Stock - Saudi Neom
Saudi Arabia has drawn up initial plans to build Neom City, one of its mega-projects. Image Credit: Supplied

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia will set aside SR300 billion ($80 billion) for an investment fund tied to the Crown Prince’s flagship megaproject, Neom, and plans an IPO of the project on the kingdom’s stock market as soon as 2024. The Neom Investment Fund could potentially expand to SR400 billion, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said.

It would invest in companies that agree to operate at Neom, a huge city planned for Saudi Arabia’s far northwest on the Red Sea coast. The announcement on Monday was attended by global investors including Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio, Tim Collins of Ripplewood, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and Kuwaiti retail billionaire Mohammed Alshaya.

For the first time, he also outlined details on how he plans to finance Neom - one of the largest and most complex construction projects in the world.

Multi-stage funding

The first phase of the project, which runs until 2030, will cost SR1.2 trillion, with about half of that covered by the Public Investment Fund (PIF). Officials will seek to raise another SR600 billion from other sovereign wealth funds in the region, private investors in Saudi Arabia and abroad, and an IPO of Neom itself on the Saudi stock market.

“We have big aims to get Saudi Arabia among the top three largest stock markets on the planet,” Prince Mohammed said, adding that he expects the IPO of Neom will happen around 2024 and could add more than SR1 trillion to the size of the kingdom’s market.

New technologies

Announced in 2017, Neom is the Crown Price’s plan to turn an expanse of desert the size of Belgium into a high-tech metropolis. He’s billed it as a testbed for new technologies that could revolutionize urban life - as well as a way to attract foreign investment and diversify Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy.

His latest announcement was a plan within Neom for twin buildings that stretch for more than 100 kilometers and contain within them an entire city of 9 million people.

Asked why he wanted to build Neom, the prince told reporters that his plan to remake Saudi Arabia involves increasing its population from around 34 million people currently to 50 million to 60 million by 2030. Half of those will be foreigners, he added, compared to the kingdom’s current demographic balance of around a third foreigners and two-thirds Saudi citizens.

The capital of Riyadh will be overcrowded if it expands too much, the prince said, but “Neom will take care of 10 million.”

The Line
By 2030, Saudi Arabia is aiming for 1.5 million people living in ‘The Line’ - the twin buildings - reaching 9 million by 2045. Neom will start engaging major potential investors by the end of this year.

The kingdom also plans to invest in Egypt to complement the project, including in the tourist area of Sharm el-Sheikh, which is located across the Red Sea from Neom, he said. “We’re going to create huge investment in Egypt.”