Saudi Arabia passes bond test as investors look past Khashoggi

Saudi Arabia started marketing Wednesday’s bonds at around 40 basis points above its existing curve. (File/AFP)
Updated 10 January 2019
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Saudi Arabia passes bond test as investors look past Khashoggi

  • Seeking to raise $7.5 billion, Riyadh attracted demand that topped $27 billion for the dual-tranche paper maturing in 2029 and 2050
  • Saudi Arabia started marketing Wednesday’s bonds at around 40 basis points above its existing curve

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia drew a strong response on Wednesday in its first test of international bond market sentiment since coming under intense scrutiny in October from foreign governments and investors over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Seeking to raise $7.5 billion, Riyadh attracted demand that topped $27 billion for the dual-tranche paper maturing in 2029 and 2050, according to a document issued by one of the banks leading the deal and seen by Reuters.
The sale coincides with improved conditions across emerging markets, with yields compressing over the past few weeks, and Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, called it “opportunistic.”
A second analyst said the impact of the Khashoggi case was fading.
The ministry of finance confirmed in a statement on Thursday the completion of the $7.5 billion bond sale. “The issuance received significant interest from international investors, with the orderbook peaking at $27.5 billion,” it said.
It was not yet clear where most of the demand for the paper came from.
Hit by slumping oil prices, Saudi Arabia has become one of the biggest issuers across emerging markets, having sold $52 billion in international bonds since its debut in 2016. It plans to boost borrowing this year, along with state spending.
But its stock among investors took a hit after Khashoggi’s killing, for which a definitive explanation has yet to emerge, and as the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen have become clearer.
’Timing is great’
Saudi Arabia started marketing Wednesday’s bonds at around 40 basis points above its existing curve, according to another document — suggesting the kingdom was willing to pay up in order to attract hefty demand.
Spreads were later tightened by 25 basis points on the 2029 tranche, the size of which has been set at $4 billion, and by 20 basis points on the 2050 tranche, set at $3.5 billion.
“Timing-wise this is great, because risky assets are in vogue – 2019 went off like crazy and investors want to put their money to work,” said Philipp Good, chief executive and head of portfolio management at Fisch Asset Management.
Sergey Dergachev, functional head of EM corporate debt and senior portfolio manager at Germany-based Union Investment, said he thought investors had relegated the Khashoggi case to the background, “especially since some significant government reshuffling two weeks ago.”
The sale — arranged by BNP Paribas, Citi, HSBC, JPMorgan and NCB Capital — was also the first this year by a Gulf borrower, and comes as crude prices recover.
“When you issue first or among first in early January it is both good test for market perception for your credit story and investors have cash balances to be put to work,” Dergachev added.
Saudi’s public debt amounted to 560 billion riyals ($149.29 billion) or 19.1 percent of GDP in 2018, and the budget forecasts a rise to 678 billion riyals or 21.7 pct of GDP this year.
The country is rated A1 by Moody’s and A+ by Fitch.


Time to tear down Mideast trade barriers, Davos panel hears

Updated 23 January 2019
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Time to tear down Mideast trade barriers, Davos panel hears

  • Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi minister of economy and planning, said a move to ease movement of traffic across the border could be followed elsewhere
  • Majid Al Futtaim CEO Alain Bejjani: Now there’s this seriousness between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I hope it gets to frictionless trade

DAVOS: Amid global trade wars and the rise of protectionism, Middle East economic and business leaders on Tuesday issued a clarion call for the exact opposite: To ease customs restrictions in the region.
A panel at Davos heard how an agreement between Saudi Arabia and the UAE to boost cooperation — including the reduction of obstacles to trade across the shared border — could be a blueprint for the wider region.
Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, Saudi minister of economy and planning, said a move to ease movement of traffic across the border — partly through the use of technology — could be followed elsewhere. “We want to establish a reference for others to follow,” he said.
Alain Bejjani, CEO of retail and leisure group Majid Al Futtaim, said “frictionless trade” would give the region a boost.
“Now there’s this seriousness between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I hope it gets to frictionless trade,” he told Arab News on the sidelines of the Davos forum.
Bejjani declined to say whether that would involve a customs union, a common market or a common currency. Given the imposition of trade tariffs between the US and China, and the rise of Brexit, globalization — something espoused by many Davos delegates — is seen as on the wane.
But Bejjani said breaking down barriers in the Middle East could help it better compete with Western Europe and the US.
“For the past almost century now… we’ve been ingeniously working on making sure we put barriers across the Arab world. The reality is we have a market that’s as big as most of the largest markets in the world… if we’re smart enough to work together,” he told the Davos panel.
Khalid Al-Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, agreed that Saudi-UAE cooperation was “a great template” for others to follow.
Aside from “opening up” Middle East markets, Al-Rumaihi said harmonizing regulation in the region would also be beneficial to businesses and entrepreneurs.
“If the rules are changing in each country, if they’re not harmonized, it’s very difficult… for an entrepreneur (to understand) the regulatory environment. So they don’t scale very quickly, and that’s something we need to solve,” he said. Talk of freer trade within the Middle East is especially relevant when it comes to the Palestinian territories, which are subject to Israeli occupation and blockade.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said freer movement and a reduction of duties would help the economy grow.
“We need to see our products being waived (of) customs,” he said. “We need mobility — we’re under occupation.”