Saudi Arabia reform push targets wealth fund doubling assets

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia presented ambitious plans for economic and social renewal before a host of A-list global investors on Wednesday, saying its main sovereign wealth fund wants to increase its financial clout to 1.5 trillion riyals ($400 billion) by 2020.

The Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced the assets-under-management goal at a conference showcasing a program to turn the strictly conservative country into a high-tech business hub with a lifestyle free of hardline Islamism.

PIF published its first comprehensive business program, outlining targets for investments and returns for 2018-2020, under reforms to boost private-sector growth and wean the largest Arab economy off oil export dependence.

Expected to receive proceeds from the planned sale of 5 percent of state oil giant Saudi Aramco's IPO-ARMO.SE shares, PIF has around $230 billion worth of assets under management now.

The IPO is the centerpiece of Vision 2030, a reform plan to diversify the economy of the world’s largest oil exporter beyond petroleum, championed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

The crown prince underscored the social side of the reforms on Tuesday when he said he wanted a moderate Islam in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy which practices an austere version of the religion, and would eradicate extremism.

That theme was echoed on Wednesday by Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan.


“Islam is not radical or extremist. Islam is moderate. As Saudis, we are welcoming and open for business,” he said, when asked to elaborate on Prince Mohammed’s remarks.

A vehicle drives past the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

Event organizers projected a open image of the kingdom. Men and women mixed freely at non-alcoholic “networking cocktails” in the ornate lobby of the Ritz Carlton, including the crown prince himself, who took selfies with attendees.

Women were told in official program materials that they did not need to wear the normally obligatory long abaya robe and headscarf whilst inside the event and could opt for formal business attire, like men.

PIF Investments will be in sectors such as real estate and infrastructure as well as in new areas of activity in the Saudi economy through the establishment of companies such as the Saudi Arabian Military Industries company and the Saudi Real Estate Refinancing Company.

One of the biggest tasks facings PIF will be the delivery of a $500 billion plan to build a business and industrial zone extending into Jordan and Egypt, announced at the start of the conference on Tuesday.

PIF also set a new target to increase total shareholder return to 4-5 percent between now and 2020 from 3 percent, it said on Wednesday.

The 96-page program said PIF will structure its investments in six areas: Saudi equity holdings, sector development, real estate and infrastructure, mega projects, international strategic investments and a “diversified pool” across global asset classes.

It said “long-term” average annual return from these areas would be between 6.5 to 9 percent.

Outside of Saudi Arabia, PIF’s investments will be in a number of assets such as fixed-income, public equity, private equity and debt, real estate, infrastructure and alternative investments such as hedge funds, the fund said.

PIF Managing Director Yasir Al Rumayyan said the fund was open to investing in more big ticket items such as U.S. ride services company Uber [UBER.UL].

It also outlined its four major sources of funding to include capital injections from the government, government asset transfers, loans and debt instruments as well as retained earnings from investments.

Rumayyan told Reuters the fund would be a conservative borrower when it enters international debt markets to obtain leverage for its expansion.

Reporting by Reuters team; Editing by William Maclean and Robin Pomeroy