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After brief Khashoggi boycott, BlackRock's Larry Fink returns to Saudi Arabia

Accepting his humanitarian award. Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images
Larry Fink accepting his humanitarian award. Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

Where's Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock?

The backdrop: In October, Fink was on a long list of CEOs who made a big show of pulling out of Saudi Arabia's Future Investment Initiative, also known as Davos in the Desert. In November, Fink was honored by the International Rescue Committee at its annual dinner, where he received the charity's Humanitarian Award.

  • This week, Fink was back in Riyadh for the Saudi Arabian Financial Sector Conference. He appeared on a panel alongside the Saudi finance minister discussing "the link between purpose and profit." One of the questions posed: "How can investment best be used as a force for positive change?"
  • Fink's panel took place one day after 37 Saudis were executed by the government, one of whom was subsequently crucified. According to Amnesty International at least 104 people have been executed by Saudi Arabia this year, 44 of whom were foreign nationals.

Fink gushed about the tightening spreads on Saudi Aramco's recent bond issue, and he said that when it comes to issues raised by journalists, "the power of the press allows most issues to be mitigated." That, he explained, is why he is optimistic about the region as a long-term investor. "The changes here in the kingdom in the last two years are pretty amazing," he declared.

  • Fink had lots of bold-faced company at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton. (Yes, the conference hotel is the same building that was formerly a luxury prison.) “It’s a privilege to be back in Saudi Arabia,” said HSBC CEO John Flint, also an October refusenik. Other speakers included representatives from JPMorgan, Société Générale and the London Stock Exchange Group.

The bottom line: Back in October, it wasn't clear whether Saudi Arabia would become a toxic destination for capitalists or whether the Jamal Khashoggi outrage would turn out to be a temporary blip. Now we know the answer.