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Results of JETRO’s 2019 Survey on Business Conditions of Japanese-Affiliated Firms in the Middle East

Feb 14, 2020

Expansion of operations in Israel and Turkey, while expectations for profits remain at the same level in the region

Between September and October 2019, the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) conducted its latest survey on business operations of Japanese-affiliated firms in 10 countries in the Middle East.

Survey outline:

Method Questionnaire
Period September 9 to October 18, 2019
Target 273 companies (responses from 251 companies, response rate of 91.9%)
Question items
  1. Operating profit forecast
  2. future business development and promising fields,
  3. attractiveness and challenges in the investment environment

Key points of the results

  1. Regarding operating profit forecasts for 2019, about 50% of total companies in the Middle East reported a surplus. Looking at the forecast for 2020 in comparison with the previous year, 60% of companies expect to remain at the current level.
  2. Regarding future business development, about 50% of companies expect to maintain the status quo. Looking at the results by country, about 60% of firms in Israel and Turkey expect to expand business, while about half of firms in Iran expect to downsize. As promising fields, those in Israel point out "new industries" and those in Turkey "consumer market," especially the "food market."
  3. In terms of challenges in the investment environment across the region, an undeveloped or unclear legal system ranked highest. The results show that all countries have their own distinctive issues.

Summary of survey results

1.About 50% of companies forecast a surplus for 2019. Looking at the operating profit forecasts for 2020 in comparison with the previous year, about 60% of companies expect to remain at the same level.

  • Regarding operating profit forecasts for 2019 (Figure 1), 52.3% of all companies in target countries reported a surplus. While the ratio of companies reporting a surplus exceeded 60% in some countries such as Oman, Bahrain, Turkey and Qatar, over half of the companies in Iran were in deficit owing to US sanctions. Israel still has its strong economy, however less than 30% of companies reported a surplus. (Page 6 in the attached document)

    【Figure 1】2019 operating profit forecast

    Regarding operating profit forecasts for 2019, 52.3% of all companies in target countries reported a surplus. While the ratio of companies reporting a surplus exceeded 60% in some countries such as Oman, Bahrain, Turkey and Qatar, over half of the companies in Iran were in deficit. Less than 30% of companies in Israel reported a surplus.

    ※n=number of valid responses(same for other charts)

    JETRO

  • Regarding operating profit forecast for 2019 in comparison with the previous year, 52.7% of all companies in target countries remained at the same level of profit. However 61.5% of companies in Iran were in decline. Looking at the operating profit forecast for 2020 year-on-year, most companies expect profits to remain at the same level as a whole (59.3%). Looking at the results by country, the outlook for each country was also the same. (Page 7 to 8 in the attached document)
  • Regarding reasons for improved performance in 2019, "increased sales in the local market" accounted for 69.7% of the total. In the manufacturing industry, “expansion of exports” was also selected as a major factor in addition to the increase in local sales. Reasons for decreased performance in 2019 were also related to the “decreased sales in the local market,” which accounted for 72.3% of the total. However, in Iran the impact from trade restrictions resulting from US economic sanctions was the largest at 57.1%. (Page 9 to 10 in the attached document)

2.About 50% of companies expect to maintain the same level of business operations in the future. While about 60% of companies in Israel and Turkey expected to expand business, about half of firms in Iran expected to downsize. As promising fields, those in Israel pointed out "new industries" and those in Turkey "consumer markets," especially the "food market."

  • Regarding business development in the next one or two years (Figure 2), the largest response, from 49.6%, was from those expecting to maintain their current status. Looking at the results by country, 66.7% of companies in Israel and 60.8% of companies in Turkey replied that they intend to expand business. However, in Iran 50% of companies expect to downsize. (Page 14 in the attached document)

    【Figure 2】Direction in the next 1 - 2 years

    Regarding business development in the next one or two years, the largest response, from 49.6%, was from those expecting to maintain their current status. Looking at the results by country, 66.7% of companies in Israel and 60.8% of companies in Turkey replied that they intend to expand business. However, in Iran 50% of companies expect to downsize.

    JETRO

  • Looking at the changes in Iran, which has been suffering from US sanctions from the last fiscal year, the proportion of companies in the red has increased (47.4% → 53.8%), but the proportion of companies that intend to maintain their current level of business in the future increased by about 13% (30.0% → 42.9%). Even in the midst of adversity, companies can be seen standing firm. (Page 15 in the attached document)
  • Among the reasons given for business expansion, “increased sales in the local market” (68.2%) and “growth potential” (53.3%) were the most commonly cited. The most commonly cited function to be expanded was the “sales function” (68.9%), which greatly exceeded all other functions. Among the factors for shrinking or withdrawing business, the “impact from policies by local/other governments” came highest at 38.9%, surpassing "decreased sales in the local market." (Page 16 to18 in the attached document)
  • Looking at promising business fields in the region as a whole (Figure 3), the majority of companies consider "infrastructure" (63.0%), "resources and energy" (57.1%), the "consumer market" (54.2%), "new industries" (51.3%) and "service industry" (50.0%) to be the most promising (multiple responses). In terms of specific items (Figure 4), “electricity” and “water” ranked highest in infrastructure, while “IoT,” “AI” and “smart infrastructure” were at the top in new industries (75.0%). Many companies in particularly consider “renewable energy” (75.0%) to be a promising area in the resource and energy field, while “food market” (58.7%) is considered to be the most promising for the consumer market. (Page 19 to 20 in the attached document)
  • As for promising business fields in Israel and Turkey (Figures 3 and 4), all companies in Israel answered "new industries." In Turkey, the “consumer market” was the largest at 72.0%, but when looking by subcategory, “food market” was the largest at 61.8%. (Page 19 to 20 in the attached document)

    【Figure 3】Promising business areas (multiple responses)

    Looking at promising business fields in the region as a whole, the majority of companies consider “infrastructure” (63.0%), “resources and energy” (57.1%), the “consumer market” (54.2%), “new industries” (51.3%) and “services” (50.0%) to be the most promising (multiple responses).

    JETRO

    【Figure 4】Promising business areas (by category) (multiple responses)

    In terms of specific items, “electricity” and “water” ranked highest in infrastructure, while “IoT,” “AI” and “smart infrastructure” were at the top in new industries (75.0%). Many companies in particularly consider “renewable energy” (75.0%) to be a promising area in the resource and energy field, while “food” (58.7%) is considered to be the most promising for the consumer market.

    JETRO

  • In recent years, Israel has been attracting the attention of Japanese companies as a dynamic startup country owing to the efforts of local companies. Promotion of economic exchange projects between the two countries is also being implemented by both the public and private sectors. Turkey is a major consumer market in the region with a population of about 80 million, and the fact that Japanese companies have been procuring food and producing and selling processed food there for some time seems to be one of the factors that attracted attention this time.
  • When asked about changes in personnel, the majority of companies reported that the number of both local and Japanese employees remained the same over the past year. Looking at plans for the future, most companies answered that the number of both local and Japanese employees will also remain the same, with 80.1% of companies answering that the number of Japanese employees in particular will remain the same, indicating a tendency to remain unchanged. (Page 21 to 22 in the attached document)

3.In terms of challenges in the investment environment across the region, an undeveloped or unclear legal system ranked as the highest. The results show that all countries have their own distinctive issues.

  • Regarding the challenges of the investment environment in the Middle East as a whole (Figure 5), an "undeveloped legal system or unclear legal system operation" (56.5%) ranked the highest as in past years. However, this percentage showed a decrease from the 67.5% last year. (Page 24 in the attached document)
  • Looking at the major challenges of the investment environment by country, "undeveloped legal system or unclear legal system operation" ranked as the top issue in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. In Turkey and Iran, "political/social instability" came first, while "increase in labor cost" ranked highest in Israel. (Page 25 to 29 in the attached document)
  • Key comments from companies cited issues such as the standards and certifications system in the UAE, local employment obligations in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, US sanctions in Iran and costs in Israel. (Page 25 to 29 in the attached document)

【Figure 5】Investment environment challenges (all)(multiple responses)

Regarding the challenges of the investment environment in the Middle East as a whole, an “undeveloped legal system or unclear legal system operation” (56.5%) ranked the highest as in past years. However, this percentage showed a decrease from the 67.5% last year.

JETRO

Mr. Nishiura or Mr. Yonekura
Middle East and Africa Division, Overseas Research Department, JETRO
Tel: 03-3582-5180