One of the world’s largest privatisation programmes is drawing foreign investment banks and private equity (PE) firms to Saudi Arabia, despite the prospect of low fees and an uncertain regulatory environment.
KKR is among the US-based PE firms joining regional companies such as Abu Dhabi’s Gulf Capital in the search for opportunities from the government’s plan to sell off around $200 billion in assets on top of a stake in oil giant Saudi Aramco.
Banks are also beefing up their operations. Citigroup obtained a Saudi investment banking license last month and Goldman Sachs is looking into obtaining a Saudi equities license. Credit Suisse intends to apply for a full banking license and JPMorgan is adding bankers.
“We see a lot more opportunities in Saudi Arabia because for the first time the government is looking to partner with firms like ourselves and others,” said Kaveh Samie, who heads the Middle East and North Africa region for KKR.
For decades, many foreign financial companies kept a minimal presence in Riyadh or shunned it entirely. They chased business related to Saudi Arabia’s investment of billions of petrodollars abroad, but saw few opportunities in the Saudi domestic economy.
The kingdom had a reputation for offering low fees to investment banks, while PE firms found few prospects in an economy dominated by wealthy state enterprises and family conglomerates which jealously guarded control of their assets.
But the mood has begun changing since last year’s announcement of a privatisation drive to help the economy diversify in an era of low oil prices. A vast range of assets will be offered via methods ranging from public offers of shares to PE deals.