SoftBank tipped for $25bn KSA investment in ‘unique’ deal

SoftBank plans to deploy up to $15 billion in the new high-tech city of NEOM. (Reuters)
Updated 16 November 2017
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SoftBank tipped for $25bn KSA investment in ‘unique’ deal

LONDON: SoftBank’s reported plan to invest $25 billion in Saudi Arabia would be a “unique” move, a Riyadh-based economist has said.
The Japanese group, which is headed by Masayoshi Son, plans to invest the funds in Saudi Arabia over the next three to four years, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter.
SoftBank plans to deploy up to $15 billion in the new high-tech city of Neom, with its $100 billion Vision Fund planning an investment of as much as $10 billion in Saudi Electricity, Bloomberg reported.
John Sfakianakis, director of economic research at the Gulf Research Center in Riyadh, said the reported investment would be “unique” as KSA is a co-investor in the Vision Fund.
“Here we have some of the money that Saudi Arabia invested in Vision finding its way back to the donor country, helping the Kingdom to invest in key evolving technologies, and boosting the economy overall,” said Sfakianakis.
The move would be part and parcel of what SoftBank indicated at last month’s Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, added Sfakianakis.
SoftBank representatives made it clear then that they wanted to reinvest money from the Vision Fund into KSA, as the country looks to diversify its economy and reduce its dependence on oil, he said.
At the same time, the Vision Fund’s investment philosophy underlines Son’s belief in a future that he believes will be dominated by robotics and artificial intelligence.
Its investments so far have spanned robotics software start-ups like Brain Corp. and business software maker Slack. SoftBank has also been involved in a plan to buy a fifth of the existing stock of Uber — the company that has disrupted the transportation industry. With plans for Neom to be at the forefront of robotics and AI, the planned $500 billion megacity is an an obvious target for Son and SoftBank, said Sfakianakis.
Besides SoftBank and the Saudi wealth fund, investors in the Vision Fund include the sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi, Apple and Foxconn. The Vision Fund announced in May it had raised over $93 billion from investors to fund ventures in areas such as AI and robotics.
Saudi Arabia previously announced plans to sell a large minority stake in Saudi Electricity to the Vision Fund but the figures have not been made public.
SoftBank did not respond to a request for comment on the Bloomberg report. Representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the investor in the Vision Fund, did not provide a comment.


Hajj season boosts Middle East hotel demand in August

Updated 24 September 2018
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Hajj season boosts Middle East hotel demand in August

  • Occupancy rates — a measure of the proportion of available rooms sold — in the region jumped to 63.4 percent from 62.1 percent
  • The average daily room rate — another key industry metric — increased 12.2 percent to reach close to $170 per night

LONDON: Demand for hotel rooms across the Middle East leapt last month providing welcome relief for an industry that has been grappling with an oversupply of hotel accommodation, new data showed.
Occupancy rates — a measure of the proportion of available rooms sold — in the region jumped to 63.4 percent from 62.1 percent, according to data provider STR’s research published on Sept. 24.
The average daily room rate — another key industry metric — increased 12.2 percent to reach close to $170 per night, while revenue per available room (RevPar) increased by 14.5 percent to reach $107.50.
The region’s hotel sector has been under pressure due partly to the impact of low oil prices and geopolitical risks, resulting in a slump in room revenue and occupancy as supply exceeded demand.
“It is true in the broader sense that we have been seeing a softening of market-wide RevPar levels in the hospitality sector across most major cities within the GCC countries,” said Ali Manzoor, partner, hospitality and leisure at property consultancy firm Knight Frank.
Analysts have blamed the year-on-year uptick in August on the earlier Hajj season and Eid Al-Adha holiday, rather than indicative of a change in outlook for the sector.
“The spike in occupancy levels in August was largely attributable to differences between the Gregorian and Hijri calendars,” Manzoor said.
This year, the pilgrimage period took place in August, helping to boost the industry’s performance that month. “It is therefore reasonable to expect hotels to underperform in the month of September in relation to last year,” he said.
Looking at data for the year-to-date, the UAE retains the highest occupancy rate in the Gulf region at 72.2 percent, though this represents a slight decline of 0.8 percent compared to the same time period last year, according to STR data.
Saudi Arabia’s occupancy levels stood at 58.1 percent year-to-date, marginally up by 0.2 percent on last year.