Saudi Arabia aims to be regional benchmark in global bond markets

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Time: May 03, 2018

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia wants to be the “regional benchmark and safe haven” in global bond markets, according to Fahad Al-Saif, the president of the Ministry of Finance debt management office.

The Kingdom successfully raised $11 billion on international capital markets last month with an issue that was five times oversubscribed and in which 15 percent of investors were first time buyers of Saudi debt, Al-Saif said.

The capital raising was achieved without the need for a roadshow, he pointed out, in what he took as a sign that the Kingdom was now regarded as a “reliable and credible issuer” by international markets.

“The target is to become the regional benchmark and safe haven in fixed interest markets,” he said.

The debt raising is the third successive year Saudi Arabia has gone to the markets for multi-billion dollar sums, following the record breaking $17.5 billion debut sovereign bond in 2016 and $21.5 billion last year.

Both those rounds came toward the end of the year, whereas the most recent one came comparatively early in 2018. “We did not want to be tagged a final quarter issuer,” Al-Saif said.

But two bankers at the conference — who did not want to be named because they were currently working on bond sales in the Kingdom — said that the timing meant that Saudi Arabia could go back to the markets again this year.

“Saudi Arabia has become one of the biggest issuers in the world and it has a track record of proven quality. They (Saudi policymakers) might think it makes sense to go back to the markets while their reputation is flying high and interest rates are still comparatively low,” said one.

Faisal Qadri, head of debt capital markets for HSBC in Saudi Arabia, said: “Previously, Saudi Arabia was closed in terms of transparency and disclosure. Now they have produced a prospectus and are out there.”

Al-Saif said that he took encouragement from the kind of questions he was being asked by potential creditors: “They are asking normal questions about the economic progress of the Vision 2030 strategy and the fiscal balance targets. It is more technical inquiries and less focused on the oil price and geopolitics.”

He added that Saudi Arabia had the ability to issue a “super-long” bond of up to 100 years, but such a move seems unlikely at the moment.

“Are we able to issue 50 or 100 year bonds, yes. Are we able to issue in different currencies other than dollars, yes. Are we keen to take that step at the moment, I don’t think so,” he said.

Last month 45 government-linked securities were launched on the Tadawul financial market in a move aimed at deepening the domestic credit markets.

This article was first published Arab News

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