As a follow on to our Saudi Commercial Banks post we thought to take a look at how consumers are fairing. The Tadawul Retail Index has 17 stocks in it that cover consumer electronics, bookstores, healthcare, supermarkets and clinics.

Saudi Retail Sector

The 2 year return for the Retail sector is -46% and it’s back at 2013 levels. In the same data set used to look at commercial banks, SAMA also publishes some great time series that look at Point of Sale transactions.

Saudi POS Transactions - Historical

What an incredible run up. We’ve seen an 700% run up in the number of transactions over the past 10 years, and an 800% increase in the value of those same transactions (not inflation adjusted). We attribute these increases largely to:

  1. Population growth (natural and migrant workers)
  2. Demographic shift (younger people are more comfortable with debit/credit cards)
  3. Banking penetration (more people have bank accounts)
  4. Retailers adopting card payment solutions

We don’t have details on how SAMA categories online payment gateways, but if they’re included then one can presume that e-commerce has also contributed to the growth above.

Saudi POS Transactions - size

The chart above illustrates the average transaction size over the same period (not inflation adjusted). The 2006 to 2007 period coincides with the first GCC stock market correction.

After steady growth from 2007 onward by late 2013 average transaction values have started to roll over. We’ve moved from all-time highs in 2011 to now making 10 year lows. The pace of decline has also been quite sharp, with the monthly figures posting their biggest divergence from the 12 month moving average. Funnily enough, the last peak around January 2015 coincides with the ascension of King Salman to the throne and the $16bn bonus issued to government employees.

Returning to our first chart, if we adjust it for year over year change we can see the drop isn’t limited to average transaction value, but also the total sales value and number of transactions.

Saudi POS Transactions - year on year

This is the worst contraction in POS activity that Saudi Arabia has seen in 10 years. Whilst the number of transactions is holding up so far in 2016, the total value of those transactions has tanked.

The 2006-2007 GCC equity market correction and the following 2009 global financial crisis both significantly affected the total value of sales made through retail POS networks.

Comparing our first chart of the Retail sector equity performance we note that the equity sell-off happened long before POS sales values started to contract (POS data thus wasn’t much use as leading indicator this time).

Bottom line: Saudi consumers are feeling the pinch and are spending less in SAR terms. Combining this data with consumer inflation figures (housing, utilities, food) we may be able to develop some kind of Saudi consumer “sentiment” index which could be interesting.