Most of the women at the conference, held at the exclusive Ritz Carlton Hotel, wore long-flowing robes, or abayas, over business suits, in line with local customs. But abayas are no longer required and several women opted to forgo them. Others wore colorful abayas, but no head scarves. Such a sight would have been unimaginable only a few years ago when nearly all women wore black abayas and headscarves in public, and often a face covering.
On the opening night, guests attended a gala dinner with live music – also a product of recent reforms – in King Abdullah Economic City. The crown prince hopes to lure firms to open their regional offices there and attract much of the capital now concentrated in the neighboring United Arab Emirates, home to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Saudi Arabia has told companies they have until the end of 2023 to establish regional offices in the kingdom or lose access to government contracts. The goal is to attract these companies and their employees, as well as their families, to live, spend and invest in Saudi Arabia, replacing the short fly-in trips from cities like Dubai that many consultants and others currently prefer over life in Riyadh, where Islamic law bans the sale of alcohol.
At the forum, it was announced that 44 multinational firms would be setting up new regional headquarters in Saudi Arabia. The government hopes the strategy will add $18 billion to the local economy and create 30,000 new jobs by 2030, part of a wider economic diversification plan to rely less on oil as the main source of government revenue. Some of the companies moving their regional offices to Riyadh are PepsiCo, Siemens, Unilever, Deloitte, Halliburton, and Baker Hughes, according to a government press release. It’s unclear whether such companies will scale down their operations in the UAE and elsewhere, or add staff in new offices in Riyadh.
The forum is Prince Mohammed’s signature event for trying to bring badly needed investments to the kingdom, but other than the word on plans to open regional offices, there were few major announcements around new investments.
The event is powered by The Public Investment Fund, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, which is behind multi-billion dollar investments outside the kingdom and spending billions more on mega-projects inside the country. This includes new tourism destinations along the Red Sea coast and a new, sprawling modern district called Neom.
Prince Mohammed made a brief appearance at the forum Tuesday, where he sat in the front row for a session that featured Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, though he did not take to the stage as he has done in some previous conferences.
The forum opened just a day after a former senior Saudi counter-terrorism official lobbed a slew of accusations against the crown prince on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” He accused Prince Mohammed of detaining two of his adult children in Riyadh to try and force his return to the kingdom, and also alleged that the prince had sent a team of agents to North America to track him down and kill him. Saudi authorities have denied the allegations.
The forum’s delegates appeared unfazed by such allegations. The event saw a flurry of networking, deal-making and business card exchanges on the sidelines. This year, many discussions focused on the kingdom’s recent “net zero” emissions pledge, a target Saudi Arabia aims to reach by 2060.
The kingdom’s net-zero pledge, however, only applies to emissions within its borders. The government has no plans to phase out its fossil fuel-burning exports to countries like China and India, where demand for energy is growing. Critics have accused Saudi Arabia of “green washing.”
Aya Batrawy, The Associated Press
Oil rises as investors focus on OPEC+ decision amid growing Omicron fears
Oil prices rose on Thursday, recouping the previous day’s losses, as investors adjusted positions ahead of an OPEC+ decision over supply policy, but gains were capped amid fears the Omicron coronavirus variant will hurt fuel demand.
Brent crude futures rose 85 cents, or 1.2%, to $69.72 by 0402 GMT, having eased 0.5% in the previous session.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained 85 cents, or 1.3%, to $66.42 a barrel, after a 0.9% drop on Wednesday.
“Investors unwound their positions ahead of the OPEC+ decision as oil prices have declined so fast and so much over the past week,” said Tsuyoshi Ueno, senior economist at NLI Research Institute.
Global oil prices have lost more than $10 a barrel since last Thursday, when news of Omicron shook investors.
“Market will be watching closely the producer group’s decision as well as comments from some of key members after the meeting to suggest their future policy,” Ueno said.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, together known as OPEC+, will likely decide on Thursday whether to release more oil into the market as previously planned or restrain supply.
Since August, the group has been adding an additional 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) of output to global supply each month, as it gradually winds down record cuts agreed in 2020.
The new variant, though, has complicated the decision-making process, with some observers speculating OPEC+ could pause those additions in January in an attempt to slow supply growth.
“Oil prices climbed as some investors anticipate that OPEC+ will decide to maintain the current supply levels in January to cushion any damage on demand from the Omicron spread,” said Toshitaka Tazawa, an analyst at Fujitomi Securities Co Ltd.
Fears over the impact of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus rose after the first case was reported in the United States, and Japan’s central bank has warned of economic pain as countries respond with tighter containment measures.
U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk said President Joe Biden’s administration could adjust the timing of its planned release of strategic crude oil stockpiles if global energy prices drop substantially.
Gains in oil markets on Thursday were capped as the U.S. weekly inventory data showed U.S. crude stocks fell less than expected last week, while gasoline and distillate inventories rose much more than expected as demand weakened. [EIA/S]
Crude inventories fell by 910,000 barrels in the week to Nov. 26, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said, compared with analyst expectations in a Reuters poll for a drop of 1.2 million barrels.
(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Tom Hogue)
Toronto market hits 7-week low on Omicron uncertainty
Canada‘s main stock index fell on Wednesday to its lowest level in over seven weeks as the United States reported its first case of the Omicron variant that investors fear could impede economic recovery, with the index giving back its earlier gains.
The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index ended down 195.39 points, or 0.95%, at 20,464.60, its lowest closing level since Oct. 12.
Wall Street also closed lower as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the country had detected its first case of the new COVID-19 variant, which is rapidly becoming dominant in South Africa less than four weeks after being detected there and has spread to other countries.
It might take longer than expected for supply chain disruptions to abate, “especially if we have renewed shutdowns in Asia,” said Kevin Headland, senior investment strategist, Manulife Investment Management.
Still, Headland does not expect the new variant to lead to an economic recession or a bear market for stocks in 2022, saying: “Reaction to headline news provides opportunities for those that have a longer-term timeframe to add in the equity markets.”
The TSX will add to its recent record high over the coming year as the domestic economic recovery helps underpin corporate earnings, but gains are expected to slow from 2020’s breakneck pace, a Reuters poll found.
The technology sector fell 2.7%, while energy ended 1.9% lower as oil was unable to sustain an earlier rally. U.S. crude oil futures settled 0.9% lower at $65.57 a barrel
The materials group, which includes precious and base metals miners and fertilizer companies, lost 2.2%.
Financials were a bright spot, advancing 0.4%, helped by gains for Bank of Nova Scotia as some analysts raised their target price on the stock.
Bombardier Inc was among the biggest decliners. Its shares sank 10.4%.
(Reporting by Fergal Smith; Additional reporting by Amal S in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Canada’s TSX to extend record-setting rally; pace of gains to slow: Reuters poll
Canada‘s main stock index will add to its recent record high over the coming year as the domestic economic recovery helps underpin corporate earnings, but gains are expected to slow from 2020’s breakneck pace, a Reuters poll found.
The median prediction of 26 portfolio managers and strategists was for the S&P/TSX Composite index to rise 9.1% to 22,540 by the end of 2022.
That’s a move that would eclipse last month’s record high of 21,796.16 and compares with an August forecast of 22,000. It was then expected to edge up to 23,150 by the middle of 2023.
The index had advanced 18.5% since the start of the year, putting it on track for its second biggest gain since 2009.
“We think the economy and markets will continue to progress further into the mid-cycle phase next year,” said Angelo Kourkafas, investment strategist at Edward Jones. “We are past the strongest point of the cycle, but there is plenty of runway ahead, especially from an economic standpoint.”
Canada‘s economy https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadian-economy-posts-annualized-gain-54-q3-october-gdp-seen-up-08-2021-11-30 grew at an annualized rate of 5.4% in the third quarter, beating analyst expectations, and growth most likely accelerated in October on a manufacturing rebound.
“Banks can continue to benefit from an improving economy and reducing loan loss provisions and resource companies can benefit from higher commodity prices,” said Colin Cieszynski, chief market strategist at SIA Wealth Management.
Combined, the financial services and resource sectors account for 55% of the Toronto market’s valuation.
Nearly all participants that answered a separate question on the outlook for corporate earnings expected earnings to improve. But the pace of growth could slow.
“We expect a decelerating pace of (earnings) growth,” said Chhad Aul, chief investment officer & head of multi-asset solutions at SLGI Asset Management Inc. “In particular, we expect the recent strong earnings growth in the energy sector to begin to moderate.”
The price of oil, a key driver of energy sector earnings, has tumbled 24% since October, pressured by rising coronavirus cases in Europe and the detection of the possibly vaccine-resistant Omicron variant.
Another risk to the outlook could be a reduction in policy support, say investors.
With inflation climbing, the Bank of Canada https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/bank-canada-signals-it-could-hike-rates-sooner-than-expected-2021-10-27 has signaled it could begin hiking interest rates as soon as April and the Federal Reserve https://www.reuters.com/markets/us/powell-yellen-head-congress-inflation-variant-risks-rise-2021-11-30 is mulling whether to wrap up tapering of bond purchases a few months sooner.
“The key is the pace of both fiscal and monetary policy normalization,” said Ben Jang, a portfolio manager at Nicola Wealth. “This process will likely lead to more volatility in markets, potentially returning to an environment where we will see drawdowns of more than 10%.”
Asked if a correction was likely over the coming six months, nearly all respondents said yes.
(Reporting by Fergal Smith; polling by Mumal Rathore and Milounee Purohit; editing by David Evans)
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