Tag Archives: sovereign wealth funds

Will Saudi Arabia Own the United States?

In the coronavirus pandemic’s financial fallout, Saudi Arabia’s $300 billion sovereign-wealth fund has emerged as one of the world’s biggest bargain hunters, taking minority stakes worth billions of dollars in American corporations.  Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund  (PIF)  in the first quarter of 2020 bought shares valued at about half a billion dollars each in Facebook, Walt Disney,  Marriott International,  and Cisco Systems.  The fund bought financial stocks, investing $522 million in Citigroup, and $488 million in Bank of America while also spending $714 million on a stake in Boeing…Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler, tasked the sovereign-wealth fund in 2015 with diversifying the country’s economy away from oil by investing in companies and industries untethered to hydrocarbons.

PIF’s recent buying spree highlights a bold strategy of piling into global stocks even as the novel coronavirus and a crash in oil prices mean that Saudi Arabia’s financial position is now the most precarious in a decade. The Saudi government in May 2020 tripled its value-added tax rate and cut subsidies to state employees as it contends with lower oil revenue and an economy weakening under coronavirus lockdown.

Many of the stocks that PIF has targeted are trading at historic lows, bruised by the fallout from the coronavirus and rock-bottom oil prices that have battered stocks of energy companies in 2020. Teh PIF bought in 2020 undisclosed stakes in a bevy of energy companies, including Equinor (Norway), Royal Dutch Shell, Total (France) and Eni (France). The PIF invested $484 million in Shell, $222 million in Total and previously unreported stakes of $828 million in BP $481 million in Suncor Energy and $408 million in Canadian Natural Resources.

It also purchased shares valued at roughly $80 million each in: Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway; chipmakers Broadcom and Qualcom ; IBM; drugmaker Pfizer;  Starbucks; railroad company Union Pacific; outsourcer Automatic Data Processing; and Booking.com….On top of the stakes in public companies, PIF is also awaiting regulatory approval for a roughly £300 million ($363 million) buyout of U.K. Premier League soccer team Newcastle United.

Excerpts from Rory Jones and Summer Said, Saudi Sovereign-Wealth Fund Buys Stakes in Facebook, Boeing, Cisco Systems, WSJ, May 18, 2020

Barclays and Qatar: an Unholy Alliance?

U.S. authorities are investigating Barclays  for potentially violating anti-corruption laws during its scramble to raise money from Middle Eastern investors in the early days of the financial crisis.  The probe, being conducted by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, is at an early stage…The U.S. investigation follows a similar probe that British regulators opened earlier this year.

According to people familiar with the probe, it is examining Barclays’ use of middlemen serving as brokers to connect the bank with powerful Middle Eastern interests at a time when the bank was seeking a cash injection from investors in the region.  Barclays disclosed the investigation at the same time it reported a GBP106 million third-quarter loss…The new investigations represent the latest blows to a once-proud British institution. This summer, Barclays paid about $450 million to settle U.S. and British charges that it sought to manipulate benchmark interest rates, sometimes at the behest of top executives. The ensuing political furor led to the abrupt resignations of Barclays’s chairman, chief executive and chief operating officer.

The Justice Department and SEC investigation involves possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which among other things bars companies with U.S. operations from bribing overseas politicians or corporate executives in order to win business.  In June 2008, as the financial crisis was gaining steam, senior bankers at Barclays persuaded the Qatar Investment Authority and other investors to inject about GBP4.5 billion into the British bank, seeking to erase fears about Barclays’s health. As part of that deal, Barclays hired the Qatar fund to provide “advisory services’ in the Middle East. The bank later disclosed that it was paying about GBP238 million in fees and commissions to Qatar Investment Authority and related entities.

This summer, the U.K.’s Financial Services Authority launched a formal investigation into Barclays’s public disclosures of those arrangements. The probe focused on past and present Barclays executives, including finance chief Chris Lucas, as well as on the manner in which Barclays wooed the Qataris to invest, according to people familiar with the matter.

Excerpts, Barclays Faces U.S. Anti-Corruption Probe, MarketWatch, Oct. 31, 2012