CEOs, investors and policymakers debate how to ‘invest in humanity’ at FII conference in Riyadh

CEOs, investors and policymakers debate how to ‘invest in humanity’ at FII conference in Riyadh
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Updated 26 October 2021

CEOs, investors and policymakers debate how to ‘invest in humanity’ at FII conference in Riyadh

CEOs, investors and policymakers debate how to ‘invest in humanity’ at FII conference in Riyadh
  • Future Investment Initiative summit to identify avenues for contributing in a way that creates both value and impact
  • Annual event provides platform for global leaders, investors and innovators to explore solutions to society’s challenges

RIYADH: At the first Future Investment Initiative (FII) forum in Riyadh in 2017, one of the attending billionaire entrepreneurs urged Saudi Arabia, then just embarking on the Vision 2030 strategy of transformation, to follow the example of Nike and “just do it.”

On Tuesday, at the start of the fifth FII, the Kingdom, and the FII itself, has certainly gone for “it” in a big way.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic and other global issues, in the past five years there has been a big change in the Saudi economic scene, with the pace of the Vision transformation accelerating as social, cultural and economic measures take effect in the Kingdom.




Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the FII conference in a virtual session in the capital Riyadh, on Jan. 28, 2021. (File/AFP)

The FII itself has also undergone a transformation, becoming a permanent institute and a fixture on the international forum scene, though still under the auspices of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s multi-billion-dollar sovereign wealth fund.

At the first FII, as billionaires, entrepreneurs and senior policymakers from around the world made their way to the Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh, and the adjoining King Abdulaziz Conference Center, some smart commentator with an eye for a catch-phrase came up with “Davos in the Desert” to describe the scene.

Despite the annoyance of the World Economic Forum, which organizes the extravaganza in the Swiss mountains, the phrase stuck, and FII has increasingly taken on the trappings of the annual Alpine gathering.

Among the nearly 4,000 attendees were such luminaries as then-IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Larry Fink, chief executive of giant investment group BlackRock, who remains a regular at FII — all inquisitive to learn details of the Vision 2030 strategy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had unveiled the previous year.


The crown prince set the tone for the event, and for subsequent years, with a keynote speech that unveiled the central message of what life would be like in the Saudi Arabia of the Vision 2030 era.

He promised a “return to moderate Islam that is open to all religions,” and to eradicate promoters of extremist thoughts, adding: “We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.”

The show-stealer of that first forum was Masayoshi Son, the chairman and CEO of Japan’s SoftBank. Earlier in the year, Son had unveiled the Vision Fund, the biggest start-up investment enterprise in the world, with a budget of $100 billion — including $45 billion from the PIF — to invest in cutting-edge technology that would transform the world.

Sharing a stage with Sophia the Android, the first robot to be “awarded” Saudi citizenship in a light-hearted ceremony, Son told the audience: “Every industry will be redefined. These computers, they will learn, they will read, they will see by themselves. That’s a scary future but anyway that’s coming,” he said.




‘Sophia the Robot’ of Hanson Robotics reacts during a discussion about Sophia’s multiple intelligences and artificial intelligence (AI) at the RISE Technology Conference in Hong Kong on July 10, 2018. (File/AFP)

The first FII was also notable for two other landmark announcements which have left an enduring mark on the Saudi economy and the global investment scene.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled the master concept of NEOM, the $500 billion city-of-the-future to be built in the northwest of the Kingdom, which has since become the flagship project of the Vision 2030 strategy.

Carbon neutral and sustainable, the new metropolis would be served by an army of robots and driven by state-of-the-art digital technologies and artificial intelligence.

It would also create a new urban hub for innovation and enterprise in an under-populated part of Saudi Arabia. Other mega-projects followed, like the Red Sea development, the Qiddiya resort complex, the AlUla desert oasis with its historic cultural roots, and the Diriyah Gate development on the outskirts of Riyadh.

The second big announcement of that first FII was the unveiling of a financial road map for the PIF, aiming to make it the biggest sovereign wealth fund, with a target of $2 trillion assets under management by 2030.




Saudi CEO of NEOM Nadhmi Al-Nasr speaks during the last day of the FII conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Oct. 25, 2018. (File/AFP)

The PIF was to be the main vehicle for the implementation of the Vision 2030 transformation, and also raise significantly the Kingdom’s profile in the international financial community.

The second FII forum, in October 2018, was overshadowed to some degree by the tragic murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul earlier in the month, which led some top-level executives and media organizations to stay away, but for which regrets and condemnation were expressed by the crown prince from the stage at the opening keynote.

It was difficult for a visitor to see much difference. The attendance figures were as good as the inaugural launch; while some familiar faces were missing from the big set-piece plenary sessions, an army of more junior executives from many of the big banks, financial institutions and other global investors were happily doing deals at the event.

Some $60 billion in deals and Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed in 2018, across a range of sectors including energy, housing, health and technology.

The 2018 event attracted eight heads of state, 20 international ministers and was watched by 2.8 million viewers worldwide.




Delegates attend a debate during the fourth edition of the FII conference at the capital Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel on Jan. 27, 2021. (File/AFP)

By 2019, when Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the PIF governor, declared the FII to be “one of the top three gatherings in the world,” it was business as usual, with an even bigger turnout of around 6,000 at the event and millions more tuning in worldwide from more than 110 countries.

Like most international events of last year, FII 2020 was impacted by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented it from being held in its customary October slot.

Instead, the fourth FII was held virtually in January this year, organized from Riyadh with the help of satellite hubs in New York, Paris, Beijing and Mumbai.

The theme was “The Neo Renaissance,” referring to the rebirth of global economic life after the shock of the pandemic the previous year. The event also developed what was to be an enduring theme, and a prominent element of the fifth event starting today in Riyadh: The importance of ESG — environmental, social and governance — standards in global finance.

In the five years since the first “Davos in the Desert,” much has changed. The FII itself is now a non-profit organization run by the PIF under Chief Executive Richard Attias, who is a prominent figure at the annual events.




Mask-clad participants stand next to a sign annoucning the next panel during the fourth edition of the FII conference at the capital Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel on Jan. 27, 2021. (File/AFP)

Its one-item agenda consists of “Impact on humanity.” Meanwhile, the Saudi economy has developed and progressed with the FII.

It has emerged from the shock of the pandemic last year, and, in particular, Saudi Arabia has helped steer global energy markets through their most severe crisis for many years through its leadership, along with Russia, of the OPEC+ organization.

All the economic indicators in the Kingdom are heading in the right direction, with GDP this year forecast to show a strong recovery from the doldrums of the pandemic recession.

Higher oil prices will make a big contribution to stronger government revenues, which can also be used to finance the ongoing Vision 2030. Non-oil growth is also expected to rise sharply.

Despite the challenges of the past two years, the FII has become an integral part of the global investment scene and the international forums circuit.

The FII has “just done it,” and will do it again in Riyadh starting on Tuesday.


Tesla officially moves headquarters from California to Texas

Tesla officially moves headquarters from California to Texas
Image: Shutterstock
Updated 5 sec ago

Tesla officially moves headquarters from California to Texas

Tesla officially moves headquarters from California to Texas
  • In US regulatory filings at the end of last year, Tesla said it had about 71,000 employees worldwide

Tesla says it has officially moved its corporate headquarters from Silicon Valley to a large factory under construction outside of Austin, Texas.


The company made the announcement late Wednesday in a filing with US securities regulators.

CEO Elon Musk had said at the company's annual meeting in October that the move was coming.


The filing said the relocation from Palo Alto, California, to what Tesla calls a “Gigafactory” on Harold Green Road near Austin was done on Wednesday.


In US regulatory filings at the end of last year, Tesla said it had about 71,000 employees worldwide.

Company news releases in 2020 said about 10,000 work at the Palo Alto headquarters and 10,000 are employed at its factory in Fremont, California.


It wasn't clear if all of the headquarters employees would be required to move.

A message was left Wednesday seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations department.


Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said in October that he expects some of the 10,000 employees in Palo Alto won’t want to leave the Bay Area, but says a large number will, due to Austin’s lower cost of living.

He said he thinks Tesla will give many the option of staying, but expects 40 percent to 50 percent to make the move.


“The tax incentives down the road, we believe, will be massive when you compare taxes versus California,” Ives said. “Getting employees is much cheaper and easier in Texas.”


CEO Elon Musk hinted at making a move ever since a spat with Alameda County, California, health officials over reopening the factory in Fremont last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.


Musk has said that he has moved his residence from California to Texas, where there is no state personal income tax.


Facebook parent company Meta makes it easier to run cryptocurrency ads

Facebook parent company Meta makes it easier to run cryptocurrency ads
Updated 23 min 4 sec ago

Facebook parent company Meta makes it easier to run cryptocurrency ads

Facebook parent company Meta makes it easier to run cryptocurrency ads

RIYADH: Meta, formerly known as Facebook, has updated the criteria for running ads about cryptocurrency on its platform, according to Bloomberg.

The tech giant announced on Wednesday its decision to reverse a long-standing policy that prevented most cryptocurrency companies from running ads on its services.

The move came after Meta’s marquee crypto-related effort had been downsized.

Previously, many marketers who wanted to promote cryptocurrency or related businesses had to submit an application detailing any licenses they have obtained and whether they are traded on a public stock exchange, among other information. 

Now, the company will make it easier to run ads about cryptocurrency by expanding the number of regulatory licenses that it accepts, which will allow more retail investors to access cryptocurrencies than ever before.

Meta will still require prior written approval for crypto exchanges and trading platforms, crypto wallets and mining-related hardware and software companies.

“Cryptocurrency continues to be an evolving space and we may refine these rules over time as the industry changes,” the company said in a blog post.


Omicron is an opportunity for investors: JPMorgan

Omicron is an opportunity for investors: JPMorgan
Image: Shutterstock
Updated 29 min 50 sec ago

Omicron is an opportunity for investors: JPMorgan

Omicron is an opportunity for investors: JPMorgan
  • “We view the recent selloff in these segments as an opportunity to buy the dip in cyclical”

Turmoil in global equity markets due to the new omicron variant could be an opportunity for investors to rebuild positions, JPMorgan has said. 

 According to Bloomberg, the American investment bank suggested the latest evolution of the COVID-19 virus might ultimately be a positive for risk markets because it could signal that the end of the pandemic is in sight.

“Omicron could be a catalyst for steepening (not flattening) the yield curve, rotation from growth to value, selloff in Covid and lockdown beneficiaries and rally in reopening themes,” Bloomberg reported, citing strategists.

“We view the recent selloff in these segments as an opportunity to buy the dip in cyclical, commodities, and reopening themes, and to position for higher bond yields and steepening,” they added.

Earlier this year, Kolanovic, JPMorgan’s chief global markets strategist, has advocated reopening trades and defended value stocks as the pandemic has evolved, also claiming that markets overreacted to the threat of the delta variant, Bloomberg reported.


Saudi Aramco and Raed invests $5.5m in emerging fintech startup Lamaa

Saudi Aramco and Raed invests $5.5m in emerging fintech startup Lamaa
Updated 41 min 54 sec ago

Saudi Aramco and Raed invests $5.5m in emerging fintech startup Lamaa

Saudi Aramco and Raed invests $5.5m in emerging fintech startup Lamaa

RIYADH: Riyadh-based fintech startup Lamaa has secured a $5.5m investment from Saudi Aramco’s entrepreneurship arm Wa’ed and Raed Ventures.

The deal represents one of the largest seed funding rounds in Saudi Arabia.

Lamaa provides financing solutions, such as supply chain finance and Buy Now Pay Later schemes, for small and medium enterprises.

Wa'ed and Raed's investment will assist Lamaa in developing its Trade Receivables Discounting System platform, which will enable factoring across thousands of suppliers at the same time.

Lamaa was established in early 2021 by Sumeet Khutale, who relocated from London to Riyadh after working with global firms such as Barclays Capital and JP Morgan.

“Since our initial launch in March 2021, Lamaa has grown dramatically, with over 100 corporate clients in the pipeline and a projection of over $1 billion dollars’ worth of invoices to be soon launched in its marketplace,” said Khutale.

He added: “In addition to supply chain finance, we will soon start offering B2B Buy Now Pay Later plans, which would be the first offering of its kind in the region. We also plan to expand our company into Egypt, UAE and Qatar in the next few months.”

Fahad Alidi, the managing director at Wa’ed, praised Lamaa’s “impressive growth” since it was established, and said: “Lamaa presents the type of entrepreneurial business that not only empowers its own team and start-up sector, but can also promote a stronger foundation for other emerging local SMEs who use the platform for financing solutions.

“We’re proud to support Lamaa’s founding team as they continue to break new grounds in the local fintech space.”


Grab’s $40bn Nasdaq debut to set tone for Southeast Asian tech listings

Grab’s $40bn Nasdaq debut to set tone for Southeast Asian tech listings
Image: Shutterstock
Updated 02 December 2021

Grab’s $40bn Nasdaq debut to set tone for Southeast Asian tech listings

Grab’s $40bn Nasdaq debut to set tone for Southeast Asian tech listings
  • Grab’s listing brings a payday bonanza to early backers such as Japan’s SoftBank and Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing

Grab, Southeast Asia’s biggest ride-hailing and delivery firm, makes its market debut on Thursday after a record $40 billion merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), in a listing that will set the tone for other regional offerings.


The backdoor listing on Nasdaq marks the high point for the nine-year-old Singapore company that began as a ride-hailing app and now operates across 465 cities in eight countries, offering food deliveries, payments, insurance and investment products.


The biggest US listing by a Southeast Asian company follows Grab’s April agreement to merge with US tech investor Altimeter Capital Management’s SPAC, Altimeter Growth Corp. and raise $4.5 billion, including $750 million from Altimeter.


There is scope for many players in the fragmented food delivery and financial services markets in Southeast Asia, a region of 650 million people, but the road to profitability could be a long one, analysts say.


Grab’s flotation “will provide a bigger cash buffer” to its “cash burn,” S&P Global Ratings said in a note. But the company’s “credit quality continues to be constrained by its loss-making operations, and free operating cash flows could be negative over the next 12 months.”


Southeast Asia’s Internet economy is forecast to double to $360 billion in gross merchandise value by 2025, prompting Grab’s rivals, including regional Internet firm Sea Ltd. and Indonesia’s GoTo Group, to bulk up.


GoTo plans a local IPO in 2022 after completing an expected $2 billion private fundraising, sources have told Reuters. A US listing will follow the Jakarta offering.


“Longer term, we’re really excited about Grab Financial Group,” a unit of the company, said Chris Conforti, partner at Altimeter Capital. “I think the bell curve on that is much wider in terms of what the outcome could be, but it could be extremely large.”

Grab was founded by Anthony Tan, its chief executive, and Tan Hooi Ling, who developed the firm from an idea for a Harvard Business School venture competition in 2011. The two Tans are not related.


CEO Tan, 39, expanded Grab into a regional operation with a range of services, after launching it as a taxi app in Malaysia in 2012.

It later moved its headquarters to Singapore.


“What we have shown to the world is that home grown tech companies can develop great technology that can compete globally, even when international players are in town,” Tan told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. “We can compete and win.”


He will end up with 60.4 percent voting rights along with Grab’s co-founder, and president Ming Maa, but control only 3.3 percent stake with them.


To mark the New York listing, Grab and Nasdaq will hold a bell-ringing in a luxury hotel in Singapore in the middle of the Asian night. About 250 people, including executives from the exchange, Grab’s investors and other partners are to attend.


Grab’s listing brings a payday bonanza to early backers such as Japan’s SoftBank and Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing, which invested as early as 2014.


They were later joined by the likes of Toyota Motor Corp. , Microsoft Corp. and Japanese megabank MUFG .

Uber became a Grab shareholder in 2018 after selling its Southeast Asian business to Grab following a five-year battle.


In September, Grab cut its full-year adjusted net sales forecasts, citing renewed uncertainty over pandemic curbs on movement.


Third-quarter revenue fell 9 percent from a year earlier and its adjusted loss before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) widened 66 percent to $212 million.

GMV in the quarter rose to a record $4 billion.


It aims to turn profitable on an EBITDA basis in 2023.


JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley were the lead placement agents on the fundraising, while Evercore and UBS were the co-placement agents.