All eyes on data

Boom of financial data

Financial data collection in Oman will help gauge the country's economic growth, while helping to guide the Sultanate forward into a prosperous economic future.

Data has always been an important element in human society, as we are obsessed with trying to predict the future, as the current COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated. And while previously this meant physically writing down every single piece of data that we hear or see, today we can collect data, quite literally, in our sleep. And with financial markets growing increasingly tied to the economic futures of countries, the importance of data has risen with it. As investors rely on constant, meticulously tracked data, countries everywhere are making sure their datasets are not only methodologically rigorous, but easy to access. This is especially true today of the Middle East, where reliable financial data has always been a bit hard to come by.

This was made apparent in the IMF recommendations for Oman regarding data collection in 2005. The IMF set Oman’s highest priority on establishing specific times for data publishing and on releasing longer-time series. Fast-forward 15 years, and Oman seems to have changed its ways regarding data collection. Mala’a, Oman’s recently established national data bank, is envisioned as a step toward “empower[ing] Oman to transform into a knowledge-based nation, achieving financial inclusion objectives and enabling access to credit,” according to its website. Indeed, financial institutes are taking note and working hard to provide the tools necessary to keep track of data. As Abdullah Al Salmi, Executive President of Oman’s Capital Market Authority (CMA), told TBY, the authority has upgraded its trading platform and is “seeking to implement the XBRL system in 2020 for reporting financial and non-financial information by all issuers and most importantly, to preform analytics on digitalized data through a portal that would be available to the investors.”

Meanwhile, Muscat Securities Market CEO Ahmed Saleh Al Marhoon says, “Our information center is one of the most dynamic websites in the sector with many updates, as we do not remain complacent.” Markets are especially reliant on data, as investors rely on timely and accurate data to make decisions about which markets are most safe. Furthermore, the presence of a state institution dedicated solely to data collection and dissemination sends a positive sign to investors. It is also the key to determining the relationship between the banking and fintech sectors, noted BankDhofar’s CEO Abdul Hakeem Omar-Ajaili in his TBY interview. “Transparency is critical, as we need to have information available for the customers and the public as well,” he added. While there are some regulatory restrictions on sharing currently in place, Oman’s central bank is working on new banking laws in order to encourage the type of sharing that will lead to growth in all sectors.

Though, it does look as though old habits seem to die hard. As reported in Bloomberg in 2019, Oman’s monthly bulletin reporting government revenue and expenditures was missing for a period of six months, though its National Center for Statistics and Information released a report stating the deficit of the country had narrowed for that same period. Though this may seem like a small misstep, for economists it represents a hole in a valuable data time series. Data regarding a country’s financial expenses, its sources of revenues, its labor forces, and its growth per capita is especially important, not only for understanding long-term growth patterns, but also for determining the shape of economic growth to come.

In the case of Oman, with more regular data sets taken continuously over time, it will be easier its rulers to understand what can drive growth in the future, as oil resources dwindle. Creating macroeconomic policies without data is a little like driving a car without a speedometer or fuel gauge; while you may know the direction the car may be going, you have no idea how long or how sustainable your
journey will be.

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