Wall Street is ‘looking for opportunities’ in Saudi Arabia, Says Finance Minister

The finance minister of Saudi Arabia told CNBC that a recent fall off in foreign investment to his country will end as Wall Street money was now “looking for opportunities.”

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Thursday, Mohammed Al-Jadaan, said the financial conference held in Riyadh this week which was attended by high-profile figures from HSBC, J.P. Morgan and BlackRock, showed that foreign investment was ready to make a return.

“Money is looking for opportunities. We have mega projects being built around the kingdom. Infrastructure is being built, health care demand is increasing, and hospitality is significantly increasing,” he said.

“We have heard from top international investors and they are committing billions. We are not talking about a little money in the years to come.”

Riyadh saw its foreign investment figures drop dramatically in 2017, the same year that the country’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered a so-called anti-corruption shakedown, detaining hundreds of Saudi royals and businessmen. Subsequent political disruptions, including the murder of a non-compliant Saudi journalist, have rattled investor confidence — something that does not bode well for the crown prince’s bold Vision 2030 program, a drive to diversify the kingdom’s revenue away from hydrocarbons and create private sector jobs.

But international investors flocked to lend money to Saudi Arabia’s hugely profitable state-owned oil company earlier this month. Demand for Saudi Aramco’s bonds surged above $100 billion, according to a source familiar with the situation, more than 10 times the $10 billion that had been expected.

Saudi Arabia has already seen formidable success in its recent tapping of the bond market: It issued $7.5 billion in sovereign bonds in January which drew an impressive $27 billion in orders. Saudi Arabia has “A1” and “A+” ratings from agencies Moody’s and Fitch, respectively, a sign of reliability and low risk for investors.

Al-Jadaan said foreign investments in the kingdom had jumped markedly since 2017 and that was down to a higher level of predictability and friendlier regulations.

Nonetheless, security concerns continue to plague the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia’s ongoing tension with Iran. The U.S. State Department announced Monday its intention to deny further sanctions waivers to countries that import Iranian crude oil. The Islamic Republic’s crude exports had already slowed to 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) in March, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Al-Jadaan said the pressure on Iran would only encourage outside trust in the region. “With controlling Iran, (it is) making it less possible for them to destabilize the region. It is actually bringing stability to the region,” he added.

Author: Natasha Turak and David Reid

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