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Saudi Weekend Shift Could Herald More Change

Saudi shifts official weekend

Saudi Arabia announced that it would switch its weekend to Friday and Saturday.

June 24, 2013 4:35 by

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 ageing monarch is still willing to pass reforms to improve the kingdom’s competitiveness. Other changes might follow. 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.

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