Jul 8, 2019 - Economy & Business

Less than a year after Khashoggi murder, business booms for Saudi Arabia

Illustration of a palm tree with a stack of gold coins as the trunk

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman is raking in international capital, and reviving chatter about a possible IPO for Saudi Aramco as the world continues to move past the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Driving the news: This week Saudi Arabia rolled out its first-ever bond denominated in euros — a 3 billion euro issue ($3.37 billion) — which was nearly five times oversubscribed.

  • Bonds maturing in 8 years sold at a yield of 0.78% and a 20-year offering at 2.04%.
  • That's well below comparable rates for other emerging markets and even lower than similar U.S. government debt.

The big picture: The wild success of Saudi's bond offerings, its strong stock market and continued investor hungerhas reinvigorated talk of what would be the largest IPO ever, a public offering of state oil company Saudi Aramco.

  • The eurobond offering follows a $67 billion deal in March, led by American underwriters, in which Aramco bought an ownership stake in Saudi petrochemical manufacturer Sabic.

Flashback: Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and journalist for the Washington Post was killed at bin Salman's behest, according to the CIA, UN and other global intelligence agencies.

  • Despite wide-ranging international condemnation and a half-baked boycott of its Davos in the Desert event, investors have continued to bankroll the kingdom's efforts to diversify its revenue away from oil.

The big picture: Even before the murder of Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia had an awful human rights record. And with Khashoggi's killing having negligible impact on its relationship with the U.S., investors continue scooping up Saudi Arabian assets.

  • Just 3 months after Khashoggi was killed, the country received $27 billion in offers for a $7.5 billion bond offering. Three months after that, Saudi Aramco came to market with $12 billion in bonds that reportedly generated $100 billion of offers.
  • Over the past three years, Saudi Arabia has sold nearly $70 billion in international bonds, and become one of the biggest debt issuers among all emerging market countries.
  • Between 2007 and 2015, the kingdom issued no official sovereign debt.

Between the lines: The Saudi stock market also is taking off, thanks to its upgrade from international index maker MSCI, which moved Saudi Arabia into its emerging markets index starting this year. The index is followed by close to $2 trillion of global passive flows.

  • FTSE Russell and S&P Dow Jones also are moving Saudi equities into their respective EM indexes over the next year.
  • Saudi's Tadawul index has risen about 13%, year to date.
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