Prince Alwaleed reveals planned new investments in Saudi Arabia

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s detention sent shockwaves through boardrooms around the world. (Reuters)
Updated 21 March 2018

Prince Alwaleed reveals planned new investments in Saudi Arabia

LONDON: Billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has revealed plans for a string of new investments in his first interview since being detained at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.
Speaking exclusively to Bloomberg Television, he said that life was now “back to normal” as he gave an intriguing inside account of his detention as part of the Saudi government’s high profile anti-corruption drive.
The Kingdom Holding chief was one of the most high-profile figures to be detained at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel as part of a widespread anti-corruption drive.
In a television interview with Bloomberg, a fast-talking Alwaleed said: “I am for the anti-corruption that took place in Saudi Arabia. Now, unfortunately, I was added to that group. But fortunately, I’m out of it right now and life is back to normal.”
The prince, once dubbed the Warren Buffett of Saudi Arabia, was released from the Ritz-Carlton hotel in early January.
He was among about 350 suspects rounded up since Nov. 4, including some of the Kingdom’s most senior businessmen. As a major investor in several global corporations, his detention sent shockwaves through boardrooms around the world.
Now, after being released, he wants to reassure investors of continuity across his sprawling business empire. “I need to clear my name,” he said. “And to clear up a lot of lies.”
Specifically, Alwaleed rejected claims that he was tortured, detained in a prison and was forced to abandon work on the world’s tallest tower under construction in Jeddah, and instead transfer workers to the recently announced Neom mega-project instead.
To reinforce that point, he held up a letter that he said was from Saudi Binladin Group, the main contractor on the 1,000-meter tower.
He said: “It says the following: ‘Saudi Binladin Group would like to assure Jeddah Economic Company that it remains committed to the completion of the Jeddah project.”
Alwaleed said that no charges had been brought against him and described his detention as a “misunderstanding.”
Asked if it cost him anything to leave, he said: “I will not comment on the content of the agreement between me and the government.”
The prince also revealed how he spent his time at the now world-famous Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh.
“I really divide my time into a lot of sports, a lot of walking, a lot of meditation, a lot of watching news, a lot of praying.”
The vegan prince said that while he would usually have two meals a day, when he was at the hotel he would instead have six small meals.
But while the interview painted a fascinating picture of his time at the Ritz-Carlton, the precise details of his agreement with the Saudi government were not disclosed.
Still, Alwaleed did reveal that plans were under consideration to spin off some his company’s property holdings in Saudi Arabia into a separate entity which could be a real estate investment trust (REIT).
He said that his company had invested more than $3 billion in Saudi Arabia last year and that Kingdom Holding planned to raise between $1 billion and $2 billion of new debt.
Alwaleed also revealed plans to co-invest with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
“Yes, this will happen. We are in discussion right now with PIF, so we co-invest in certain projects, yes,” he said.
Alwaleed’s interview comes just days after another Ritz-Carlton detainee, Waleed Al-Ibrahim, also outlined new business plans following his release.
The MBC chairman described plans for a new joint venture with the government in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.


HSBC profit slump adds to bank sector coronavirus woes

Updated 04 August 2020

HSBC profit slump adds to bank sector coronavirus woes

  • London-based bank reports massive slump in net profit, plans to slash 35,000 jobs

LONDON: HSBC on Monday reported a 69-percent slump in net profit, joining a number of major banks whose earnings have been slammed by the coronavirus fallout.

HSBC announced earnings of $3.1 billion compared with almost $10 billion in the first 6 months of 2019, as spiraling China-US tensions also hurt the British-based but Asia-focused lender.

Alongside HSBC results, top French bank Societe Generale on Monday announced a second quarter loss of more than €1 billion as the pandemic forced it to set aside more provisions against bad loans. UK banks Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest all last week reported huge financial hits linked to the pandemic’s fallout.

But there have been some bright spots, with French bank BNP Paribas weathering the coronavirus storm in the second quarter with only a small dip in net profits thanks to a surge in investment banking.

Credit Suisse meanwhile saw net profit jump almost a quarter in the April-June period, also on investment banking gains.

HIGHLIGHT

$1 BILLION - Alongside HSBC results, top French bank Societe Generale on Monday announced a second-quarter loss of more than €1 billion as the pandemic forced it to set aside more provisions against bad loans.

“HSBC has done little to lift investors’ spirits as it brings the curtain down on what has been a costly half-year reporting season for banks in general,” noted Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor.

Even though banks “are much better prepared for this economic onslaught than during the financial crisis of over a decade ago ... the immediate outlook is bleak,” he added.

HSBC said that its pre-tax profit slid 64 percent to $4.3 billion in the first half while revenue was down 9 percent at $26.7 billion.

The figures missed analyst forecasts and the bank also raised its estimate for 2020 loan losses to $13 billion from $8 billion.

CEO Noel Quinn described the first 6 months of the year as “some of the most challenging in living memory.” He added: “Our first-half performance was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, falling interest rates, increased geopolitical risk and heightened levels of market volatility.”

Even by the standards of the current economic maelstrom engulfing global banks, HSBC has had a torrid time.

Before the coronavirus crisis it was beset by disappointing profit growth, ground down by US-China trade war uncertainties and Britain’s departure from the European Union.

The London-headquartered bank embarked on a huge cost-cutting initiative at the start of the year, including plans to slash about 35,000 jobs as well as trimming fat from less profitable divisions, primarily in the United States and Europe.

The coronavirus upended some of that cost-cutting drive with banks hammered by market volatility and the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.

But HSBC has a further headache — geopolitical tensions via its status as a major business conduit between China and the West.

HSBC makes 90 percent of its profit in Asia, with China and Hong Kong being the major drivers of growth.

As a result it has found itself more vulnerable than most to the crossfire caused by the increasingly bellicose relationship between Beijing and Washington.

The bank has tried to stay in Beijing’s good graces. It vocally backed a draconian national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in June to end a year of unrest and pro-democracy protests. The move sparked criticism in Washington and London but analysts saw it as an attempt to protect its access to China, which has a track record of punishing businesses that do not toe Beijing’s line.

But that has not shielded it from Beijing’s wrath. Quinn referenced the bank’s growing political vulnerability in Monday’s results statement.

“Current tensions between China and the US inevitably create challenging situations for an organization with HSBC’s footprint,” he said.

“However, the need for a bank capable of bridging the economies of East and West is acute, and we are well placed to fulfil this role,” he added.