THE EMERGENCE

Saudi Arabia 2015 | FINANCE | INSIDE PERSPECTIVE

Adel S. Al-Ghamdi, CEO of the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul), on capital market developments, strategies that helped the country deflect global market downturns, and how the exchange plans to develop the national economy.

Adel S. Al-Ghamdi
BIOGRAPHY
Adel S. Al-Ghamdi is the CEO of the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) and a CFA Charterholder. He is a member of the CFA Society of the UK with over 18 years of experience in the financial services industry. He has held a number of senior positions, including General Manager of the Corporate Finance & Issuance Division at the Capital Market Authority, and Associate Director at the Global Investment Banking Advisory arm of HSBC Saudi Arabia, where he led a number of capital market mandates, and worked on a number of government related transactions. Adel began his career in the financial services industry holding various key positions at Riyad Bank Europe, and Riyad Bank London. He also currently serves on the Board of the Tadawul Real Estate Company and is the Chairman of the Arab Federation of Exchanges.

With exception to Saudi Arabia's natural exposure to the international oil and currency markets, our society, culture, and national economy have been, to a large degree, insulated from the economic instability felt in many parts of the world. You can call it protectionist, conservative, or lucky, but in considering these adjectives, you may also consider calling it wise.

The global crisis, which began in 2007, was a regrettable financial tsunami that consumed livelihoods, homes, and uprooted financial institutions seen as symbols of economic strength and stability. Whether directly or indirectly, the impact of the crisis continues to haunt Europe, and the picture remains daunting. Indeed, due to the Kingdom's gradual but progressive steps toward global convergence, we have fortunately avoided experiencing this ill fate.

Our national economy has grown at 5.4% CAGR since 2010, fuelled by significant expenditure on education, healthcare, and infrastructure, which together comprised close to 50% of total government spending (on average) since 2010. Private sector contribution in the national economy has also continued to grow at a faster rate of 6.5% CAGR over the same period, rising from 37.7% in 2010 to 39.5% of real GDP by the end of 2014.
Whilst recent conditions in the international oil markets are expected to weigh heavily on the Kingdom's revenues, an important financial dynamic continues to counteract the impact of this decline; namely, the strong appreciation of the US dollar. Indeed, every dollar of oil-export revenues earned by the Kingdom is 18% more valuable now from a global purchasing power perspective, than when the 44% decline in oil prices began in September 2014.

Though the Tadawul All Share Index (TASI) erased 23% of its gains by the end of 2014 in response to the sharp fall in oil prices, the index has had close to zero correlation with oil prices over the last five years, and has maintained a weak positive correlation with the US dollar and US and EU markets over the same period. This relationship has not materially changed over the 12 months of 2014.

Though on the face of it the picture looks less than ideal, the expected $39 billion budget deficit in 2015 may actually represent an opportune strategic pivot point for further economic policy development. Indeed, notwithstanding the Kingdom's fiscal reserves of nearly $737 billion, a budget deficit in 2015 could actually induce the issuance of government bonds to fund the anticipated shortfall. Currently, Saudi government debt stands at an insignificant 2.7% of GDP, one of the lowest ratios in the world (versus 9.4% in Russia, 96% in the US, and 103% in the UK). The issuance of new government bonds would serve to establish a sovereign yield curve to act as a pricing benchmark for local issuers; this would then serve to stimulate the growth of private sector debt issuances, a significant topic on the national agenda, whilst also reducing the public and corporate cost of capital over the coming years.

Another topic of growing focus on the national agenda is the non-oil economy and its role in contributing to employment and sustainability. SMEs are at the very heart of this debate, asserted as engines of Saudi economic diversity. The topic of SMEs continues to gain momentum as policymakers speak of a total approach to tackling the cross-jurisdictional challenges these enterprises typically face, especially in terms of access to funding, licensing, intellectual property rights, and human resourcing. Advancement in these areas of policy focus will impact the Saudi economy, generally, and the capital market specifically.

A more imminent development set to have a profound impact on the capital market is the introduction of qualified foreign institutional investors; a new investor class, with permissible access to around $50 billion of Saudi stock market capitalization; expected to bring further diversity to our stakeholders, a more sophisticated investment outlook, and a longer -term investment horizon.

We are excited to be at the very center of this evolution knowing that it will redefine the boundaries of our scope and significantly expand our reach to global capital market stakeholders. In fact, we are currently finalizing a structured plan for reaching out to these new stakeholders via an international roadshow, which we hope will feature the critical pillars of our capital market community, including our regulator, issuers, members, and other important private and public sector stakeholders.

This, and other capital market developments, occur at a time when the Exchange is in the midst of activating its role as a self-regulating organization, whilst also being in the final leg of upgrading our trading engine to the latest in high performance trading technologies. The weight of these activities has prompted us to focus significant internal efforts in 2014 on detailed strategic planning, as well as on structural and cultural transformation, with the aim of strengthening our foundations and positioning ourselves for the future.

In 2014, we earned the honor of being voted Euromoney's Best Managed Financial Exchange in the Middle East for the third consecutive year. We ascribe this honor to the unwavering efforts of our staff who continue to respond to the evolving needs of our stakeholders whilst maintaining an exceptional level of market integrity and an outstanding operational track record. Indeed nearly 37 million trades were conducted over our platform in 2014, registering a seven year high of more than $572 billion worth of value traded; equating to trading velocity of 118%, the third highest amongst our emerging market peers. In addition, 2014 was also notable for the initial public offering of the National Commercial Bank, which stood as the world's second largest IPO and one of six listed on our platform during the course of the year. Looking ahead, we expect a minimum of eight IPOs in 2015 as a number of company filings approach the end of their regulatory review cycle.

Looking further ahead, the Exchange is expecting to make significant investments over the next five years in building internal capabilities, and honoring our national responsibilities. We firmly believe that the value we derive from our investments is measured by the contribution these investments make to our core values of trust, innovation, and excellence. Indeed, we believe that value for the Exchange, as emphasized by our strategic position in the national economy, is defined by the trust we earn from upholding the integrity and reliability of our market; the innovation we aspire to in developing market infrastructure, management processes, and in the design and delivery of our products and services; and the excellence we strive for across all customer value streams.

I am confident that these investments, combined with the prevailing policy dynamics and planned development initiatives, will see the Kingdom continue to emerge over the next five years to take its place as the natural regional hub of capital formation and the destination of choice for foreign capital flows.