Saudi weekend shift could herald more changes
Dubai, June 24, 2013
By Una Galani
Time is shifting in Saudi Arabia. The decision to move the kingdom's weekend to Friday and Saturday - from Thursday and Friday - will irk traditionalists but it is a big win for business and finance.
It brings the oil producer into line with its neighbours in the Gulf and will increase the kingdom's working overlap with international markets. That should boost efficiency and productivity in the region's biggest economy where many employees see Saturday as a paid day off.
So compelling was the rationale for change that giant Saudi conglomerate Savola had already decided to trial the shift before King Abdullah's decree.
It's not clear what prompted the king to act now - the move has been discussed since at least 2007. But the switch demonstrates that the monarch is still willing to pass reforms to improve the kingdom's competitiveness. Other changes might follow.
The change will take effect this weekend and was made "for the sake of putting an end to the negative effects and the lost economic opportunities consistently associated with variation based on work days between local departments, ministries and institutions and the regional and international counterparts," said an official statement carried by Saudi news agency SPA.
The new weekend, for example, will make it easier to further open up the Arab world's largest stock market, with a total capitalisation of $400 billion. Foreigners cannot invest directly at present, only through swaps.
The kingdom is already moving slowly towards opening up to outsiders. The recent decision to upgrade UAE and Qatar to emerging-market status by index compiler MSCI puts a bit of pressure on Saudi to speed along. Foreign investors shouldn't hold their breath, but the day they can buy into Saudi stocks may just have been brought forward. - Reuters Breakingviews
* The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own