INTERVIEW: ‘Aramco IPO is going to change markets in the region,’ says strategist Yazan Abdeen

INTERVIEW: ‘Aramco IPO is going to change markets in the region,’ says strategist Yazan Abdeen
Illustration by Luis Grañena
Updated 16 September 2019

INTERVIEW: ‘Aramco IPO is going to change markets in the region,’ says strategist Yazan Abdeen

INTERVIEW: ‘Aramco IPO is going to change markets in the region,’ says strategist Yazan Abdeen
  • Yazan Abdeen, CEO of AD Investment Management, part of Invest AD, tells how the share sale will change the perception of MENA markets

Seasoned regional investor Yazan Abdeen has developed a simple formula for successful investing in the Arabian Gulf: “Buy when people cry. Sell when they yell.”

His maxim implies that investors should appreciate the buying opportunities in falling markets, as well as the chances of realizing a healthy profit in periods of market enthusiasm. It has served him well in a career of nearly two decades in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Abdeen is chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi Investment Management, managing a portfolio on behalf of InvestAD, one of the UAE’s big investment vehicles owned ultimately by the giant Mubadala. It is, he said, a specialist asset management firm that invests in Middle East and North Africa equities, with a basic strategy of maximizing return while managing risk.

That position gives him a good vantage point from which to survey financial business in the Gulf, and especially in Saudi Arabia, where he worked for several years with SEDCO, the Jeddah-based investment group, and in Riyadh, where he spent much of his youth.

Abdeen’s take on the current state of the Kingdom, as it gears up for the initial public offering of Saudi Aramco — the biggest event in its investment history — is illuminating. Some critics bemoan the relative lack of progress toward the Vision 2030 goals, but he believes analysts should distinguish between the long-term nature of the Vision strategy and the short-term changes that have already been accomplished.

“The National Transformation Program of 2015-16 has definitely created a shock effect in the economy. The previous standard of corporates living through government subsidy been completely changed. 

BIO

BORN:

• 1981, Jordanian citizen

EDUCATION:

• American University of Beirut, BA applied science

• London Business School, MBAs in business administration and business, finance and economics

CAREER:

• Analyst, Capital Trust

• Investment manager, Damac Holding

• VP Asset management, Noor Holding

• Asset manager, Union Properties

• Fund manager, ING Investment Management

• Head of MENA Capital Markets, SEDCO

• Head of Capital Markets, Scope Investments

• CEO and Portfolio Manager, AD Investment Management

“The major changes were seen in the contracting sector, where the main contractors were living off government spending. They would simply put a 5 percent margin on top of the government cost of a project and live off that. This situation has changed drastically. It’s also been felt in the petrochemical sector where subsidies on feedstocks have been reduced or removed,” he said.

Consumers have also felt the effect. Petrol prices have risen, as have utilities bills, as government subventions have been stopped. “I could tell the difference in the electricity bills straightaway when I moved back to Saudi Arabia after some years in Dubai,” he said.

Growth rates in the non-oil sector have slowed as a result of the cuts in government subsidies, but Abdeen believes the short-term pain will be worth it. “It was a systemic shock, but a necessary one for Saudi Arabia to refine the operational viability of the private sector,” he said.

The policy of Saudization has also had a radical effect. “One third of the population was foreign labor, and this has also been changed, creating certain stress points in the economy. The securities that have been most affected are consumer discretionary ones, retail for example, but there are companies that have changed their business modes drastically and growth market share and today are running a profitability level significantly higher than they were in 2015.”

He highlighted the electronics retail group Extra as an example of a Saudi company nimble enough to take advantages of the changes.

Abdeen agreed that the privatization program — which was estimated at one point to bring $200 billion of assets to markets and attract foreign investment through public-private partnerships and other transactions — has been slow to get off the ground, but he pointed to the sale of shares in the bank NCB as an example of a successful Saudi IPO.

He said there was still a lot of pent-up interest in the assets being prepared for sale by the National Privatization Center, and that Tadawul had needed the time to make preparation for more share sales and achieve inclusion into the MSCI index, which has been done.

He sees big opportunities in the tech sector in Saudi Arabia, with its large youthful demographic and high Internet penetration, and also pointed to the big profits Saudi investors made on the $3.1 billion sale of Careem to Uber as positive factors in the Kingdom’s investment scene: “You could argue that Careem was a Saudi company, and it is also the largest market in the region for Careem’s business.” 

In some ways, you might see the Saudi market changes and limited privatization steps so far as preparation for “the big one” — the forthcoming IPO of Saudi Aramco, confirmed to take place on Tadawul, perhaps as a prelude to a global offering, very soon. How does Abdeen view the Aramco IPO?

“I think that Aramco is going to change the platform not just for markets but also for us as asset managers in this part of the world. The weighting of Saudi Arabia in the global indices like MSCI and S&P is between 2 and 3 percent, but with the inclusion of Aramco you are talking about a significant increase, depending on the valuation,” he said.

Because Saudi markets comprise about 60 percent of the value of all regional markets, the Aramco IPO would significantly raise the profile of the Middle East in the emerging markets, he said.

“There is also the nature of Aramco itself. It is not only the most profitable company in the world, it is also the biggest single company producing crude oil. So it will have an impact both on emerging markets and on global markets,” he said.

“Whether you are a Middle East investor, or an emerging markets investor, or indeed a global investor, it is a subject you just cannot ignore. It is important for us as Middle East investors to be part of that offering,” he said.

“The rhetoric hasn’t changed since the beginning, that there will be a Tadawul listing of Aramco, and that is only natural. It needs to be offered locally, but with the Saudi market opening, it means that regional investors like us, and even global investors, will be able to invest in it in Saudi.

“After that, most of the exchanges in the world would like to have a company like Aramco listed on their exchange, but valuation and liquidity will be decisive factors in deciding where else in the world it will list. It needs to be in a global hub of capital, and the big ones around the world are well known — in New York, or London or Tokyo for that matter,” he added.

Although events in Saudi Arabia and at Aramco are taking center stage in most regional asset managers’ minds, Abdeen is still focused on the UAE, where a large proportion of his resources are committed.

He said that the biggest factors determining investor sentiment in the Emirates are commodity prices, interest rates, the real estate market and the health of the banking sector, all viewed against the backdrop of global financial, economic and geo-political pressures.

“The experts say there is a 100 percent probability that the Fed will cut rates in September, and there are two more possibilities to cut in the rest of the year,” he said. Meanwhile, he is conscious of the effect on regional investment prospects of the fallout from trade war between China and the US.

In the UAE, he believes there are challenges in the real estate, retail and some consumer sectors, but he still sees significant investment opportunities elsewhere — in the rapidly consolidating banking sector, as well as certain industrials and logistics equities.

In Dubai, he said that “hope is a stronger emotion that fear” as the emirate gears up for the Expo 2020 extravaganza next year. “The incremental capital spending to host the Expo make for good opportunities, and will drive the corporate sector. The millions of visitors who will come are going to create capital flows that will make for good opportunities. Maybe now is the time to bite the bullet on Dubai investment. It’s certainly not a time to be throwing in the towel.

“It all depends on your appetite for risk. For example, immediately after the global financial crisis you could buy Emaar shares for less than the price they eventually sold just their malls business for; equally, in Saudi Arabia in 2016 the big banks were just too cheap. The big test is, if I buy now and hold the stock for five years, whether I will still be happy,” he said.


New center to lead Saudi role in ‘4th industrial revolution’, economic minister says

New center to lead Saudi role in ‘4th industrial revolution’, economic minister says
Updated 29 July 2021

New center to lead Saudi role in ‘4th industrial revolution’, economic minister says

New center to lead Saudi role in ‘4th industrial revolution’, economic minister says
  • The Saudi minister said the new center will contribute to global discussions on the use of 4IR technology, such as 5G and artificial intelligence

DUBAI: The Saudi Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will lead the Kingdom’s role in utilizing advanced technologies and their local and global implications, Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal bin Fadel Al-Ibrahim said.

The Saudi minister said the new center will contribute to global discussions on the use of 4IR technology, such as 5G and artificial intelligence, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has introduced new challengers to countries.

“COVID-19 intensified the need for data and evidence-based iterative policymaking supported by technology-driven and innovation-based solutions,” he said at the first Saudi 4IR forum held in Riyadh.

The Kingdom has become a global role model in deploying digital technology at peak of the health crisis, Al-Ibrahim said, enumerating Saudi efforts to manage the pandemic.

Saudi Arabia ranks 4th in the world in 5G connectivity, he added, and a robust digital infrastructure helped the Kingdom overcome challenges in the education and finance sectors.

Over 850 thousand daily classes were executed for over 6 million students in 2020, and around 2.8 billion digital payment transactions were made.

“This demonstrates Saudi`s leadership in having the most modern digital platform and world class capabilities to design local and global solutions at the technological frontier,” the minister said.

A recent report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said the technology market could reach the value of 3.2 trillion dollars in 2025, increasing by almost 10 times from 2018 figures.

Al-Ibrahim said the Saudi economy could benefit from this by capturing a slice of the industry over the next five years.

The Kingdom is already in a good position, he explained, saying it “has its work cut out for it to move up the Global Innovation Index rankings where we plan to be among the leading pack of our G20 peers.”

“We are passionate about the objectives and vision of the Center, and look forward to working closely with its team in bringing the public and private sectors as well as the science and technology community together,” he added.


Brent crude back above $75 on US inventory draw, positive Fed outlook

Brent crude back above $75 on US inventory draw, positive Fed outlook
Updated 29 July 2021

Brent crude back above $75 on US inventory draw, positive Fed outlook

Brent crude back above $75 on US inventory draw, positive Fed outlook
  • US report showing falling oil supplies boosts market
  • Oil majors Royal Dutch Shell, Repsol post higher profits on oil gain

LONDON: Oil gained for a second day on Thursday as traders remained buoyed by yesterday’s data showing a bigger-than-expected drop in US inventories, while the Federal Reserve painted an optimistic picture of the American economy.

Brent crude gained 0.7 percent to $75.23 a barrel at 2:44 p.m. in London, set to close above the $75 mark for the first time in two weeks. US Benchmark WTI also added 0.7 percent, to $72.87.

Brent, the global benchmark, passed $75 a barrel in June for the first time in more than two years but has fallen below $69 on July 17 on concerns over the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant and an OPEC+ deal to increase production over the coming months.

Crude in storage fell to the lowest since January 2020, while distillate supplies posted the biggest decline since April, the US Energy Information Agency said in its weekly report on Wednesday. Fuel inventories fell by more than 2 million barrels.

The US economy is continuing to recover even as COVID-19 infections increase, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday, sparking speculation as to when it will begin to taper its bond purchase program.

In a separate report from the US Commerce Department today, the economy was shown to have grown at a 6.5 percent annual pace in the second quarter, below the 8.5 percent predicted in a Reuters poll of economists, but still enough to bring the economy back to its pre-pandemic size.

“The (oil inventory) falls suggest the rise in cases of COVID-19’s Delta variant is having little impact on mobility,” ANZ analysts said in a note on Thursday.

Oil prices also benefited from a statement from Iran blaming the US for stalled progress in talks over its nuclear ambitions, potentially delaying the return of Persian crude to world markets.

Global oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell and Spain’s Repsol reported blockbuster earnings today as higher oil prices boosted returns.

Shell boosted its dividend and launched a $2 billion share buyback program on Thursday as it reported the highest second quarter profits in more than two years.

Shell Chief Financial Officer Jessica Uhl said that global fuel demand was at 90 percent to 100 percent of its pre-pandemic levels, but consumption of aviation fuel remained weak.


Spanish energy giant Repsol booked a net profit of 587 million euros ($700 million) foer the second quarter, compared to a loss of 1.9 billion euros in the same period last year.

“Demand has also increased, thanks in large part to vaccination rollout,” it said.

Repsol said revenues at its petrol stations in Spain jumped by 63 percent in the second quarter when compared to the same period last year as travel picked up following the easing of lockdowns.


Cruise Saudi, MSC Group sign new five-year agreement at Jeddah port

Cruise Saudi, MSC Group sign new five-year agreement at Jeddah port
Updated 29 July 2021

Cruise Saudi, MSC Group sign new five-year agreement at Jeddah port

Cruise Saudi, MSC Group sign new five-year agreement at Jeddah port
  • MSC Bellissima will offer cruises to Safaga for Luxor, Egypt and Aqaba for Petra, Jordan

JEDDAH: Geneva-headquartered MSC Cruises announced on Thursday it had signed a five-year agreement with Cruise Saudi for preferential berthing rights at the port of Jeddah.

The announcement was made aboard the company’s liner MSC Bellissima at a celebration to mark the opening of Jeddah’s new passenger terminal. The ship will sail 21 voyages around the Red Sea starting from July until late October.

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises, said in a press statement: “This is a very special, historic day for all of us. The largest and most modern ship to operate in the Red Sea has set sail from Jeddah’s new terminal to mark a new beginning for cruising in Saudi Arabia and, more broadly, for its growing tourism industry.”

The MSC Bellissima, which came into service in 2019, will offer three-to-four-night cruises to Safaga for Luxor, Egypt and Aqaba for Petra, Jordan, before returning to the Saudi homeport in Jeddah.

The ship is equipped with a 975-seat main theater, an aquapark, a bowling alley, an F1 simulator, a kids club, a cinema and a shopping gallery with more than 200 brands.

The Public Investment Fund launched Cruise Saudi in January of this year to develop a cruise industry in the Kingdom. Mark Robinson, chief operations and commercial officer, Cruise Saudi, said in a statement on Thursday: “The creation of Cruise Saudi, tasked with launching the cruise industry in Saudi Arabia, happened just six months ago at [the Future Investment Initiative] in Riyadh."

"The remit of Cruise Saudi — to create 50,000 jobs by 2025, to facilitate the building of an additional five ports, with Jeddah as a homeport, and to welcome 1.5 million annual passenger visits by 2028 — is an ambitious one, which will play a major part in strengthening the tourism industry in Saudi Arabia,” said Robinson.


Mubadala invests $250m in US biosimulation company

Mubadala invests $250m in US biosimulation company
Updated 29 July 2021

Mubadala invests $250m in US biosimulation company

Mubadala invests $250m in US biosimulation company
  • Transaction to close on August 2
  • Mubadala is building a growing life sciences portfolio

RIYADH: Abu Dhabi sovereign investment fund Mubadala has made a $250 million investment in US biosimulation company Certara, WAM reported.

Certara uses biosimulation to and technology-enabled services to accelerate drug discovery and development. The investment aligns with Mubadala’s strategy of enabling innovation to address unmet clinical needs and drive cost efficiencies.

Mubadala and existing institutional shareholders of Certara, including a stakeholder affiliated with alternative investment company EQT, have signed an agreement through which a Mubadala affiliate will buy more than 9.61 million shares in Certara at $26 per share from the shareholders in a private transaction scheduled to close on August 2.

“We are pleased to welcome a significant new investment from Mubadala, a sovereign investor with deep expertise in life sciences that is focused on creating lasting value,” said William F. Feehery, CEO of Certara.

EQT will remain a significant shareholder in the company after the transaction.

Mubadala invested almost $500 million in European veterinary giant IVC Evidensia in nearly in May. It has an asset base of 894 billion Emirati dirhams ($243.4 billion).


Jared Kushner investment firm to open Middle East office — Reuters

Jared Kushner investment firm to open Middle East office — Reuters
Updated 29 July 2021

Jared Kushner investment firm to open Middle East office — Reuters

Jared Kushner investment firm to open Middle East office — Reuters
  • Kushner plans to open an investment office in the coming months, sources familiar with the plan said
  • Israel office will attempt to build ties with India, Gulf, North Africa
WASHINGTON: Jared Kushner, a top adviser to former President Donald Trump, plans to launch an investment firm in coming months, a move that will take him away from politics for the foreseeable future, sources familiar with the plan said on Wednesday.
Kushner, the former CEO of Kushner Companies, who served as the Republican president’s senior adviser in the White House, is in the final stages of launching an investment firm called Affinity Partners that will be headquartered in Miami.
Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, is also looking to open an office in Israel to pursue regional investments to connect Israel’s economy and India, North Africa and the Gulf, said two people briefed on the plan, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The sources had no details about potential investors and said the firm was still in the planning phase.
Kushner has spent the last six months with his family in Miami writing a book about his White House experiences that is expected to be published early next year.
Kushner helped broker deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in a six-month flurry last year. He also helped negotiate a new US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
Kushner remains close with his father-in-law, the sources said, but by re-entering the private sector he is stepping away from politics for the foreseeable future.
The Republican Party has been divided over the deadly attacks on the US Capitol on Jan. 6 by Trump supporters, and Trump’s false claims that he beat Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
Kushner and his family have been spending the summer as Trump’s next-door neighbor at Trump’s golf property in Bedminster, New Jersey.
People close to the former president say he is strongly considering another run for the Republican nomination in 2024.