Saudi Said To Approve Stock Licenses For Citi And Ashmore

Saudi Arabia cracked open the door to direct investments in its stock market by qualified foreign institutions in June, when HSBC became the first foreign firm to receive a license.

Now the Saudi authorities are pushing the door open a bit wider, with the apparent granting of licenses to Citi and emerging markets investment manager Ashmore.

Although the Capital Markets Authority has not said who has won QFI licenses, industry sources said Citi and Ashmore have begun to invest directly in the local stock market. Citi’s license is its first banking license in the country since it sold its 20% stake in Samba Financial and left the kingdom in 2004.

Given the size and depth of the $450 billion Saudi stock market, Ashmore expects the kingdom to be included in the main emerging markets benchmark indexes by mid-2017, which could attract billions of dollars of additional investment flows.

In another move to open its oil-dependent economy to foreign investors, Saudi Arabia plans to allow foreigners to own up to 100% of retail and wholesale businesses, subject to conditions that have not yet been revealed. The current limit is 75%
foreign ownership.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Council of Ministers granted a license for Qatar National Bank to open a branch in the country, the first by a Qatari lender. The approval came a week after Qatar’s central bank said it would grant licenses to fellow Gulf Cooperation Council banks to open branches in Qatar, presumably on a reciprocal basis.