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Flush with cash from an energy boom, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies have a moment on the world’s financial stage

By By Eliot Brown and Rory Jones
Thu, Jan 18, 2024 9:30amGrey Clock 5 min

Five years ago, Saudi officials watched a wave of American finance executives pull out of a free investment confab in Riyadh after the murder of a dissident journalist made the kingdom a toxic place to do business.

This year, the conference, nicknamed “Davos in the Desert,” is expecting so much demand it is charging executives $15,000 a person.

Middle East monarchies eager for global influence are having a moment on the world’s financial stage. They are flush with cash from an energy boom at the very time traditional Western financiers—hampered by rising interest rates—have retreated from deal making and private investing.

The region’s sovereign-wealth funds have become the en vogue ATM for private equity, venture capital and real-estate funds struggling to raise money elsewhere.

The market for marquee mergers and acquisitions has seen a surge of interest from the region. Recently announced deals include an Abu Dhabi fund’s purchase of investment manager Fortress for more than $2 billion and a Saudi fund’s $700 million purchase of global lender Standard Chartered’s aviation unit.

Companies and funds overseen by Abu Dhabi’s national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, have made runs at buying Standard Chartered and investment bank Lazard. They have also struck recent deals to buy a $1.2 billion U.K. healthcare company and to take partial control of a nearly $6 billion Colombian food giant.

“Now, everybody wants to go to the Middle East—it’s like the gold rush in the U.S. once upon a time,” said Peter Jädersten, founder of fundraising advisory firm Jade Advisors. “It’s difficult to raise money everywhere.”

Fund managers visiting the region say they often wait across from rivals in waiting rooms of sovereign-wealth funds. Silicon Valley and New York managers are a near-constant presence in the white-marble floored lobby of the Four Seasons Abu Dhabi, as with other top hotels, they say.

The Riyadh conference next month—a pet project of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman known as the Future Investment Initiative—is expected to be a magnet for money hunters. In 2018, Wall Street executives backed out after Saudi operatives murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and for years many startups and funds said they avoided investment from the country over moral concerns.

Some companies continue to steer clear of the kingdom, while human-rights groups say its record on treatment of government dissidents remains a serious problem.

But Saudi funding became more in demand last year when other money began to get tight. At last year’s conference the Public Investment Fund’s chief, Yasir Al Rumayyan, sat on a panel discussion with two of the world’s biggest investment-firm executives, Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman and Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates. Top names in venture capital mixed on the floor, and FTX chief Sam Bankman Fried looked for funding.

Ben Horowitz, partner at Andreessen Horowitz, said at a PIF-sponsored conference this spring that Saudi Arabia was a “startup country,” and referred to Prince Mohammed as its “founder” who was creating a new culture and new vision for the country.

The region’s new dominance is most apparent among private funds, the type that lock up investors’ money for years. While detailed statistics are scarce, figures at two of the biggest sovereign funds suggest a surge. At Saudi’s PIF, commitments for “investment securities”—a category that includes private funds—rose to $56 billion in 2022, up from $33 billion a year earlier. Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala reported that equity commitments doubled to $18 billion in 2022.

Executives at private-equity giants TPG, KKR and Carlyle Group have told investors that interest from the Middle East remains strong while other parts of the world recede.

“If you’re in the U.S., there’s a certain degree of concern,” Carlyle CEO Harvey Schwartz said at a June conference. Middle East investors, he said, are “very front-footed, very dynamic.”

While the Middle East steps on the gas, the traditional backers of investment funds—pension plans and college endowments—are in retreat. The global shift to higher interest rates caused losses in the biggest parts of their portfolios—especially stocks and bonds.

Investors put $33 billion toward U.S.-based venture capital funds in the first half of 2023, less than half the $74 billion in the same period in 2021, according to PitchBook. Global fundraising for all private funds fell 10% last year to $1.5 trillion, according to Preqin—a decline many expect to continue.

“Fundraising has become much, much harder over the past 12 months,” said Brenda Rainey, an executive vice president at Bain & Co. who advises private-equity funds.

The reason for the region’s burst of funding and deal making is twofold.

Higher energy prices—a byproduct of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—have given the region’s oil- and gas-dependent wealth funds tens of billions of dollars of extra money to spend. That means a drop in oil prices could quickly cause a pullback from the Gulf countries, as has happened in energy booms-turned-bust of the past.

At the same time, Saudi Prince Mohammed and top officials in the U.A.E. have jostled for greater sway on the world stage—in geopolitics, finance and sports—pumping additional money into their wealth funds to do deals and expand industry at home.

The intersection of politics and finance in the region has led Gulf wealth funds from Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Qatar to be the main financial backers of two key Trump administration figures: Jared Kushner and former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who together raised billions of dollars from the region.

Gulf funds have pushed their U.S. peers to open offices in the region to more easily win investments, fund managers say.

BlackRock has said it would create a team on the ground in Riyadh dedicated to boosting investment into infrastructure projects in the Gulf.

Millennium Management LLC, based in New York, set up an office in Dubai in 2020 and others followed, including private-equity firm CVC Capital Partners and ExodusPoint Capital Management, the largest-ever hedge-fund startup with $8 billion in initial capital. Europe’s Tikehau Capital and Ardian both established teams in Abu Dhabi, and U.S. alternative investment manager, Pretium, hired a local industry veteran from Dubai.

Dalio also set up an office in Abu Dhabi for the Dalio Family Office, his personal venture. Rajeev Misra, a longtime financier for SoftBank Group who secured over $6 billion in commitments for a new venture from multiple Abu Dhabi-aligned investment funds, is moving to the U.A.E. from the U.K., according to people familiar with his plans.

There is now an “awareness that relationships have to be built and that doesn’t happen overnight,” said Joseph Morris, a Dubai-based managing director at U.S.-based advisory firm Newmark Group.

The venture capital arm of Tiger Global has struggled to raise its latest fund, repeatedly cutting its target by billions of dollars. Stung by losses and the cooler fundraising environment, many U.S. investors have given it the cold shoulder, investors say.

One place it found success: Saudi Arabia. A division of PIF, Sanabil, this spring added Tiger’s name to the public list of fund managers it backs. Others on the list include Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund and Andreessen Horowitz.

Ibrahim Ajami, who oversees startup investments at Abu Dhabi state fund Mubadala, which invests in companies as well as funds, said the environment gives Mubadala the ability to be “very thoughtful and selective” about who it backs.

He can negotiate terms that let Mubadala buy a stake in the fund manager itself, he said, or allow it to invest alongside others.

“What we are doing is going deeper—and more concentrated and more engaged—with a select group of managers,” he said.

—Summer Said and Berber Jin contributed to this article.

Copyright 2020, Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. LEARN MORE


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AACCI’s Strategic Vision for Enhancing Australia-Arab Trade Relations

The Australian Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) is fostering robust trade relations between Australia and Arab countries.

Mon, May 20, 2024 5 min

In an era where global trade and international relationships are more crucial than ever, the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) serves as a bridge, for cooperation and growth between Australia and the Arab nations. Led by its Chairman, Mr. Mohamed Hage, the AACCI has taken on projects aimed at strengthening relationships and fostering development across borders.

This exclusive interview explores the initiatives implemented by the AACCI to expand its presence and influence in the region including the significant establishment of a new operational hub in Dubai. We also delve into how the Chamber embraces education through training and research, its participation in major international exhibitions, and its active support for both large corporations and small businesses.

Looking towards tomorrow, Mr. Mohamed shares his vision for broadening AACCI’s reach emphasizing the importance of the on-ground operations and cultural understanding in building business connections.

-Could you elaborate on the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry, including its objectives and main areas of focus?

The Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) plays a fundamental role, in promoting business partnerships and trade between Australia and the 22 Arab countries. As a member of the Union of Arab Chambers affiliated with the Arab League, AACCI focuses on strengthening trade and investment ties, across these countries.

To nurture these connections effectively AACCI has outlined four objectives: facilitating trade and investment activities, certifying documents, educating stakeholders, and offering marketing assistance.

Our initiatives are designed not only to empower trade and investment endeavors but to also ensure engagement with specific sectors that drive these activities. With an understanding of the characteristics, strengths and preferences of each country, AACCI prides itself on its specialized knowledge customized to suit the distinct business environments of these nations.

– As the AACCI approaches its 50th anniversary, what have been some of the key milestones and achievements?

I believe one of AACCI’s accomplishments is the opportunities it has opened up for numerous Australian companies to access markets, in the region. Moreover, the strong bilateral trade relationship that has developed between Australia and the 22 Arab nations over the five decades has led to trade transactions amounting to billions of dollars.

This extensive trade covers industries such as food and beverages, luxury hotels and many more services. Each successive generation, within AACCI has built upon the foundation laid by its predecessors enriching their knowledge base and expanding their range of services.

– How does the AACCI leverage its diverse leadership team to enhance trade and investment opportunities between Australia and the Arab region?

Since taking on the role of chairman, my main focus has been on expanding our presence in the region. This led to the idea of opening an office in Dubai, which symbolizes our dedication to deepening our engagement in that area. We have successfully secured the license to open our first office in Dubai after 50 years, which will serve as a gateway to the GCC and North Africa.

I strongly believe that building two-way trade and investment ties requires more than a degree of business connectivity; it demands having local representatives present in each region. With trends emphasizing strategies the value of face-to-face engagements cannot be overstated.

Setting up offices in the region is essential for the Chamber to truly serve as a link and support system for business activities. Ultimately this expansion will bring benefits to our members and partners by providing them with access, to dynamic markets and diverse prospects.

– Can you discuss the significance of AACCI’s role in cultural and business exchanges between the two regions?

The importance of understanding cultures in our operations cannot be overstated. To address this, we have included a training platform within the Chamber to strengthen our cultural awareness initiatives. This new program offers our members access to modules on our website focusing on global business practices.

Furthermore, we have set up a Center of Excellence specifically dedicated to researching areas like food security and cultural awareness. These research endeavors are essential for promoting knowledge between the two regions.

By combining the resources of the Center of Excellence, our training resources, and the forthcoming local office in Dubai, we’re providing cultural awareness not only in the region but also in Australia. This approach ensures that our members are well equipped and knowledgeable boosting their effectiveness and involvement, in markets.

– What is the objective of your on-ground presence at conferences and events?

Participating in conferences and on ground events is very important for increasing awareness in industries like construction where knowledge of opportunities in the Arab world may not be widespread. When we see projects such as NEOM or notice the construction boom happening in the region it becomes important for organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to highlight these prospects. By taking part in large scale expos such as the Sydney Build Expo we position ourselves at the forefront of these advancements.

Our presence at these events enables interaction giving entrepreneurs a chance to visit our booth engage in discussions and learn more about the region in an approachable and personalized manner. This plays a role in simplifying the process and making opportunities concrete.

– With such a diverse membership base, how does AACCI tailor its services to meet the needs of both large corporations and small startups?

When it comes to discussing business it’s important to grasp how influence and vision come into play. Businesses looking to expand are often motivated by a desire to achieve something whether they are big companies or small enterprises. Small businesses typically aim to raise their brands profile while larger corporations seek recognition and market dominance.

Standing out in this area can be tough mainly because the key driving force is the passion to showcase the brand and products on a platform. This determination serves as a motivator for entrepreneurs.

At the Chamber we make a point of recognizing the needs of both big and small players by understanding each members individual situation. We ensure that every member is well informed about the opportunities and risks that come with expanding. For small businesses, this means being aware of the financial demands, while large businesses are advised on the necessity of both financial and emotional resilience.

– How does AACCI plan to expand or evolve its services in the coming years to further support its members?

The importance of having resources on the ground cannot be emphasized enough. Having local staff is key to establishing connections with the communities we serve. Without a presence in the area staying updated on events and activities becomes quite challenging.

This is why, as I’ve mentioned before, we have established an office in Dubai, staffed with personnel dedicated to supporting our members. This local office will help us effectively bridge the gap between Australia and the Arab world. And our members will benefit from insights and assistance from someone who truly knows the landscape.

In Australia we have equipped offices throughout the country staffed by individuals who play a significant role in our operations. This strong domestic network complements our efforts ensuring that we provide support to our members both locally and globally. This strategic approach is crucial, for nurturing business relationships and fostering continental understanding.



Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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