Saudi Arabia Responds to Shifting US Attitudes
Saudi Arabia is reexamining its multibillion dollar US financial plan in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. Those involved in discussions highlighted the passage of a new bill – one that could allow victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia – as one of the main reasons for reassessment.
Fifteen of the 19 attackers involved in 9/11 were Saudi, but no evidence has been found to implicate the Saudi Arabian government. Even so, the kingdom has largely been blamed for the attack.
Despite serious pressure from Saudi lobbyists, Congress overrode President Obama’s veto and the “Saudi 9/11 Bill” was passed in September. Hillary Clinton was expected to win at the time, and many had expected legislators to soften the law’s wording after the elections.
Saudi lobbyists have suggested that the law may affect the kingdom’s US investment plans. “A shift in Saudi Arabia’s US investing strategy now could become a negotiating point in the kingdom’s broader relationship with the US,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
The implications of the bill remain unclear, but the kingdom’s sovereign-wealth fund has called a halt on all US investments for the time being. “The prospect of being found liable for the attacks has made Saudi leaders worry that big transactions in the US could expose their assets to legal judgments,” reports the WSJ.
President-elect Trump has professed to be on friendly terms with the Saudis. His pick for defense secretary – retired General James Mattis – is also a Saudi supporter. But Trump supports the 9/11 law and has also challenged the Saudis with the promise to increase domestic oil production.
Trump’s election may also have an effect on where the Saudis go with the initial public offering of state oil company Aramco – the world’s biggest oil producer.
Saudi officials have met with representatives from numerous stock exchanges including New York and London. Aramco’s debut, which has been set for 2017 or 2018, could easily become the largest IPO in history and raise over $100 billion in proceeds.
“The prospect has set banks scrambling for a deal that could bring $1 billion in fees,” reports the WSJ.
The kingdom plans to list about 5% of Aramco on public markets in order to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on oil. Saudi Arabia is also reconsidering how it will invest money from its enormous Public Investment Fund, and officials have suggested turning it into a “war chest for non-oil investments abroad,” reports the WSJ.
In June, the fund invested over $3 billion in Uber Technologies, Inc. Despite several talks with investors in Silicon Valley, the fund invested $45 billion in the Japanese company SoftBank in October.
“Several people familiar with the Saudi government’s investment plans say Saudi officials decided to make the huge investment in SoftBank after the terrorism legislation, and the money that went into SoftBank could have gone directly into US investments or US investment firms. There were concerns about their exposure if they invested directly,” reports the WSJ.