Open for business: $15bn in deals signed at Saudi investment forum

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at the FII forum in Riyadh. (SPA)
Updated 30 October 2019

Open for business: $15bn in deals signed at Saudi investment forum

  • Foreign firms setting up in Saudi Arabia increase by 30%
  • Aramco IPO announcement ‘expected in days’

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia signed $15 billion in deals on Tuesday on the first day of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) forum in Riyadh.

The number of business licenses granted to foreign investors from July to September was the highest since 2010, said Invest Saudi, the government organization that facilitates and monitors foreign investment; 809 new foreign companies set up in the Kingdom, a 30 percent increase on the same period last year.

The record levels of deal making continued the positive momentum in inward investment, said Ibrahim Al-Omar, governor of SAGIA, the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority. “As Saudi Arabia welcomes investors and decisionmakers from across the globe to this annual global investment platform, the agreements exchanged here today reflect the strength and diversity of the economy,” he said. “Under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is undergoing am ambitious program of economic reform, and the world is taking notice.”

The Kingdom this month rose 30 places to 62nd in the World Bank’s annual league table for ease of doing business, and was the world’s most improved and reforming economy. “The indicators are clear,” Al-Omar said. “Saudi Arabia is not only open for business, it’s the economy of the future.”

Among more than 20 deals signed at the forum were a $700 million investment agreement between SAGIA and Modular Middle East, a prefabricated building company, and a $200 million agreement between SAGIA and Shiloh Minerals through which the British company will develop its production capacity and invest in upstream mining in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Aramco was high on the list of deals by value. Transactions with partners from around the world included a $1 billion deal with Spanish pipeline company Tubacex. There were also deals between Saudi entities and American, Brazilian and Norwegian companies.

Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Kingdom’s Public Investment Authority and chairman of Aramco, launched the third annual forum in front of 6,000 delegates and about 300 global investment chiefs and policymakers.

“This is more than double the first FII,” he told them. “The growth has been incredible. Until now it has been an annual conference, today it is an institution, and it will be a global hub to build relationships.

“Here we don’t see politicians just talking politics, asset managers just talking about assets, philanthropists just talking about society. Here we bring it all together — diversity, cooperation and friendship.”

The forum’s opening day was attended by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Abdullah of Jordan, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and White House special adviser Jared Kushner.

Informal discussions were dominated by speculation about the initial public offering of Saudi Aramco. Sources expect an announcement within days, with share trading on the Saudi exchange, the Tadawul, at the beginning of December.


HSBC reports lighter-than-expected third-quarter profit fall

Updated 27 October 2020

HSBC reports lighter-than-expected third-quarter profit fall

  • HSBC has a further headache – geopolitical tensions via its status as a major business conduit between China and the West

HONG KONG: HSBC said Tuesday its third-quarter post-tax profits fell 46 percent on-year as the Asia-focused banking giant continued to take a hammering from the coronavirus pandemic and spiraling China-US tensions.
However, the profit falls were not as bad as some analysts had predicted and HSBC said it expected credit losses to be at the lower end of a previously announced $8 billion to $13 billion range.
The global economic slowdown caused by the virus has hit financial giants hard and there is limited optimism on the horizon as Europe and the United States head into the winter with infections soaring once more.
HSBC has a further headache — geopolitical tensions via its status as a major business conduit between China and the West.
As a result, the lender is in the midst of a worldwide overhaul, aiming to slash some 35,000 jobs by 2022, primarily in its less profitable European and American divisions.
“We are accelerating the transformation of the Group, moving our focus from interest-rate sensitive business lines toward fee-generating businesses, and further reducing our operating costs,” chief executive Noel Quinn said in a statement accompanying the results.
Reported post-tax profit for the third quarter came in at $2 billion with revenue down 11 percent at $11.9 billion, the statement said.
Adjusted pre-tax profit slid 21 percent to $4.3 billion in the period, beating a $2.8 billion estimate by Bloomberg analysts.
Quinn described the latest figures as “promising results against a backdrop of the continuing impacts of Covid-19 on the global economy” as well as low interest rates.
In the first six months of 2020, HSBC’s post-tax profits were down 69 percent, meaning the third-quarter results were something of an improvement as some major economies relaxed some of their coronavirus restrictions.
The bank said its board would consider whether to pay “a conservative dividend” for 2020 based on final end of year results and how the global economy looks in early 2021.
Earlier this year, UK regulators called on British banks to scrap dividends for the year to preserve capital during the pandemic crisis.
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 tough 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.
“Geopolitical risk, particularly relating to trade and other tensions between the US and China, remains heightened,” HSBC said in Tuesday’s profit statement.
The US has sanctioned nearly a dozen key Hong Kong and Chinese officials over the national security law, telling international banks to stop doing business with them.
China’s national security law, however, forbids businesses in Hong Kong from adhering to foreign sanctions regimes, leaving many in an unclear regulatory tight spot.
“Investor and business sentiment in some sectors in Hong Kong remains dampened and ongoing tensions could result in an increasingly fragmented trade and regulatory environment,” HSBC said in its statement.
The bank also highlighted the uncertainty over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union as another potential headwind.
Talks for a post-Brexit trade deal have made little headway with a 31 December deadline fast approaching.
“There is a risk of additional ECL (expected credit losses) charges, particularly in the UK in 4Q20, if the UK and the EU fail to reach a trade agreement,” the bank said.