New York: The networth of Saudi Arabia’s once high-flying billionaire, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, has plunged $22.3 billion from its peak six years ago. The eruption of an oil-price war with Russia and fears over the spread of the coronavirus have contributed to the wealth destruction.
Alwaleed’s $13.8 billion fortune is at its lowest since 2012, when he debuted at No. 24 on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world’s 500 richest people. The man who had often been described as the Warren Buffett of the Middle East, with a networth that climbed as high as $36.1 billion in 2014, is now No. 93 on the list.
Alwaleed rose to prominence in 1991 with an audacious bet on Citigroup Inc.’s predecessor and, more recently, with investments in Twitter Inc. and Snap Inc. He was among the most recognizable figures ensnared in the Crown Prince’s 2017 crackdown on corruption, with hundreds of senior princes and businessmen detained at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. The arrest erased $1.2 billion from Alwaleed’s networth.
He secured his release after 83 days of imprisonment through a confidential agreement with the government. While other detainees traded assets like property or cash for freedom, Alwaleed declined to say what his deal entailed.
Where the dip happened
The prince’s most valuable asset, a 95 per cent stake in investment firm Kingdom Holding Co., has lost three-quarters of its value since it peaked in 2014. The value of his other holdings - including Saudi property, public and private equities, jewellery and a superyacht - helped mitigate some of the decline, according to figures provided to Bloomberg News last month by Alwaleed’s private investment office.
He also got a modest boost by consolidating his stake in media company Rotana Group. He repurchased a 19 per cent stake from former News Corp. unit 21st Century Fox for an undisclosed sum in 2018, shortly before Rupert Murdoch sold the movie assets to Walt Disney Co..
Independent appraisers valued Rotana at more than $1 billion, according to Alwaleed’s private office. That’s one-third more than it was worth a decade ago, based on the News Corp. transaction. The company stands to benefit from the drive to liberalize social norms in the Kingdom, namely from his move to allow movie screenings and music concerts.
Along with other wealthy Saudi citizens, Alwaleed was urged to commit a significant amount to Saudi Aramco’s initial public offering in December. Aramco shares have dropped 2.7 per cent since then.