The government of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has spent billions to counter selloffs in recent months
Saudi Arabia’s government has been spending billions of dollars to quietly prop up its stock market and counter selloffs that have followed repeated political crises in recent months.
According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of trading data and interviews with multiple people with direct knowledge of government intervention efforts, the Saudi government has placed huge buy orders, often in the closing minutes of negative trading days, to boost the market.
The Saudi stock market is a pillar of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to revamp his country’s economy. Since he ascended to a top leadership position three years ago, the de facto Saudi ruler and his deputies have faced a series of foreign-relations predicaments—most recently the October murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi—that prompted investors to dump Saudi stocks.
The Saudi stock exchange normally discloses how much stock the government buys. The recent purchases after political crises have been concealed from public view. That is because the government, rather than buying stock directly, has routed its money through asset managers at Saudi financial institutions who run funds that don’t need to reveal their clients, those people say.
.. It is a strategy the kingdom used last year after it launched an economic blockade of Qatar, following the arrest and torture of prominent Saudis, a corruption crackdown that some inside the government called a political purge, and after Prince Mohammed detained Lebanon’s prime minister, the Journal found.
Through the upheaval, Prince Mohammed’s government has been keen to show the world that Saudi Arabia remains safe for foreign investors. “We need to highlight to the world that Saudi investment is good,” said a Saudi government official.
.. China and other developing countries have been intervening for years in their stock markets. The Saudi efforts stand apart because they’re geared to attract foreign investors to a market with little foreign ownership. Foreigners only own about 4% of stock on the Saudi market, where all of the companies are Saudi-based and many have some government ownership.
.. Antoine van Agtmael, who coined the term “emerging market” almost 40 years ago, and who now works as an adviser for publisher FP Group, said government intervention makes the Saudi stock exchange “more of a fake market, and that kind of undermines the trust of investors in the long run.”
.. Having a healthy stock market is especially important because the Saudi stock exchange, known as the Tadawul, will be included next year in global emerging-market indexes. That inclusion will result in billions of dollars of foreign capital entering the exchange, which currently has a market capitalization of around $500 billion.
.. To prop up the market, the government has bought stocks via its sovereign Public Investment Fund, or PIF, say people familiar with the matter. PIF has been Prince Mohammed’s main investment instrument at home and abroad, taking a high-profile stake in Uber Technologies Inc. and investing billions of dollars with SoftBank Group Corp.
.. When local share prices falter, one of these people says, Mr. Rumayyan tells deputies to start buying. They use the messaging program WhatsApp to contact managers at institutions including state-controlled NCB Capital Co. who manage PIF funds, this person says.