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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Sharing Economy in the GCC: A Success Story Waiting to Happen

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The current landscape in the Gulf countries is believed to show solid scope for sharing economy platforms’ growth. On the other hand, the region still lacks consumer engagement as well as updated and adequate regulations, which may cause these platforms to stumble and fall on their way to growth.

The concept of sharing economy has been spreading with great velocity worldwide with the advent of new technologies and connectedness. It emerged as a recognized concept around 2008-2010 with the arrival of successful players such as Uber and Airbnb offering P2P platforms that allowed financially strapped consumers to earn extra income. Global sharing economy was valued at US$15 billion in 2014 and is expected to reach US$335 billion by 2025.

GCC’s good foundations and latent potential

In 2016 alone, PwC estimated that consumers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) spent US$10.7 billion within five sectors of the sharing economy platforms – household services, accommodation, business services, transportation, and financial services.

The spending in sharing economy was of course lower than spending on similar services acquired through traditional avenues – for instance, in 2016, hotel revenues were expected to hit US$24.9 billion in the GCC, a considerably higher sum than accommodation revenues in the sharing economy that totaled to US$1.29 billion in that same year. This indicates latent potential, and with part of the traditional service revenue possibly taken over by sharing economy, the scope for growth is very promising, underpinned by favorable characteristics of the GCC countries.

Young and technologically-participative population

Sharing economy platforms do not hire employees directly but work with self-employed service providers instead. The essence of these platforms is to enable people – mainly young, dynamic, and technologically-participative – to use them as a way to exchange goods or services for money.

The appeal of the GCC for sharing economy platforms is exactly that – the diversity and demographic profile of the region’s population allows sharing economy platforms to reach a large pool of young, tech-savvy consumers and service providers. In 2018, 60% of the GCC population was under the age of 30 – considered key demographic to interact and use sharing economy services on both the demand and supply side.

Large immigrant pool willing to engage

Another market growth driver that is somewhat unique to the region is the large percentage of non-nationals living and working in the GCC. Between 2016 and 2017, 51% of the Gulf region total population were non-citizens, who, according to a 2016 PwC survey, were active users of the sharing economy services, largely due to relatively low incomes and limited (if any) access to other ways of improving their financial standing. The region’s large volume of immigrants has always been a steady trait that is very unlikely to change in the future. Due to this, high numbers of expatriates participating in the sharing economy platforms on a daily basis is likely to ensure a long-term steady growth of these platforms in the region.

(Slowly) growing women’s economic inclusion

Another appealing aspect of the GCC market is that all six countries have been changing (alas, slowly) their attitude towards women’s economic inclusion, fueled by shifting cultural norms that traditionally imposed limitations on women’s ability to work and earn.

This change is likely to allow them to participate more actively in the workforce, and a ride-hailing app company could be a good option to provide transportation to and from work to female workers, since in some GCC countries they are not allowed to drive by themselves, while in others they customarily do not often do it. With women representing around 40% of the GCC population, higher financial independence places them in the group of potential consumers of sharing economy goods and services for their transportation as well as household services needs.

Eagerly-consumed fast connectivity

Regardless of the gender participation mix at both supply and demand side, the sharing economy players are certainly set to benefit from fast adoption of technology by local consumers in the GCC. In 2017, 64% of the population owned a smartphone and, by 2018, 77% of the GCC population were mobile network subscribers. Such rates seem to give strong foundation for sharing economy platforms to grow.

Moreover, the GCC highly tech-savvy youth seeks new technologies and faster mobile connections. In response, the Gulf countries aim to become global leaders of 5G deployment (all markets planning to launch 5G by 2020), a major contributing driver to the sharing economies growth in the region. High-speed mobile connections plus a growing pool of eager-tech young adults willing to engage in P2P platforms are likely to become a major driver for their growth.

Sharing Economy in the GCC A Success Story Waiting to Happen

Nonetheless, despite these favorable foundations, there may be roadblocks representing a threat for the success of sharing economy platforms in the Gulf region.

Large immigrant pool refrained from joining the platforms

One of the key obstacles is the cultural-legal environment prevalent in the region. While the region has long been characterized by large share of immigrants in local populations, their way of working is controlled by Kafala, an outdated sponsorship system carried out by the GCC. This system allows immigrants to work in the region only for their sponsor, who is legally responsible for them during the time of his or her stay.

Kafala system does not allow for self-employment, nor does it allow for second employment beyond the job given by the sponsor. Since sharing economy companies interact mainly with freelance service providers, there is a large portion of expatriates working in the GCC who will find it difficult to be able to freely join the platforms as service providers.


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Lack of legislation and consumer protection

Lack of a dedicated government entity to oversee sharing economy services in the Gulf countries may cause consumers to be wary of using these platforms, ultimately hindering market growth.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by PwC, GCC users put considerable emphasis on trust and transparency when dealing with online providers, two factors that can influence their purchasing decisions.

In sharing economy, users need to be able to trust platforms’ screening process for providers before they deal with them. As a result, if the states do not establish bodies and laws governing sharing economy services, the platforms could witness weak demand from both consumers and services suppliers who are cautious about protecting themselves.

Limited awareness and lack of need

Lack of consumer awareness and simply lack of need for the sharing economy services is also an issue for the market growth since not all GCC nationals seem to be aware about the existence of the sharing economy platforms.

According to the same PwC survey, an average of 21-35% of respondents were not familiar with the sharing economy concept. This could be attributed to the fact that many households in GCC countries have traditionally enjoyed high income levels, a fact that resulted in no need for shared services and allowed them to afford services of expatriate workers hired directly and for long term (e.g. employing a household driver or cleaner, rather than using external providers as needed).

Consequently, local consumers may not see the need to use an online platform dampening the success of sharing economy platforms. This might change, as households’ incomes growth stagnates and sharing economy could help stretch that income.

EOS Perspective

The GCC countries could be a promising landscape for sharing economy platforms to dock successfully. The region offers growing population, continues to be characterized by a solid base of young, tech-savvy users, as well as females and non-citizens available to participate in the sharing economy market.

However, despite the current growth, these platforms could nosedive unless local authorities deal with regulatory deficiencies. A dedicated supervisory entity is required to allow local authorities to regulate sharing economy companies, which will also provide support to consumers through consumer protection and better screening processes of services providers. Local customers clearly manifest their need for such a protection, and the lack of it is likely to dampen the demand and thus market growth.

The update of labor policies such as the Kafala system is also required for sharing economy platforms to witness a continuous growth. This growth can only happen through allowing a good share of the readily-available pool of expatriates to work under a more flexible scheme these platforms require. This is something for GCC states to consider, as there region is increasingly facing the requirement for economic diversification and stimulation of its sluggish economies. Creating labor policies that allow people to work for sharing economy platforms legally (at least as a secondary employment, as it is increasingly allowed in Dubai) is likely to create employment opportunities across the region, spurring consumer spending and generating tax revenues.

While there also are other obstacles in the GCC sharing economy market, it is the lack of appropriate regulation and supervision of the industry, as well as the current form of the Kafala system that are the two key challenges to the market’s accelerated growth. Considering the nature of these challenges, it seems that the potential of this market is unlikely to be realized without active facilitation by the local governments. However, it is uncertain to what extent the governments will try to understand the potential economic benefits of fully embracing sharing economy, and change the deeply-rooted, long-standing, archaic labor laws.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

GCC Warms Up to Renewable Energy

The development of fossil fuels in the GCC has led to a rapid economic growth of the region. A couple of the GCC countries boast some of the highest GDP per capita globally, with the good economic performance attributed primarily to the hydrocarbon sector growth. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait are the second, sixth, and ninth largest producers of oil in the world, respectively in 2015, reflecting their position as hydrocarbon exporters and producers. However, with rising domestic demand for energy and the need for a sustainable future energy supply, GCC has been making efforts to introduce renewable energy sources with a view to balance economic needs with environmental factors.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) comprises countries that are among the largest hydrocarbon producers in the world, with GCC collectively holding around one third of crude oil reserves and almost one fifth of global gas reserves. While oil and gas exports have underpinned an extraordinary economic growth of the GCC over the past several decades, the increasing domestic demand for energy has made it difficult for these countries to maintain their export levels. For instance, in 2014, Saudi Arabia, one of the largest oil producers globally, was the seventh largest consumer of oil in the world. In the same year, its domestic energy consumption stood at 28% of production against 17% in 2000, reflecting a rising domestic demand.

Domestic demand for energy is increasing in GCC 

Various reasons including industrialization, water desalination, and increase in population size, have led to this increase in domestic demand for energy in GCC. Industrial sector (comprising mostly oil refining, petrochemical, water, and fertilizer industries) accounts for nearly half of the total demand in the region.

The growth of the residential and commercial sector has also contributed to the rising energy demand, and currently almost half of the total electricity produced in the region is used by the residential sector. Moreover, electricity consumption by recent housing and commercial projects has grown at an average rate of 6% to 7% per year between 2003 and 2013, faster than anywhere else in the world in this time period.

Furthermore, rapid economic development in the region has led to rising water demand, leading countries to generate fresh water through seawater desalination. Desalination fulfills a large share of GCC’s water demand (e.g. around 27% of the total water demand in Oman and 87% in Qatar in 2015). Since desalination is an energy-intensive process, it has also put pressure on the consumption of fossil fuels.

These factors have forced GCC to focus on diversifying its energy mix to meet the domestic demand while still sustaining the countries’ economic growth. A diverse energy resources portfolio is needed to allow GCC to make the domestic energy production available for export. In addition, it would also reduce carbon-dioxide emissions to create a more environmentally sustainable future. Countries in the GCC region are thus focusing on developing the renewable energy sector, particularly solar energy.

The region is turning to alternative sources of energy

Several GCC countries have embarked on a path of setting more aggressing targets for sustainable energy production from sources other than traditional fossil fuels.

For instance, UAE plans to invest US$ 163 billion in the next 30 years in renewable energy sector. Moreover, it aims to increase the contribution of clean energy in total energy mix from 25% at present to 50% by 2050. It also plans to generate 44% of its power supply from renewable sources (e.g. solar), 12% from clean fossil, and 6% from nuclear energy.

Further, as Saudi Arabia’s renewable energy represents merely 1% of the total energy produced, the kingdom targets to increase the renewable energy share to 4%, an equivalent to around 3.45GW.

Other countries are also developing plans, and these include the renewable energy program in Kuwait that aims to generate 2GW energy from renewable sources, thus contributing 15% of the total energy produced by 2030. The country also commissioned its first solar power project of 10MW with an investment of US$ 99 million in 2016 and plans to generate around 20% electricity from alternative sources by 2020.

Qatar aims to generate 200MW solar energy by 2020, an equivalent of electricity for 66,000 homes per year. In addition, it also plans to install 1.8GW of solar power capacity by 2020.

GCC Warms Up to Renewable Energy

EOS Perspective

While GCC is putting in efforts to become an energy efficient region and reduce its revenue dependency on exports, the pace of alternative energy sources development has been rather low. Lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities of policy makers as well as uncertain policies and regulations around energy planning are contributing to the slow growth of renewable energy generation.

Lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities of policy makers as well as uncertain policies and regulations around energy planning are contributing to the slow growth of renewable energy generation.

In most countries, no authority has been assigned at the governmental level to handle the affairs of the renewable energy sector. There is no doubt that more dedicated efforts towards the implementation of energy development projects would surely help speed up the process of the sector’s development.

The governments of the Gulf countries should focus on establishing renewable energy corporate framework and assign a body to handle the development and implementation of policies and projects in this sector. Only few countries have assigned units within governmental structures to take the responsibility of overseeing the renewable energy production capacity growth.

The governments of the Gulf countries should focus on establishing renewable energy corporate framework and assign a body to handle the development and implementation of policies and projects in this sector.

For example, in 2010, UAE, set up a dedicated department called Directorate of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), to lead the development of renewable energy in the country, supporting the national climate change strategy. DECC was also established to coordinate with stakeholders for the promotion of green energy in the UAE. It engaged with International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental organization assisting its member countries to include green energy in their energy portfolio. IRENA acts as a center of excellence offering expertise and financial support to its members.

All GCC countries are members of IRENA which aids them in scaling up green energy in their respective countries. For instance, in 2014, it conducted Renewables Readiness Assessment (RRA) with the Government of Oman with a view to create a renewable energy roadmap comprising policies, regulations, and the infrastructure required for the country to meet its energy goals. The organization, thus, helps in the decision making as well as the implementation of strategies regarding renewable energy in GCC countries.

GCC should also focus on nurturing the development of R&D institutes which could offer expertise to policy makers in energy portfolio diversification. Such institutions could also offer workforce training to enable faster project deployment along the value chain.

GCC should also focus on nurturing the development of R&D institutes which could offer expertise to policy makers in energy portfolio diversification.

International collaboration with private and public companies in the GCC to set up renewable energy facilities could also support the development of the renewable energy sector in the region. Furthermore, incentives should be offered to these companies to encourage the establishment of green projects and facilities.

Endowed with hydrocarbon resources fueling economic development, GCC now has the potential to fuel its economic growth in a more sustainable manner, taking advantage of other resources at hand (e.g. by utilizing abundant sun available in the region throughout large part of the year). However, a greater and more structured regulatory support and more focused implementation is required to pave the way for the renewable energy sector development in the GCC.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

A Dragon Unfurls its Wings – How China’s Economic Slowdown Is Rippling Through Emerging Markets

Almost 10 years ago, Goldman Sachs published a report, in which it predicted Chinese GDP to overtake the USA’s GDP by 2020. Today, this prognosis looks like a far-fetched dream as China has recently been riding a wild economic horse. When Chinese economy was growing, its demand for various products and services contributed to the economic growth of emerging markets across the world. The deteriorating performance of Chinese economy over the past few years appears to have started adversely affecting these markets. Will the emerging markets be able to successfully sustain in future?

China witnessed a spectacular and continued rise of its GDP during major part of last three decades. However, end of 2007 saw a turning point, and the country’s economic growth rate cooled off from 14.2% still in 2007 down to 9.6% in 2008, reaching mere 7.4% in the first quarter of 2014. This single digit growth would be more than satisfactory for a lot of economies. However, for China, which regularly recorded double digit rates, this extended period of slower growth is disappointing, with some calling it as ‘an end of an era’.

For years, China was enjoying relentless economic growth through massive investments, exemplary rise in exports, as well as abundance of labor force which was available at low wages. Due to these factors, economists started referring to China’s economic growth model as an investment-and-export driven model. This model has played a key role in driving exports also from emerging markets such as Latin America, Asia, and Middle East, as there was substantial demand for commodities from China’s end to support its domestic consumption as well as export requirements. With the weakening of foreign demand and internal consumption, China’s export demands have considerably weakened, leading to declining prices of export-related commodities and resulting in an adverse impact on emerging markets’ GDPs.

Is the Slowdown for Real?

China’s economic slowdown has not only been reflected in its modest GDP growth figures, but also in several other negative trends that have been observed. These include a continuous decline in the percentage of fixed-asset investments as a part of China’s GDP. Investments contracted from 24.8% in 2007 to 19.6% in 2013. Reduction of fixed-asset investments is likely to negatively contribute towards a country’s economic slowdown by adversely affecting sectors such as real estate, infrastructure, machinery, metals, and construction.GDP

Moreover, yuan has depreciated against US dollar (with average exchange rate of 7.9 in 2006 down to 6.26 in April 2014). In addition to this, Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), which is a composite index of sub-indicators (production level, new orders, supplier deliveries, inventories, and employment level), has plunged from 52.9 in 2006 to 48.3 in April 2014, below the middle value (50), thus indicating some contraction of China’s manufacturing industry. This industry contributes significantly to China’s GDP, therefore, the industry’s deterioration has a direct adverse effect on China’s economy.

This negative twist in China’s economic growth story is believed to be a result of a synergetic effect of various internal and external factors, some of which include:

  • Over-reliance on abundant supply of low-cost labor. For decades, China has based its growth on production of goods requiring high amount of cheap manual labor. However, as the economy continued growing, the demand for higher wages has increased, pumping up the labor cost. This cost is contributing to the inflation of products’ export prices, which is ultimately translating to a lower demand of Chinese goods.

  • The focus of Chinese workforce has been shifting from rural agriculture to urban manufacturing. The government has been taking steps to propel this transition in order to boost economic growth, prosperity, and industrialization. As more and more Chinese moved to urban areas, gradually, the transition has started yielding diminishing returns mainly due to saturation in the manufacturing industry.

  • Europe has also played a villainous role in China’s story. It has been one of China’s largest export markets but has recently been extending a significantly low demand for commodities and products from China. In 2007, the European Union accounted for 20.1% of all the exports from China. This percentage has fallen to 16.3% in 2012.

Chinese Leaders React

The Chinese government is in a reactive mode and has been unveiling a plethora of actions to bolster growth. The overall approach looks conservative in nature with a targeted GDP growth of 7.5% for this year, after recording a growth of 7.7% in 2013.

In an attempt to improve the situation, some of the expected financial and fiscal reforms are in the pipeline. Liberalizing bank deposit rates and relaxing entry barriers for private investment are some of the moves to be implemented by 2020. Various property measures (such as relaxing home purchase rules, providing tax subsidies, or cutting down payments) are planned to be introduced (based on local demands and conditions prevailing in a particular city) in order to balance the property market as a whole. A target of creating 10 million new jobs in Beijing has also been set for 2014. The underlying motive of all the rescue measures is strengthening the Chinese economy’s reliance on domestic consumption and services.

Influence on Emerging Markets

Undoubtedly, swing of the Chinese economy towards consumption and services is expected to considerably affect all the connected economies, several of them being emerging markets economies (EMEs). Commodity producing emerging markets such as Latin America, Middle East, parts of Africa and Asia are likely to be affected. Within this group, metal producers will probably suffer the most, as China had a significant demand for iron ore, steel, and copper during its investment boom phase. Within this subgroup, economies which are running current account deficits are forecast to be more susceptible to the ill-effects of China’s economic slowdown.

As China tilts towards domestic consumption, Latin America has started to witness a dawdling growth as the region’s growth rate dropped from an average of 4.3% in the period of 2004-2011 to 2.6% currently. For instance, as Chile depends heavily on copper exports to sustain its economic expansion, the country has been regularly reporting sluggish growth rates (5.8%, 5.9%, and 5.6% in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively) due to the decline in the price of copper, largely fueled by a lower demand from China. In addition to this, Brazil and Mexico are struggling to survive through falling benchmark stock indexes. The fall is mainly due to declining prices of commodities, as exports to China from Brazil and Mexico have weakened.

Middle East will probably register both positive and negative effects of China’s economic slowdown. One of the ill-effects could be reduction in oil prices, from US$140 per barrel in 2008 to approximately US$80 per barrel by the end of 2014, due to China’s lower demand of oil. On the positive side, Middle East is strengthening its position as an attractive region with long-term growth since China is being considered as a slightly less attractive option for investment by a majority of investors. This is mainly due to Middle East’s good infrastructure and accelerated development of industries such as defense, chemical, and automotive, and not only traditionally developed energy and petrochemicals.

The impact on African countries is expected to be negative primarily due to declining commodity prices. As Africa’s growth substantially depends on its exports to China, some African commodity exporters, such as Zambia, Sudan, and Angola, have started to feel the strain as China’s demand for commodities is weakening. This weakened demand has led to lower prices of commodities such as aluminum, copper, and oil, which registered a y-o-y decline by 4%, 9.5%, and 5.4%, respectively in January 2013. Zambia is likely to receive the strongest hit as copper constitutes almost 80% of the country’s total exports and reduction in copper prices could make its current account deficit to account for almost 4% of GDP in 2014.

Effect of China’s economic slowdown will vary from country to country in case of Asia. Countries such as Indonesia and Philippines, which have significant domestic demand, would be less adversely affected as they are less dependent on commodities exports to China. China’s unstable economy has spurred new investments in other growing Asian economies such as Cambodia. India is also likely to benefit from the ability to import oil at lower prices, which are pushed down by China’s weakened demand for oil. At the same time, however, export of cotton and metals such as copper and iron ore from India to China is dampened, adversely affecting India’s economy.

While EMEs have already been witnessing a lower demand from their traditional trading partners such as European Union and the USA, China’s slowdown will be an added burden to their economies.
China's Impact


It’s Touch and Go

It is rather evident that Chinese economic slowdown is having an adverse impact on emerging countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. One can hope that the measures taken by the Chinese leadership to curtail the slowdown will soon start taking effect and gradually lift up the economy, and in doing so, control the extent of damage spilling over many emerging countries and their economies.

In the event that the Chinese economy is unable to recover from this period of slowdown soon, it will continue to be a terrible blow to the economic ambitions of several emerging markets, especially those in Africa and parts of Asia-Pacific, which are heavily reliant on Chinese investment and trade relations.

Simultaneously to absorbing fewer production inputs imported from emerging countries, it is worth noting that China’s role in world economics might start to alter as it transforms to a consumption-led economy. This transformation is likely to slowly increase China’s appetite for imports of products and services, apart from traditional commodities-focused imports. It will be interesting to observe whether and how some of the emerging economies will attempt to satisfy this new Chinese hunger for goods extending beyond simple commodities.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Future of Global Solar Power Industry – Tense, But There’s Still Hope.

The global solar power industry was always viewed as one based on flawed business principle of artificial sustenance. With prolonged low economic growth, the artificial support base disintegrated, resulting in shutdown of multi-million dollar business across the globe.

Several leading players, such as Siemens, Solar Millennium, First Solar Inc, and SunPower Corp and Suntech Power, have either filed for bankruptcy or pulled out of their loss-making solar power businesses. Others, such as Germany-based Bosch, have decided to wrap-up solar operations at the end of 2013 after having “tried unsuccessfully to achieve a competitive position”.

A 60% fall in solar panel prices between 2010 and early 2013, as well as the rapid expansion of natural gas production in the USA and curtailment of subsidies in the EU were some of the key reasons for growing losses. What is also worth noting is the overcapacity in the market – global production capacity for photovoltaic panels reached about 60 GW in 2012, while expected demand was only 30 GW. Driven by such unsustainable market conditions, no wonder solar power companies went out of business.

Industry experts, however, view the above factors as simply the result of China’s growing dominance in the global solar power industry. Driven by government subsidies, China became the largest solar panel supplier, accounting for 60% of global solar power production capacity. This domination of the industry has, however, come at a price. Amidst growing unhappiness with China-made products leading to local companies becoming uncompetitive, USA imposed a 40% anti-dumping duty in 2012 while in May 2013 the EU imposed provisional duties of 12% (likely to increase to 47% in August) on imports of Chinese-made solar panels. Whether this will deter China or encourage local growth is unknown; this might however have a negative effect of pushing the industry further into crisis.

Beneficiary of the present situation are likely to be manufacturers in countries like Taiwan which are not yet subject to US/EU import tariffs. About 90% of solar cells manufactured in Taiwan are exported to the USA, Europe, and China. Taiwan might also benefit from the EU’s imposition of duties on China made products, driving Chinese investment into Taiwan for setting up manufacturing plants to then directly export to the EU from Taiwan without having to pay the duties. Recent activities of some Chinese companies have indicated Turkey and South Africa being possible destinations for setting up manufacturing units.

The Chinese will find ways to get their products into the US and EU markets, even if it means moving their operations to Taiwan or other countries which are not subject to the high duties. The real issue, however, is the state of the global solar industry – with some of the major players shutting down operations and funding of solar power depleting, is the end of the road? We doubt it.

There is still hope for the solar power industry, largely driven by favorable policy measures in emerging Asian and Latin American countries. The first half of 2013 witnessed solar power investments in several countries, including Kuwait, South Africa and Chile. The industry received a major boost from Middle-East when Saudi Arabia announced a US$100 billion investment plan in 2012, to generate one-third of the country’s electricity demand through solar energy. Although current demand in these emerging markets is relatively low and may take about 10-15 years to develop into a sizeable market, the scope for growth is immense.

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