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By Ulf Laessing
KUWAIT, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), the Gulf Arab state’s sovereign wealth fund, said on Tuesday it was eyeing investment opportunities abroad but was not in the business of bailing out struggling foreign banks.
Facing criticism in parliament for pouring $5 billion in January into Citigroup (C.N) and Merrill Lynch MER.N, which has since been bought by Bank of America (BAC.N), Managing Director Bader al-Saad said KIA was seeking to benefit from lower asset prices due to the global financial crisis.
“Disasters in the United States, some European countries or Asian countries create investment opportunities in the real-estate sector, the financial industry or other sectors,” he told Al Arabiya station in a rare television interview.
“We are not responsible for saving foreign banks ... This is the duty of the central banks in these countries. We have social and economic responsibilities towards our own country.”
Gulf Arab funds have lost billions of dollars by entrusting cash to Western banks in emergency capital-raising exercises this year and last.
But Saad said KIA had made up to $600 million from the initial public offering of credit card firm Visa Inc (V.N). In June, he told Reuters KIA had invested some $800 million in the Visa IPO.
He said KIA had made no losses from the Merrill Lynch deal but had lost $270 million on its Citigroup investment.
KIA has brushed off criticism of its investments in U.S. banks by repeatedly saying it sees itself as a long-term strategic investor and approaches foreign investments from that perspective.
KIA, which manages the sovereign wealth of the world’s seventh-largest oil exporter, has pumped more than 100 million dinars ($374.7 million) into the local stock market to shore up falling share prices, he said.
KIA said last week it would boost investments in local stock market funds to support the Arab world’s second-largest bourse but had not disclosed how much money it could spend.
Naser al-Nafisi, General Manager at the al-Joman Center of Economic Consultancy, estimated KIA’s overall declared investments on the Kuwait bourse to be worth 3.4 billion dinars, making the recent injection look small.
Saad gave no details about possible investments in the United States, Europe and Asia but Kuwaiti officials have repeatedly stressed Asia would play an important role.
In 2006, Saad said KIA’s board had decided in 2005 to lift its Asia investments to 20 percent from 10 percent. No new target has been published since then.
Kuwait’s finance minister, Mustapha al-Shamali, said in July KIA was looking to boost investments across asset classes in Asia, particularly Japan, India and China.
A Kuwaiti delegation including Saad and Shamali went on an Asian tour earlier this year to boost economic ties and sound out new investments, including looking into farms to secure food supplies as the desert state grapples with rising import costs.
In August, Shamali told state news agency that KIA planned to as much as triple investments in Japan to $48 billion.
Nafisi said he was critical of KIA buying into the local bourse, saying the market should regulate and correct itself without intervention of a government vehicle. (Reporting by Lin Noueihed and Ulf Laessing, Editing by Swaha Pattanaik and Quentin Bryar)