Saudi wealth fund plans to borrow in push to double returns

Public Investment Fund, which currently manages $230 billion, will seek to hold a quarter of those assets in foreign markets
Saudi managing director of the Public Investment Fund Yasir Al-Rumayyan (L) smiles towards Managing Director of International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde during the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh.
By Bloomberg
Wed 25 Oct 2017 08:53 AM

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund will use leverage to boost returns from its investments as it seeks to diversify the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy.

The Public Investment Fund will also look for more partnerships like its tie-ups with money managers Blackstone Group and SoftBank Group as part of its aim to boost assets under management to $2 trillion by 2030, managing director Yasir Al-Rumayyan said in a Bloomberg Television interview at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh.

The fund, which currently manages $230 billion, will seek to hold a quarter of those assets in foreign markets, he said.

“If you look at investments we have today, it’s basically all equity - we need to look at leverage,” Al-Rumayyan said at the event Tuesday. “If we’re in one project, we can use the underlying project as the base for the leverage with no recourse to the rest of the portfolio.”

Saudi Arabia is stepping up plans to turn the Public Investment Fund into a global giant and central to its efforts to diversify the economy away from oil. The kingdom aims to transfer ownership of state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco - which is planning the world’s biggest initial public offering next year - to the fund.

The PIF is targeting annual returns of 8 percent to 9 percent over the longer term, or 2025 to 2030, Al-Rumayyan said at the conference, where Saudi Arabia is hosting global finance bosses including HSBC Holdings’s Stuart Gulliver, BlackRock Inc.’s Larry Fink and Credit Suisse Group’s Tidjane Thiam.

The Saudi fund’s current investments return about 4 percent to 5 percent, according to Al-Rumayyan. By comparison, Norway’s sovereign-wealth fund, the world’s largest, has achieved an average 4 percent return after management costs and inflation since 1998.

Blackstone, SoftBank

In May, the PIF agreed to commit $20 billion to an infrastructure-investment fund with Blackstone Group and to invest as much as $45 billion in a technology fund run by SoftBank. These deals followed a $3.5 billion investment in U.S. ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc. in June 2016.

The PIF doesn’t want to be a passive investor and its deals with Blackstone and SoftBank are redefining the relationship between general partners and limited partners, Al-Rumayyan said.

“We’re not co-investors with GP and we’re not typical LP, we’re somewhere in the middle,” Al-Rumayyan said. “We have veto rights, opt-out rights, people sitting on boards, and we can put more governance into the relationships and partnerships we have.”

At home, the PIF is starting a $500 million energy-efficiency company and built a $2.4 billion stake in a Riyadh-based dairy farm and food processor. It also established a $1.1 billion fund to support small- and medium-sized businesses and is spearheading a $4.8 billion project to redevelop the Jeddah waterfront on the Red Sea -- all in the past few months.

More than 90 percent of PIF’s current portfolio is domestic, Al-Rumayyan said. The fund employs more than 200 people, which it expects to rise to 500 in two years and possibly to about 1,000 by 2025, he said.

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