Saudi Arabia replaced its central bank governor and said that it would more than double the size of its sovereign wealth fund by 2025 in a series of late-night announcements ahead of the crown prince’s flagship investment conference.
Ahmed Alkholifey was removed from his position heading the monetary authority. He is being replaced by Fahad Al-Mubarak, who was central bank governor from 2011 to 2016. The reason for the change wasn’t provided.
Al-Mubarak had most recently been a minister of state and served as the kingdom’s sherpa during its presidency last year of meetings of the Group of 20 industrialized economies. He was also previously chairman of Morgan Stanley’s Saudi Arabia unit. Alkholifey was simultaneously appointed an adviser to the royal court.
The central bank and the sovereign fund are set to play an increasingly important role in powering the domestic recovery as the government looks to boost an economy hit by the twin shocks of the coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices. The central bank’s mandate was recently expanded to include supporting economic growth, while the crown prince has said the wealth fund would invest $40 billion a year domestically.
What Bloomberg Economics Says…
“As the governor of a central bank with a pegged currency, the role isn’t the classic one of setting interest rates. The importance of the post is in being the custodian of the country’s foreign exchange reserves.”
— Ziad Daoud, chief emerging-markets economist
Saudi Arabia pegs its currency to the dollar and tends to move in lockstep with the U.S. Federal Reserve. The change in leadership is unlikely to affect the central bank’s policy, with most levers of decision making in the kingdom controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia’s central bank has already been one of the key vehicles for providing stimulus to the economy as the coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices hobble the private sector. The monetary authority has extended over 100 billion riyals ($27 billion) to local banks in liquidity injections and to cover the costs of loan deferrals for small businesses hit by the pandemic.
The central bank also controls the kingdom’s reserves, which are among the largest in the world at 1.7 trillion riyals. But its historic role as manager of the country’s savings is being eclipsed by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s $400 billion sovereign wealth fund chaired by the crown prince.
The PIF, as the fund is known, received a $40 billion transfer from the central bank in March for new investments as it looked to capitalize on a slump in global markets caused by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. It later disclosed it had spent about $10 billion buying stakes in blue-chip Western firms, which it sold a few months later as markets recovered.
In a separate announcement on Sunday, Prince Mohammed said that the sovereign wealth fund aims to manage 4 trillion riyals by 2025, making it one of the biggest government controlled investors in the world.
If the PIF reaches that goal, it would eclipse the current size of China Investment Corp. and be a similar to Norway’s giant sovereign fund.
Since unveiling plans in 2016 to transform the fund into one of the cornerstones of a program to reshape the Saudi economy, it’s already more than tripled in size.
Under the leadership of Yasir Al-Rumayyan, a close adviser to the crown prince, the fund has shifted investment priorities from holdings in state-owned companies to building up stakes in Uber Technologies Inc. and Jio Platforms Ltd., the digital services business controlled by Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani.
The PIF rejigged some of its top leadership positions last month as it prepared to play a greater role in the local economy.
The wealth fund will host its annual investor conference within days, with the global pandemic making most of the proceedings virtual. Since its launch in 2017, the Future Investment Initiative has played host to hundreds of corporate titans including JPMorgan Chase and Co.’s Jamie Dimon and Softbank’s Masayoshi Son. The event has helped establish the fund’s reputation as a major source of international investment.
Over the next five years, the PIF’s strategy looks set to shift homeward. Prince Mohammed reiterated a pledge that the fund would pump 150 billion riyals or more into the local economy each year, and added that it would create 1.8 million jobs directly and indirectly by 2025 — a nod to the anxiety surrounding the 15% unemployment rate among Saudi citizens.
(An earlier version of this story corrected currency conversion in fourth paragraph.)