2018 is the year the world financial markets will embrace the unloved, underowned Saudi stock market, whose TASI index is down 42% since mid-2014. Why? One, the kingdom has reassumed its role as OPEC’s swing producer after it cut its output by 300,000 barrels a day, thus taking 100 million barrels a day from the global crude oil market. Saudi Arabia also brokered the 1.8 MBD output cut pact with Russia and OPEC that has ended the oil glut, engineered a rise in Brent crude from $45 last summer to $71 now and set the stage for a new petrocurrency tsunami to ease its budget deficit.
Two, MSCI will upgrade Saudi Arabia, the largest stock market in the Arab world in both trading volumes and market cap, to emerging markets status. This means $35 billion in index tracker funds will flow into designated Tadawul index stocks. I remember how profitable it was to own UAE and Qatari stocks ahead of their EM upgrade. Saudi Arabian equities will be no different.
Three, the anti-corruption crackdown in Riyadh have increased the economic power of Saudi state and fiscal austerity has been replaced by an expansionary budget. Yet the removal of petrol subsidies mean an uptick in inflation, possibly to as high as 5% on the consumer price index. Fiscal stimulus and inflation are both bullish for the Saudi stock market.
Four, the Saudi Aramco IPO will be one of the most awaited new listings in the international capital markets. The kingdom has also become a regular issuer of sovereign bonds and sukuk in the Eurobond market, with a $17.5 billion US dollar debt in 2016, the single largest issue in the global debt markets. The 3.8 times bid to cover ratio meant the kingdom increased the size of its issue by $2.5 billion. Saudi Arabia has also opened its local stock market to international institutional investors. The deregulation, reform and privatization program in Saudi capital markets is an integral component of the Vision 2030 plan. In fact, Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul stock exchange plans an IPO in 2018. I plan to IPO our Park Regis Makkah hotel in 2020.
Five, the Royal court in Riyadh announced that it will spend $261 billion in 2018, the largest ever budget in the history of the kingdom, to support its reformist agenda. Saudi Arabia will emerge from its 2017 recession in 2018. The IMF has boasted its GDP growth forecast. Saudi Arabia is also poised to dramatically increase issuance of Umra visas, making religious tourism the most lucrative property investment theme in the Middle East. Since the Saudi youth unemployment rate is 13%, fiscal stimulus and economic reforms on this scale will kick start a consumer boom. Yet the introduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT) and the sharp rise in petrol prices will have an inevitable adverse impact on disposable income, the reason for recent salary increases from the $100 billion Ritz Carlton windfall.
Six, Saudi Arabia wants to attract world’s technology elite to the kingdom. Amazon is planning a major cloud infrastructure investment in Saudi Arabia, while Apple plans to open a chain of stores. The kingdom’s decision to allow women to drive will have a seismic impact on its economic potential.
Saudi Arabia’s 2016 national transformation plan will be a game changer for the kingdom’s economy. As millions of women enter the labour market, wages will fall, as will the dependence on expatriate workers. This will boost profit margins in the kingdom. No longer will rent seeking minor princes be able to rig state contracts or inflate land prices. The cut in utility subsidies will cut extravagant wastage in electricity, while the 80% rise in petrol prices is a game changer for Saudi’s embryonic “fuel conservation” culture.
Vision 2030’s financial goals cannot be attained without a vibrant engaged Saudi private sector. I am fortunate enough to number so many of Saudi Arabia’s private investors among my friends and business partners. The Crown Prince needs to woo the business elite of the kingdom, from the Hadrami magnates of Jeddah to the property billionaires of Riyadh, from the bankers of Qasim to the merchant dynasties of the Eastern Province. This means tax cuts, pro-growth policies, new sunrise industries and global economic integration. I was thrilled to hear Japan’s Softbank may invest in the kingdom’s electricity sector. Saudi and global business are the natural allies of economic reform, social change and a reimagined kingdom.
Market View – Industrial property and the brave new world of E-commerce
The rise in Treasury bond yields is unquestionably bearish for classic bond proxies such as utilities and most segments of real estate. Yet I have made no secret of my conviction that industrial real estate is the most attractive, most resilient niche in global property investing. This does not mean an investors should shell out a fortune to own a warehouse or buy a leveraged lease on an Amazon bulk warehouse with the fixed 7 – 8% returns while bearing the full risk of an industrial cycle downturn or interest rate hike. My interest lies in the industrial real estate trusts (REIT’s) in the US, Europe and Singapore which are listed on a major stock exchange, boast organic growth, seven to ten year tenant lease (which landlord in Dubai or the GCC can boast such long leases?), corporate tenants with world class brands, pricing power and, ideally, be positioned at the nodal points of the world’s evolving E-commerce infrastructure.