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Big business comes to Saudi Arabia

An ad featuring Future Investment Initiative (FII) at Times Square in New York. (Twitter photo)
RIYADH: The Saudi capital will today host the A-list of global corporate leadership in the most keenly awaited business gathering of the year.
Dozens of the biggest names in global business have arrived in the Kingdom for the Future Investment Initiative (FII), which is being hosted by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) — the body that is spearheading a slew of economic reforms.
The FII is being held under the patronage of King Salman while Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is set to welcome some 2,500 delegates today.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde and BlackRock boss Larry Fink are among those attending the event, which is being called the “Saudi Davos” — a reference to the Swiss town that hosts the main World Economic Forum meeting each year.
“We see FII as a unique opportunity for the global community to bring together aspirational thinking around the future of the world economy,” said Pedro Oliveira, Oliver Wyman’s regional managing partner.
Saudi Arabia is undergoing unprecedented economic and social reforms as the Kingdom seeks to reduce reliance on oil and gas revenues while creating thousands of new jobs for a youthful population.
The FII will see “internationally-renowned business leaders and influencers discuss ... how the challenges of the future can be addressed,” said PIF Managing Director Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan.
Bankers and fund managers in the audience will be especially interested to hear about the planned initial public offering (IPO) of Saudi Aramco, the national oil company.
Aramco CEO Amin Nasser will be among the homegrown business heavyweights at the conference.
On Monday, he quashed market rumors about possible delays to the planned IPO, which could raise $100 billion from investors.
“We have always said that we will be listing in 2018, and to be more specific, in the second half of 2018,” he told CNBC in an interview.
He added: “The IPO is on track. The listing venue will be discussed and shared in due course.”
The Aramco IPO is being seen as a touchstone for wider financial reforms that is drawing interest from the world’s biggest money managers — many of them attending the three-day event in Riyadh.
It has spurred interest from several international banks and rating agencies have set up operations in the kingdom in anticipation of a flood of new deals.
One of them is S&P Global Ratings, a credit ratings agency that assesses the creditworthiness of companies and countries seeking to raise debt.
S&P said on Monday it has opened a branch in Riyadh, making it the first international credit rating agency to be fully licensed to operate in Saudi Arabia.
Companies in Saudi Arabia have typically used bank loans to meet their financing needs, but that is expected to change.
“As Saudi Arabia’s capital markets evolve to match the size of the country’s economy, there is a prime potential for greater debt issuance,” said Meshari Al-Khaled, the newly appointed S&P office head in Riyadh.

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