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Saudi business growth falls, UAE improves

Growth in business activity in Saudi Arabia’s non-oil private sector fell to a three-month low, while the UAE edged up slightly in March after slipping to a two-month low in the previous month, separate surveys showed.

The SABB HSBC Saudi Arabia Purchasing Managers’ Index, which measures activity in the manufacturing and services sectors, slid to 58.73 in March from 59.62 in February. The seasonally adjusted index stayed well above the 50-point mark distinguishing growth from contraction.

New order growth was the slowest since December, at 66.87 in March against 68.58 in February.

But data compiler Markit said absolute growth was still strong, reflecting favourable economic conditions across the Gulf Arab oil exporting countries; foreign demand was solid ‘but anecdotal evidence indicated a divergence between new export business growth from clients in the Middle East and weaker spending from European customers,’ it said.

Overall input price inflation eased in March, from a nine- month high in February, as the rise in staff costs was moderate for the latest month. Purchase prices were the main driver for input cost inflation. Employment growth slowed to 52.46 in March from 54.31 in February.

Analysts in a Reuters poll conducted last month predicted Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product would expand 4.5 per cent this year, after an officially estimated 6.8 per cent last year.

The kingdom’s Economy and Planning Minister Mohammed al-Jasser told reporters on Sunday that the economy was at present headed for 6 per cent growth this year.

The HSBC UAE Purchasing Managers’ Index, which measures the performance of the manufacturing and services sectors, increased to 52.3 points last month from 52.0 in February. The adjusted index remains above the 50-point mark which separates growth from contraction, the survey of 400 private sector firms showed.

‘The data is still painting a picture of an economy that is stable, not one that is gaining momentum,’ said Simon Williams, chief economist for the Middle East and North Africa at HSBC.

UAE firms saw output growth increase to 53.4 points from a five-month low of 52.5 in February, but new orders fell to a three-month low of 56.5 points in March, the survey showed.

Job creation across the UAE non-oil private sector gained pace in March with the latest increase the most pronounced since October 2011. However, the rise in headcounts was only marginal and below the series average.

‘Employment still looks sluggish, wages flat and export demand soft. Another month of flat output prices is good news for consumers, but continues the pressure on producers who have to absorb higher input costs,’ Williams said.

UAE non-oil private firms left their output prices broadly unchanged in March because of strong market competition and caution towards demand.

But last month marked two years of continuous input price inflation; the latest rise was strong and above the series trend, reflecting further increases in purchase and employee costs, the survey showed.

A Reuter’s poll of economists conducted in March forecast consumer price inflation would climb to 2 per cent this year from 0.9 per cent in both 2011 and 2010, while the UAE’s economy would see output growth slowing to 3.1 per cent from the 4.9 per cent rate estimated by the International Monetary Fund for 2011.


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