make an informed decision rather than a leap of faith. You can improve your chances of success by asking the right questions about your business needs and the locations on offer. The UAE ticks the right boxes– the question, then, is making sure you pick the right economic zone and the right location within it.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In MENA’s Maturing Ecosystem dated September 3, 2019, author Chloe DOMAT says that “as the region’s digital startups and fintechs grow and prosper, they must learn to scale, despite a highly fragmented economy.”
Once again this year, the digital economy of the Middle East and North Africa is set to break records. The first half saw $471 million in total funding and 238 deals, according to the latest report from Magnitt, a Dubai-based entrepreneurs’ network. That’s a 66% increase over the dollar volume in the first half of 2018 and 28% more deals.
Digital startups barely existed in the MENA region a decade ago. Now, fintech is a thriving sector embracing hundreds of new companies, jobs and investors. As the ecosystem expands with tens of newcomers each year, funding tickets get bigger and bigger.
“If we look back a few years, a deal at $2 million or $3 million would have made the headlines; today, we have multiple $10 million-plus deals,” says Omar Christidis, founder and CEO of Arabnet, a Beirut-based events and research company specializing in the region’s digital economy. “This is an indicator of the increasing maturity of the market.”
Major deals so far this year have included a $100 million capital injection in Dubai-based Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG); a $65 million Series A round for Yellow Door Energy, also in Dubai; and $42 million for Egypt’s Swvl, a transportation app.
There is still a disconnect, however, between the growing demand for funds at all levels and the capital currently available to satisfy it, industry insiders say. Money is expected to keep pouring in, as an increasing number of international institutions enter the region. Big names like Endeavor Catalyst (US), Vostok New Ventures (Sweden), MSA Capital (China), Global Founders Capital (Germany) and Kingsway Capital (UK) already make up a third of the Middle East’s investor list.
Aiming to attract even more foreign capital, countries including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have also started establishing funds of funds.
Funding ($ Mil.)
Yellow Door Energy
For the first time, numbers of local companies are successfully reaching the end of the startup lifecycle and exiting through mergers or acquisitions. In March, Uber bought Careem, a Dubai-based ride-hailing application, for $3.1 billion, in a deal that marked the region’s first unicorn exit.
The pace has only picked up. At least 15 Middle Eastern startups have performed exits since January, including digital fashion platform Namshi, sold to Dubai’s Emaar Malls in February; the purchase by Majid al Futtaim, a Dubai-based shopping mall and retail operator, of Saudi Arabian online grocery store Wadi in May; and EMPG’s purchase of Jumia House, a property portal for Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, in June.
These exits leave a new generation of former staff members with a lot of means. After Careem’s exit, 75 ex-staffers cashed out over $1 million each. That financial capital, as well as the beneficiaries’ acquired knowledge and expertise, will allow a number of them to start new business ventures.
The Imperative to Scale
While tech companies grow larger, entrepreneurs face new challenges.
“As mature startups move to larger funding rounds and raise interest for acquisitions, they need to scale operations, whether vertically with new business lines or geographically,” says Philip Bahoshy, CEO and founder of Magnitt.
Navigating across the region’s approximately 22 countries, each with its own complexities, is not easy, however. From Morocco to Iraq, Arab states differ dramatically from one another in size, population, wealth, laws, digital infrastructure and business culture.
“Seeing the MENA region as one big market is to a certain extent a misrepresentation because our markets are superfragmented,” says Christidis. “A company that wants to grow from Lebanon into Jordan into Iraq into Kuwait into Saudi Arabia has to enter five separate markets.”
The UAE is clearly driving the game. In the first half of 2019, the Emirates received 66% of the money invested in all MENA startups and captured 26% of the deals, according to the Magnitt report. Dubai has by far the most developed ecosystem, with a concentration of global firms’ regional headquarters, major funding institutions and accelerators.
The UAE, and Dubai itself, have worked to build an advantage. In 2017, the UAE became one of the first countries in the world to appoint a minister of artificial intelligence. Dubai’s Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum has promised that the government will go 100% paperless by 2021.
“The UAE has been leading from the front,” says Amol Bahuguna, head of payments and cash management at Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD), which just launched a new e-invoicing service. “Everything that has to do with the government is going digital. You have a real top-down approach to innovation and things move fast.”
Much will hinge on how the UAE, and Dubai in particular, manage their response to the current economic slowdown. Recent government data show that real estate, financial services and tourism—the pillars of the economy—are in a slump. In 2018, Dubai also recorded its biggest net loss of jobs since the global financial crisis.
The Emirates have competition, too, from Saudi Arabia, the biggest emerging market in the region with over 34 million people and high purchasing power. The authorities there are keen to diversify their oil-based economy, including promotion of the digital sector.
Riyadh set up a fund of funds to attract foreign investors to support startups. Saudi authorities will invest dollar-for-dollar as a limited partner in any new fund that commits to investing in the kingdom. They have also promised to streamline the licensing process for foreign startups so that they can settle in Saudi Arabia easily.
New Saudi-based funds such as Saudi Telecom’s $500 million ST Ventures, Vision Ventures and Hala Ventures, that have emerged in the past three years, are becoming large players in the regional venture capital game, leading $10 million-plus investment rounds.
On the other side of the MENA map, North Africa is also showing strong digital growth potential. Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt are investing heavily in the development of their own high-tech ecosystems, aiming to become the bridge to Europe and the gateway to sub-Saharan Africa. Tunisia recently passed laws supporting tech innovation; and in September, Tunis will welcome Afric’Up, a large pan-African startup-pitch competition.
Fintech’s “Gold Mine”
Although it hardly shows in this year’s top deals, fintech remains the fastest growing sector within MENA digital economy. In the first half of this year, fintech accounted for 17% of all deals, up 9% from 2018. Interestingly, almost 90% of the total $24 million funding went to early stage startups, underscoring that the sector is still in its infancy.
The data also reveals enormous potential. Arab countries are home to over 380 million people, half of them under age 26. Financial inclusion is among the lowest in the world, with only 52% of men and 35% of women owning a bank account as of 2017. The vast majority of those with bank accounts, however, own a mobile phone (86% of men and 75% of women).
By mid-2018, the whole MENA region, including North Africa, had 381 million unique mobile subscribers, according to GSMA Intelligence, a mobile industry trade body. Smartphones accounted for 52% of all connections and are expected to grow to 74% by 2025.
“These figures highlight the tremendous opportunity,” says Nameer Khan, founding board member of the newly established UAE-based MENA Fintech Association. “The region is literally a gold mine.” The lure for fintech investors and entrepreneurs is the chance to enter an untapped market in which hundreds of millions of users could leapfrog from the cash economy to the digital.
Fintech subsectors widely thought to hold growth potential include insuretech, robo-advisory wealth management and sharia-compliant services. But payment services, not surprisingly, stand out prominently for both the number of startups and the value of deals. Mobile payment, money transfer and lending platforms remain the main focus; while more-sophisticated technologies such as blockchain, the cloud and artificial intelligence still lag.
Egypt’s Fawry is one of the biggest success stories in payments. Launched in 2008, the company raised $122 million; its initial public offering on August 8 sold 36% of its share capital for $97 million. Also attracting notice in the sector are PayTabs, a Saudi Arabian online payment facility that announced in August that it had raised $20 million to support its expansion in the region and into Southeast Asia, India, Africa and Europe; and the Dubai-based peer-to-peer lending platform Beehive, with a total capital injection of $15.5 million as of March 4.
The payment landscape looks to change rapidly, however, as larger players seek their share of the fintech market. Careem, for instance, claims over 30 million users in the region and is currently rolling out its Careem Pay e-wallet. If the service succeeds, Uber-owned Careem could become one of the biggest MENA fintechs.
Digital Banking Multiples
Banks and financial institutions view the fintech surge as an opportunity to outsource innovation and digitization. From simple online banking and mobile applications to investment platforms and e-wallets, most MENA lenders are seeking partnerships with startups. Some have even rolled out fully fledged, branchless digital neobanks, including Emirates NBD’s Liv., Mashreq Neo, and Gulf International Bank’s Meem.
These operate under a conventional lender’s license, however. Since they were developed by traditional banks, they are not industry disruptors, like startups Revolut and N26; rather, they act like new-business verticals, intended to seduce tech-savvy youth and target the unbanked. For a digital banking startup to seriously challenge the major players would be a monumental task.
“Banks in the Middle East are very large; what we are seeing recently is market consolidation, so they are getting even bigger,” says Arabnet’s Christidis. “I don’t think any of the startups really want to take them on, head to head. I’m not sure either that there would be investors ready to bankroll that kind of an investment. Furthermore, I question what kind of industry lobbying bite the banks would put on if they really started seeing that kind of thing emerge.” Christidis believes only an already established player from outside the region would have the financial muscle to give it a chance to compete.
Such a competitor might come from outside the financial sector entirely, however. Abu Dhabi Global Market, a key Emirati financial center, announced in July that it is ready to issue digital-banking licenses to nonbanking firms “with innovative value propositions.”
As this suggests, while the MENA digital economy is developing faster than ever, legal and regulatory frameworks need to adapt for growth to be sustained. Procedures to register a company, licensing and liability laws in case of business failure or bankruptcy are among the key differentiators governments will have to consider as they look to make themselves more competitive.
“Governments are showing concerted interest in building digital ecosystems for their countries,” says Magnitt CEO and founder Bahoshy. “There are still challenges to be overcome, but we can expect success stories to be more frequent, have higher value and have more impact in the coming years.”