Dubai, Riyadh: Saudi Arabia is boosting the firepower of its sovereign wealth fund to accelerate deal-making and lessen the country’s dependence on oil.
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) is receiving a 100 billion-riyal (Dh97.84 billion, $27 billion) transfer from official reserves, according to a statement on Wednesday on the SPA official news agency, increasing existing assets by about 17 per cent. The injection will help the fund diversify investments and revenues, it said.
The fund’s deal-making has quickened this year as it seeks to increase the proportion of foreign investments to 50 per cent by 2020 from 5 per cent. It acquired a $3.5 billion stake in taxi-hailing app Uber Technologies Inc. in June and plans to put as much as $45 billion into a $100 billion global technology fund formed by Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. Eventually, the kingdom wants the PIF to become the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.
“The government is aggressively pursuing its investment diversification plan,” John Sfakianakis, director of economic research at the Gulf Research Centre, said by phone. “It also sends a powerful message that the local economy is seen as a tremendous opportunity and will boost private sector confidence after a series of government spending cuts.”
During the coming period, the PIF will focus on both domestic and international deals, including “expected high yield opportunities in the local market that support private sector investments and promote economic growth and local contents,” according to the statement.
The PIF, which is led by ex-Saudi Fransi Capital banker Yasir Alrumayyan, and has assets of about 600 billion riyals, most recently said that it’s taking a 50 per cent stake in Dubai-based businessman Mohammad Alabbar’s investment vehicle Adeptio. It’s also contributing $500 million to Alabbar’s plan to create e-commerce firm Noon.
Saudi Arabia’s plans also include transferring to the sovereign wealth fund the ownership of oil giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and proceeds from that company’s initial public offering. Once it takes ownership of the government’s stake in Saudi Aramco the PIF will become the world’s biggest sovereign fund with assets of over $2 trillion, according to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. The fund currently holds about $100 billion of shares in listed local companies, including Saudi Basic Industries Corp. and Saudi Telecom Co.
In March last year, the PIF was transferred under a committee controlled by Prince Mohammad. In his role as head of Economic and Development Affairs Council, the Prince chairs the board of the fund. It had previously been managed by the Ministry of Finance.
Saudi Arabia, hurt by low oil prices, has drawn down foreign reserves and cut spending while it funds a budget deficit that reached about 15 per cent of gross domestic product last year. Foreign reserves held by the central bank have fallen $200 billion since August last year, to $536 billion at the end of October, according to the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (Sama).
The movement of funds to the PIF from Sama, as the central bank is known, indicates that the role of the central bank could be gradually shifting, Mohammad Al Hajj, Dubai-based equity strategist for the Middle East and North Africa at EFG-Hermes UAE Ltd said Wednesday by email. Sama’s role may be moving away from managing the country’s foreign reserves to focusing on currency liquidity and regulation, he said.