Saudi stocks struggled to stay positive on the MSCI frontier index, where they remain after graduation refusal both there and by rival FTSE, as officials zigzagged on Aramco offering plans and other Vision 2030 elements during the annual Bretton Woods institutions’ gathering and so-called “desert Davos” at a 2-day global investor event in Riyadh. Hundreds of portfolio managers converged on the latter in the hope of securing mandates and insight into the strategy of the $200 billion Public Investment Fund, which plans to double its assets over the medium term through leveraging state enterprise stakes and startup and acquisition deals at home and abroad. It is an anchor in the $100 billion Softbank technology vehicle, the world’s largest, and also revealed ambitions for a $500 billion next decade new commercial and residential zone along the Red Sea called Noem. At the appearances oil diversification was the mantra even with price rebound above $50/barrel and geopolitics was downplayed as a boycott continues against Qatar for allegedly supporting terrorism and Iran, and Yemen civil war intervention results in tens of thousands of deaths from air bombardment and disease and famine. The rejiggering of National Transformation Program deliverables and timetables prepared with assistance from international management consultants was presented as more realistic, despite simultaneous fiscal discipline slippage with the reinstatement of civil servant allowances. The Aramco IPO timetable was extended from next year into 2019, and a local listing now seems preferred over meeting the disclosure and liquidity standards in Asia, Europe and North America after exchanges there plumbed for the business. A private placement cannot be ruled out either to a strategic or financial buyer, with Chinese firms a natural fit under the infrastructure-led Belt and Road initiative. The head of the Capital Markets Authority touted interest in qualified foreign investor and new banking licenses, with respectively 100 applications in for limited stock exchange access and Citibank recently awarded full approval. International activity is only 2 % of the total, but another entry round for smaller institutions is foreseen as development of a second-tier equity market slowly evolves alongside the main Tadawul index. He tried to reassure audiences that the dollar peg will remain indefinitely, while acknowledging interruption in Gulf Cooperation Council banking and monetary union the past decade further stymied by the Qatar split.
Since the Saudi cutoff joined by Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt stocks there plunged double-digits on the MSCI index and the government has drawn on an estimated one-tenth of its $350 billion reserves including the sovereign wealth pool to sustain trade and banking. Cross-border commerce with Iran is up 50 percent in a perverse effect from criticizing previous relations, and Dubai as the regional offshore center has also suffered from suspended contracts and capital and credit flows. Benchmark bond yields stabilized at 3.5 percent after an initial spike on the fallout, as normal reserve assets were roughly doubled to $40 billion using updated IMF methodology. Egypt has benefited from its geopolitical and economic reform choices under a Fund program by comparison, as the central bank hosted a well-attended reception at the Washington meetings and investment strategists added local Treasury bills to their recommendations, after long post-Arab spring consideration as an eyesore under the old currency construct.