As it was yesterday, we’re looking at another day in which the global business and political elite are squarely focused on developments in Saudi Arabia in the wake of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s crackdown on corruption:
Oil prices rose yesterday to their highest level in two years on tensions in KSA, with Brent crude breaking the USD 64 barrier yesterday. Oil was already on the upswing before the Saudi corruption crackdown, but analysts are drawing a fairly direct link between it and yesterday’s surge. A CNBC piece predicting that “oil prices are more likely to rise toward USD 70 a barrel than sink back to USD 50” is getting wide traction.
Arab stock markets were among the world’s worst performers yesterday in the wake of the corruption crackdown, Bloomberg reports. “Investors have been hammered with bad news on the geopolitical front … It’s not easy to see what is coming next. Some individuals and institutions are trying to dump assets that are tied to the investigations, there is selling pressure,” Nabil Al Rantisi, Managing Director of Mena Corp. Financial Services, says.
Market players think government funds are supporting the Saudi market, preventing bigger drops. “I think the government funds, led by the Public Investment Fund, are supporting the market … Look at other markets, all are down by more than a couple of percentage points in the last three days, while Saudi is the only market which is still holding up … The government needs to show that financial markets are taking the move positively and business is as usual in Saudi, while the reality is something else,” Joice Mathew, head of equity research at United Securities says.
Asset freezes expanding? The corruption crackdown, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is also reportedly expanding beyond those already detained, as sources say the central bank “ordered lenders in the kingdom to freeze the accounts of dozens of individuals who aren’t under arrest.” Saudi Arabia’s attorney general said that the arrests were only “phase one” of a drive against corruption.
The arrests appear to have the backing of US President Donald Trump, who tweeted on Monday, “I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing…Some of those they are harshly treating have been “milking” their country for years [exclamation mark].”
Other developments from the kingdom yesterday and overnight: MbS accused Iran of having committed “an act of war” when it supplied Houthi rebels with missiles used to launch an attack on Riyadh. Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri left Riyadh yesterday, dispelling rumors he was being held against his will in KSA. And the last khawaga journalist to have interviewed Alwaleed bin Talal has filed the lengthy “I Dined With Alwaleed in the Desert Days Before His Arrest” for Bloomberg, in which he recounts how the two discussed politics and watched football together 10 days before Alwaleed’s arrest.
Many of our friends and readers are still in London this morning for day three of the EFG Hermes London Conference. The firm says 290 fund managers and institutional investors are on London for meetings with 130 presenting companies representing 10 industries and 20 countries. “The inclusion of companies from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Georgia, Turkey, Uganda and Vietnam is driven by the Firm’s strategy to provide investors access to new markets outside of MENA,” said Group CEO Karim Awad. Speakers at the gathering include EGX boss Mohamed Farid as well as stock market bosses from Nigeria, Kenya and Pakistan. The gathering is taking place at Emirates Arsenal Stadium and wraps up tomorrow. Tap here for the conference press release.
A 40-company delegation from the British Egyptian Business Association is in the UK for four days as of today to take part in Friday’s MENA Britain Trade Expo, where infrastructure, financial services, renewable energy, and oil will be in the limelight.
The House of Representatives’ Industry Committee is also expected to resume talks on the Automotive Directive today. The bill was amended for the third time after a German consultancy firm assisted the Trade and Industry Ministry in refining it. The law gives assemblers incentives to go further up the value chain into manufacturing.
Also today, Electricity Minister Mohamed Shaker will inaugurate the first station at the Benban solar power complex in Aswan. Infinity Solar will become the first company to complete a solar power plant under the feed-in tariff program, connecting 50 MW of power to the national grid once trial operations conclude.
Election results from state and municipal races in the US are flowing in as we write this morning, and early indications show the Democrats posting gains. The Dems have taken the statehouse in Virginia and New Jersey and progressive mayor Bill de Blasio stomped to victory and a final term in New York. Political junkie like us? Head over to Politico for the blow-by-blow, and start with their 15 elections you should be watching.
Other miscellany worth checking out this morning, if you’re looking for something to read during your commute:
For basketball fans of a certain age: New York Knicks’ great Patrick Ewing is finally a head coach … but not in the NBA, ESPN tells us in a very nice feature.
From the Financial Times: Erratic Trump puzzles China’s Americanologists. “Elite US experts in China” are struggling to help Beijing “make sense of an unpredictable president.”
Snap(chat) foundering: Longtime readers won’t be surprised that we’re kind of delighted that Snap, which delivered “the most shareholder-unfriendly governance in an initial public offering, ever,” has seen its shares plunge again after posting disappointing revenue and growth figures. Party’s over, folks: The company’s shares nosedived as much as 20% “after the company said its quarterly loss more than tripled.”