If an oil small cap wanted to enter Saudi Arabia it’s hard; but this week it got easier
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Until the US’ record oil production figures in recent months, Saudi Arabia was the world’s largest oil market. But the Arab nation still produces 11 million barrels of oil per day and is one of the key members of OPEC.
There are mining and energy small caps focused on autocratic countries such as Tanzania or with security problems such as in the Congo and Mozambique. But there are no players focused on Saudi Arabia.
The Australian government’s Smart Traveller website warns visitors to reconsider their need to travel to Saudi Arabia. Reasons included war with Yemen, a high death toll from roads and routine crackdowns on criticism or mockery of the royal family or religious values.
Last year, foreign investment into Saudi Arabia was 13 billion riyals ($4.96 billion). But this week the Saudi Arabian government took two curious actions that imply they’re keen for more. First it introduced a unique visa for expat investors.
Its not cheap at 800,000 riyals ($305,000) for a permanent visa or 100,000 riyals ($38,126.25) for a one-year visa. But you will be able to buy property, enter and exit without restrictions and set up businesses without a sponsor.
Second, the government is relaxing a 49 per cent limit that exists on foreign investment. Until 2015 “foreign investors need not apply” was the policy. But the ban was first lifted then and this week has been eased further. However, a minimum two-year holding period will apply.
Mohammed El-Kuwaiz, chairman of the local Capital Market Authority, told Reuters foreign investment had tripled this year.
“Our hope is that we can see a similar increase in terms of pace and magnitude as we start to create more avenues for foreign investors to come into the market,” he said.
It is arguable the move is an attempt to diversify the economy beyond oil and spare them the detriment that can come with price crashes.
But the industry remains large in Saudi Arabia — estimates of the country’s oil stockpile put its reserves at 260 billion barrels
El-Kuwaiz implied this would make the Aramco IPO easier. After being delayed for several years, Saudi Arabia is now aiming to list its state-owned oil company in 2021.
The nation hopes to value it at $US2 trillion and raise $100 billion. Funds raised will go to Crown Prince Mohammed’s infrastructure plans.