Riyadh: Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, is expected to sign deals worth more than $50 billion (Dh183 billion) in the oil, gas, industries and infrastructure sectors on the opening day with companies including Trafigura, Total, Hyundai, Norinco, Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes.
Hundreds of bankers and company executives joined officials at a palatial Riyadh hotel for the Future Investment Initiative, an annual event designed to help attract billions of dollars of foreign capital as part of reforms to end Saudi dependence on oil exports.
But while last year’s inaugural conference drew the global business elite, this year’s event has been marred by the pullout of more than two dozen high-level speakers following an international outcry over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing.
Saudi Arabia’s stock index was down 1.6 per cent in early trading on Tuesday. But it later recovered most of the losses.
Khashoggi disappeared after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain documents for his upcoming wedding.
Riyadh on Saturday said Khashoggi died during a fight in the consulate. Later, a Saudi official attributed the death to a chokehold.
The managing director of the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the main backer of the event, said Saudi Arabia was becoming more transparent and that the Saudi Public Investment Fund continued to develop new industries under economic reforms launched by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
“IMPORTANT FOR THE WORLD”
Yasir Al Rumayyan said the fund has invested in 50 or 60 firms via SoftBank Group’s Vision Fund and would bring most of those businesses to the kingdom. PIF has made substantial commitments to technology companies or investments, including a $45 billion deal to invest in Vision Fund.
Many Western banks and other companies, fearful of losing business such as fees from arranging deals for Saudi Arabia’s $250 billion sovereign wealth fund, sent lower-level executives even as their top people stayed away.
Others are still sending strong representation. Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne said on Monday he would attend.
Russia is sending a large delegation led by Direct Investment Fund head Kirill Dmitriev.
Dmitriev said Saudi Arabia’s economic diversification drive was “important for the world” and that Russian companies, mainly oil and petrochemical firms, want to enter the Saudi market.
“Saudi Arabia is a great partner for us, not just a partner in investments or oil ... we believe modernisation and transformation in Saudi Arabia is truly historic.” Top executives of Asian companies were hesitant to pull out, so the participation of Chinese and Japanese institutions may keep the three-day conference — which has no connection to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland — busy enough for Riyadh to claim it as a success.
Foreigners sold a net 4.01 billion riyals ($1.07 billion) of Saudi equities last week, by far the biggest pull-out of overseas money since the stock market opened to direct foreign investment in mid-2015.