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Fri 17 Oct 2008 11:38 AM

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Kuwait eyes Gulf, North Africa investments

Sovereign wealth fund aims to snap up bargains amid the global financial crisis.

The Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) is mulling more investments in the Gulf region and North Africa as the sovereign wealth fund aims to snap up bargains amid the global financial crisis, an official said on Thursday.

Executive Director of KIA's General Reserves Fund, Bader Al-Ajeel also told reporters that the fund, which manages the country's massive oil-generated assets, was continuing to invest in Kuwaiti shares to shore up the bourse after a slide.

"We're ready to explore opportunities in the Gulf and North African Markets," Ajeel said, adding that investments could be made through funds or direct buys and would be diversified.

KIA was interested in the financial, technology, telecoms and services industries in those regions. He ruled out bond investments in those markets.

Ajeel said the fund would concentrate on large countries that can absorb big investments, such as Egypt and Morocco, adding that KIA was assessing those markets in the wake of the global credit crisis and any investments would be made from 2009.

"We need to strengthen our investments in the Arab countries during the coming stage...Egypt and Morocco are among countries in which we will focus on for years," said Al-Ajeel.

The KIA manages the Gulf Arab state's $184 billion Future Generations Fund, a portfolio of overseas investments, and the General Reserves Fund, which is worth about $40 billion, according to latest official data issued in March 2007.

KIA also said it was committed to investing in local stocks to support the Arab world's second-largest bourse, and has increased the ceiling of its investments in funds to 75 percent from a previous 50 percent to boost liquidity.

"It is a continuous investment process ... The KIA is available and will continue to be available," said Hamad al-Bouseri, head of KIA's investment funds department.

KIA said earlier this month it was ready to pump more cash into the bourse after having increased its exposure to the market.

Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah said last week that the KIA had undertaken measures to support the bourse, including raising investments in eight local stock funds.

KIA is also investing further overseas, and earlier this year bought into U.S. banks Citigroup and Merrill Lynch before their share prices fell, and U.S. credit card firm VISA Inc .

At home, it buys through investment funds into local shares and is a shareholder in some of Kuwait's biggest companies, including Mobile Telecommunications Co (Zain).

Last week, Kuwait's central bank cut the discount and repurchase rates to stop a slide on the bourse and provide funds. (Reuters)

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