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Saudi signs deals worth US$50b at investment event despite boycott

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Jordan's King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein attend the investment conference in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia signed deals worth US$50 billion on Tuesday, showing it can still attract investment at a conference boycotted by Western politicians and global business chiefs after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

[RIYADH] Saudi Arabia signed deals worth US$50 billion on Tuesday, showing it can still attract investment at a conference boycotted by Western politicians and global business chiefs after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia signed a total of 25 deals worth US$50 billion on Tuesday in the oil, gas, industries and infrastructure sectors with firms such as Trafigura, Total, Hyundai, Norinco, Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes.

Saudi Aramco said it signed 15 memoranda of understanding worth US$34 billion at the Future Investment Initiative conference.

Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanné, a panelist on Tuesday, said the French oil and gas producer would announce a retail network in the kingdom with Saudi Aramco.

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The managing director of the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund, the main backer of the event, said the country was becoming more transparent and that the Saudi Public Investment Fund continued to develop new industries under economic reforms launched by the crown prince.

Yasir al-Rumayyan said the fund has invested in 50 or 60 firms via SoftBank Group's Vision Fund and would bring most of those businesses to the kingdom. PIF has committed to invest $45 billion in Vision Fund.

Many Western banks and other companies, fearful of losing business such as fees from arranging deals for Saudi Arabia's $250 billion wealth fund, sent lower-level executives even as their top people stayed away.

Top executives of Asian firms have been hesitant to pull out, so the participation of Chinese and Japanese institutions may help Riyadh claim the three-day conference as a success.

For these reasons, the Western boycott may have little long-term impact on Saudi economic prospects.

Foreigners sold a net 4.01 billion riyals (S$1.47 billion) of Saudi equities last week, by far the biggest pull-out of overseas money since the stock market opened to direct foreign investment in mid-2015.

About 320 foreign institutions have registered as qualified foreign investors in the Saudi stock market and 200 more are expected to register, the exchange's chairwoman told the event.

The event is being held at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, where scores of princes, businessmen and officials were detained in a crackdown on corruption soon after last year's conference ended, unnerving investors and raising concern about transparency. 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived at the investment conference late in the day after attending a meeting at which King Salman received members of Khashoggi's family, including his son Salah.

Many in the audience of over 2,000 clapped or cheered as the prince, the kingdom's de facto ruler and architect of its reform drive, entered the main hall, smiling as he sat down.

Earlier, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih assured the investment conference that the world's top crude exporter was passing through a "crisis of a sort" but would power ahead with economic reforms.

REUTERS