Saudi Arabia Planning New Sovereign Wealth Fund

Jan 14 2016 | 11:07pm ET

By Koh Gui Qing and Hadeel Al Sayegh (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia plans to create a new sovereign fund to manage part of its oil wealth and diversify its investments, and has asked investment banks and consultancies to submit proposals for the project, according to people familiar with the matter.

Plunging oil prices have strained Saudi Arabia's finances. The kingdom's state budget deficit is at a record high and net foreign assets dived more than $100 billion in 15 months.

The new fund could change the way tens of billions of dollars are invested and affect some of the world's leading asset managers, particularly in the United States, where the bulk of Saudi Arabia's foreign assets are managed.

"Keeping the foreign reserves at a good level is necessary to maintain a solid financial position and support the riyal," said one of the sources.

Another source said the Saudi government sent out a "request for proposal" to banks and consultants late last year, seeking ideas on how to structure a new fund.

The sources asked not to be identified because the plans are confidential. They said the Saudi government did not tell them the size of the planned new fund.

One source said the fund would focus on investing in businesses outside the energy industry, such industrials, chemicals, maritime and transportation. The sources stressed that no final decisions had been made, and a range of options were being studied.

The sources said managers of the planned fund may be able to invest directly in companies rather than channeling investments through foreign asset managers. This could maximize returns.

The second source said he understood the new fund would ideally be up and running within 12 to 24 months, with an office in New York.

A spokesman for the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) could not be reached for comment. SAMA, which currently manages the vast bulk of petrodollars earned by Saudi Arabia, has traditionally been secretive about its management of the money.

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