Prince Alwaleed urges opening Saudi market to foreigners

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Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal called on the kingdom's regulators to open up the stock market to foreigners and reduce its reliance on retail investors.

In a televised interview aired on 23 channels, the prince, who owns stakes in some of the world's top companies, said Saudi Arabia needed to upgrade its equity markets to international standards while protecting its blue-chip companies from hot international money.

"The Saudi market needs to rely less on individual investors. Saudi Arabia is 90-95 percent dominated by individual investors and 5 percent by institutions, opposite to what is there in America and Europe," bin Talal said.

"Yes there is concern about the hot money, but we can control foreign investors by, for example, introducing shares Class A or B and give access to 20 percent or 30 percent of the shares of each company," the prince said.

He added that Saudi Arabia had the right to protect strategic companies like Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) from hot foreign money.

Foreigner investors can only buy Saudi shares through swap deals made by international investment banks, and via a small number of exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

Abdulrahman al-Tuwaijri, chairman of the Capital Market Authority (CMA), had said last year that the kingdom was planning to open up the market to foreign investors but that it should be done in an orderly and gradual manner to make sure it did not threaten market stability.

The CMA is considering allowing qualified foreign investors to take a capped share in each Saudi company, with international buyers able to own a total of around 20 percent of the market's value, according to proposals circulated to the financial industry last year.

Saudi Arabia's benchmark has risen 5.5 percent so far in 2013, and the economy is forecast to grow 4 percent this year, according to a Reuters poll in January. 

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