Opening-up of Saudi Stock Exchange to Foreign Investors

Opening-up of Saudi Stock Exchange to Foreign Investors

  • The decision of the Saudi Capital Market Authority (CMA) to open the Saudi stock exchange to foreign investors has induced a lot of excitement and optimism in the market. In this article, we discuss what the change is all about, why it is important, how it is likely to be implemented, and what will be its impact on various stakeholders.

What? Why? How?

So what exactly is going to happen? On July 22, 2014, the Saudi government announced that the Tadawul All Shares Index (TASI) will be open to direct foreign institutional investment from the first half of 2015. This would mark a welcome departure from the current state of affairs, where foreigners can purchase Saudi stocks only via trades conducted through international banks and by making a small number of costly and time-consuming exchange-traded funds (ETFs). As a result of these restrictions, foreign investors currently own less than five percent of the Saudi market, and account for a meagre one percent of the volumes traded on the TASI, which is dominated completely by local retail investors. But once these restrictions are eased in 2015, foreign investors will be able to participate much more freely in the Saudi market, and own and trade stocks of public companies in the kingdom.

Why is the change important? With a capitalization of $530 billion, the Saudi capital market is much bigger than its regional peers (Dubai and Abu Dhabi combined have a market cap of about $235 billion, Qatari listed companies are worth $196 billion and Egypt’s market is about $69 billion), and also boasts of superior liquidity – the daily average turnover at TASI is $2 billion, which is once again much ahead of the trading volume in other Arab nations. And to add to these points is the fact that the Tadawul is home to the some of the largest companies & IPOs in the region, belonging to diverse sectors ranging from petrochemicals to banking to telecommunications to retail and real estate. Therefore, from an investor standpoint, the TASI is one the biggest market which is currently closed to foreign money; therefore, its proposed opening to foreign investors is perhaps the most significant investor-friendly step taken by a Middle East or GCC nation in many years.

However, the Saudi government is not taking this step simply to appease investors. Instead, this move is a part of the kingdom’s long-term strategy to reduce dependence on oil revenues, and strengthen the non-oil sector of the largest economy in the Middle East. The decision also comes close on the heels of Qatar and the UAE getting included in the MSCI emerging market index, and Saudi authorities surely don’t want to be left behind on this front, so an indirect aim would be to get the TASI listed on the MSCI frontier or emerging market index.

The importance attached by the market to this move can be gauged from the fact that the TASI jumped 2.8 percent to a six-year high on the day the announcement was made. Also, the IMF boosted its 2015 GDP growth forecast for KSA from 4.1% to 4.6%, based on expectations of strong private sector performance.

How will the change be implemented? The CMA is yet to come out with a definite plan, but it is obvious that the roll-out to foreign investors will a slow and gradual process to avoid volatility in the market, and also to test waters in a phased-out manner.

One of the reasons that this change has taken so long to come is that Saudi authorities have been very protective of the companies in the kingdom, and have been averse to foreign investors taking control of key listed companies. Therefore, we can expect the CMA to impose caps on the amount being invested. While official numbers are yet to be announced, the market expects that foreign institutions will not be allowed to own more than 10% of the Saudi market and more than 20% of a Saudi company.

Further, to start with, a limited number of investment licenses are likely to be granted to qualified investors only, in order to avoid a sudden influx of foreign money into the Saudi companies. Such investors likely to be chosen based on the size of their assets under management (AUM) and global investment management experience, with most expectations pointing to an AUM bar of at least $5 billion. Retail investors are unlikely to be given licenses for buying and trading in the first phase of the roll-out.

Finally, most experts believe that the KSA is likely to follow the route adopted by emerging markets like China and Taiwan, where a free and open market is regulated by government officials. Also, oil and gas companies may be kept out of the purview of the initial roll-out to ensure that the Saudi government retains control over firms currently generating majority of the national revenue.

What are the implications of opening-up of the market to foreign investors?

  • On the KSA economy: Saudi Arabia’s economy is likely to get a double boost from this move. First, the influx of foreign capital will boost the overall GDP, and push along the diversification to non-oil revenues that will ensure sustenance of growth. Secondly, a well-diversified and growing economy will help tackle the high level of unemployment, especially among the youth, in the country. As cited earlier, the IMF has already increased its 2015 growth forecast from 4.1% to 4.6%, expecting economic diversification to drive growth.
  • On the Tadawul Index (TASI) and the overall capital market in the kingdom: The index will become the gateway to foreign fund inflow worth ~$50 billion into the country, strengthening its case for inclusion into MSCI’s emerging market index. Even though such an inclusion unlikely to take place before 2016, the TASI will account for three to five percent of the index, when eventually included. The move will also boost trading and IPO activity on the TASI, and will also result in production of higher quality equity research in the region.
  • On Saudi Companies: Most large Saudi companies are cash rich, so obtaining additional funding will not be the biggest gain for them. Instead, such companies will benefit from shareholder activism and improved corporate governance and accounting standards that are likely to be implemented to meet the high standards expected by foreign investors. These companies will also benefit from receiving guidance and expertise from globally experienced investors, on operational as well as strategic issues. For medium-sized companies, influx of foreign capital will lead to lower financing costs and improved valuation. Further, working with global investors will allow companies in the KSA to think global, and will help them execute their international expansion plans (regional or global) in a better manner.
  • On Investors: The move will give investors much awaited access to the largest economy in the GCC and in the Middle East. Huge foreign reserves, a low-risk sovereign credit quality, and an emerging-market like growth potential make the KSA an especially attractive destination for foreign investors.  Additionally, through the TASI, it will give them access to leading firms across industries, such as Samba Bank, Saudi Basic Industries, Saudi Industrial Investment Group, and Yanbu National Petrochemical Company. Not only do these companies have a huge “upside” potential, most Saudi companies also have better corporate governance standards as compared their peers in the Middle East.
  • On Other Asset Classes: The current move is aimed at opening-up of the equity market. However, if the move is successful, it could prompt the government to open even the bond (or Sukuk) market to such investors. Even though such a follow-up move will take a long time before being implemented, the opening-up of the local Sukuk market would give foreign investors access to companies that sold 42 billion riyals ($11.2 billion) through a dozen sales in the past year, according to Bloomberg.

Overall, if implemented well, this move has huge positive implications not just for the KSA, but also for all other countries in the GCC and the Middle East, as discussed above. However, investors are keeping a close eye on the announcement since policymakers in the kingdom have put off such plans in the past. Therefore, it is important that the CMA comes out with a well-defined roll-out plan with actual dates and timelines to alleviate investor concerns, and implement what will be a landmark change in the way capital markets operate in the Arab World.

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

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A Banker’s Primer to Saudi Arabian Family Offices

A Banker’s Primer

 

  • Major global banks have established a presence in the Kingdom, only a few years ago, though with an almost exclusive focus on corporate and private banking.
  • The predominant banking business model involves a partnership between a local bank with an International partner, where critical areas such as risk and asset management are under the purview of International partner.
  • At the apex of the wealthy client pyramid are Family Offices, vehicles established to formally manage the day-to-day investment affairs of the richest families.
  • There are several type of family offices in Saudi Arabia, and they are constantly evolving due to the influence of the Western world.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was never a banking hub for the GCC in the tradition of Bahrain, and later Dubai. That is, foreign banks were never historically established in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam with active mandates in servicing the local economy or with the intent to be utilized as a springboard for access to other nations in the GCC. Instead, the commercial linkages between the seat of Islam’s holiest sites and the rest of the world were first based on the general trade in goods, and later—the defining moment in the nation’s history—the discovery of crude oil occurred in the early twentieth century. In the wake of oil’s discovery was the founding of the energy behemoth Saudi Aramco (the Saudi Arabian Oil Company), having begun operations in 1933 as the California-Arabian Standard Oil Company.  With the technological advances and labor-intensive expertise required to extract and manage the world’s most precious tradable commodity came legions of skilled workers from the United States and other nations, critical in establishing what was once considered the consummate American outpost in the Middle East.

The Aramco camps in Eastern province were akin to transplanted Midwestern US cities.  Based on this model in the utilization of crude oil and the reliance on its financial dividends for economic development and later growth, no absolute national consensus was ever formulated on the internationalization and broad-based opening of the Kingdom’s market to foreign banks with the aim of establishing bricks-and-mortar presence.  It is only in the last several years that a few of major global banks established a presence in the Kingdom, with an almost exclusive focus on corporate and private banking.

Historically, the predominant banking business model in Saudi Arabia has been for local banks to include a non-Saudi partner institution, typically with a stake of 40 percent. Critical areas of bank management, including, heads of finance, risk management, asset management—just to name a few—were within the purview of the banking partner by contract. Over time, wealthy Saudi clients have become accustomed to dealing with their local banks for corporate loans and regional brokerage and investment services. When it comes to sophisticated investments, packaged as funds for example, the reliance continues to be on US and European private banks—many of which have been reliant on the “briefcase banker” approach. This entails flying bankers to the Kingdom for a few days of marathon one-on-one client meetings to introduce a product and collect a tidy sum of money—with the hope that the fees generated from client investments will ultimately cover the banker’s costs.

At the apex of the wealthy client pyramid are Family Offices, vehicles established to formally manage the day-to-day investment affairs of the richest families. In Saudi Arabia there are several types of these entities and it is worth our while to outline them.

The Mega Family Office:

The minute a foreign banker lands at an airport in the Kingdom, these family offices are the first few stops to make as they represent the wealthiest fifty families in the Kingdom. By their very nature, they were established decades ago and have highly sophisticated departmental structures, for example splitting managerial investment functions among Equity, Fixed Income and Private Equity teams. There is a formal investment committee process in which new proposals are discussed on voted on and IT expenditure to support detailed reports and investment analysis are standard. In a few cases, these billionaire families have offices in Dubai, Europe (primarily London and Geneva) and the US to complement their Saudi presence. The logic behind this is approach is to remain closer to their investments abroad while vetting ideas from the source. But also from a practical standpoint, many senior investment staff members are precluded from leaving their families due to personal obligations in their home countries.

Multi-Generational Office:

This structure supports various owners from many branches of the family. In the Kingdom Due to the participants in this office structure, the internal challenge is to accommodate various points of view regarding investments (type, time horizon and risk). These types of offices at times allow other families, generally maternal relatives, to participate while functioning as a multi-family office to increase the purchasing power of the owning family group. In effect, multi-generational offices reflect the current state of Saudi Arabian family businesses with young sons and daughters, typically freshly minted university graduates, being brought into the family business in the hope of an inter-generational succession proceeding smoothly one day.

The Corporate Group:

This type of entity supports the shareholders of operating business. The primary role is to maintain business control through effective wealth transfer, providing strategies for internal stock transactions among shareholders or leverage as needed to generate liquidity for owners. The office also supports owners’ financial needs for income, diversification of assets, and risk management.   A head of finance for these groups will typically handle both the company’s day-to-day affairs as well as individual investment management for the Chairman and associated family members.

The Single Provider Office:

In the last few years, some families have decided to stop granting bankers calling for an appointment to hold sales meetings, as a matter of policy. Instead, they have relied on an internal staff member to vet various product providers and settle on a single institution to manage the office’s affairs. It then becomes the mandate of the bank advisory professional handling the relationship to suggest investments from third party banks or investment houses. This “gatekeeper” approach has a major benefit for the families involved as there is a simplification of the process and reporting is handled by the hired bank, an ostensible cost savings.

Philanthropy/Foundation Office:

The Kingdom has an immense number of philanthropic institutions that families have established apart for their corporate alms-giving that is compulsory in Islam. Many of these offices are distinct from the family’s investment arm and, as would be expected, their investment universe is typically more limited. When it comes to the plethora of foundations which dot the Arabian landscape, the majority that bankers deal with are affiliated with religious or university funds. Bankers visiting Saudi Arabia are frequently surprised by the risk-return profile of these investors, with many delving into products that are far more esoteric than one would expect. Of course Sharia-compliance remains of paramount importance.

The Royal Family Office:

The trend today within these offices is launching new businesses and offering value-added projects for the benefit of Saudi society. Most of the initiatives undertaken by these investors will target a particular rate of return on a project or a feeder fund to a project, instead of seeking an income-generating fund investment—for example. The due diligence on the banker at the beginning of an introductory meeting is critical and being asked for a return visit is not assured. Knowledge of local market deal flow is key in these relationships.

The evolution of the family office unit, much like business itself, relies on constant change. There are trends in Europe and the US that are having an impact both on the vision and operational aspects of establishing, managing and growing a family office. Despite the influence of corporate practices and financial institutions on the most sophisticated investors in the Kingdom, most of them continue to hold sacred one slogan: “Made in Saudi Arabia.”

 

[1] (Source:  https://www.familyoffice.com/understanding-family-office/types-family-offices)

 

The article is written by Ragheed Moghrabi for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review