Saudis Threaten To Move Aramco IPO Elsewhere Due To "Concerns" Over Trump, Sept 11 Law

Aside from Hillary Clinton of course, the single biggest loser from the November 8 presidential election in terms of net sunk costs, was Saudi Arabia: having "donated" tens of millions to the Clinton Foundation, and sponsored her presidential campaign directly, Riyadh was hoping for many long and fruitful years of quid pro quo in exchange for its recycled petrodollar generosity. Instead, the Saudis got not only president Trump, who has made it public he wants a clean break with a US foreign policy which panders to such Mid-east "allies" as the Saudi, but also the recent passage of legislation that could - and already has - allowed U.S. terror victims to sue Saudi Arabia.

As a result, a suddenly snubbed Saudi Arabia, is reassessing its multibillion-dollar U.S. financial strategy because of shifts in the American political landscape, including whether to go elsewhere with the public stock debut of its state oil company the WSJ reports.

In monetary terms, this means that Saudi Arabia’s giant sovereign-wealth fund has paused its U.S. investments until they can figure out the implications of the bill and the new direction of the White House, the WSJ said citing a person familiar with the fund’s decision making.

And, in what is an attempt to engage in a negotiation with the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia has already unveiled what it will use as a bargaining chip to make Trump warm up to Suadi diplomatic overtures: the initial public offering of Saudi Arabian Oil Company, the world’s biggest oil producer better known as Aramco, which is tentatively set for next year or 2018, and could raise more than $100 billion in proceeds, ranking as the largest in IPO history. The prospect has set banks scrambling for a deal that could bring $1 billion in fees.

Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, tentatively set its IPO for next year or 2018

It is these fees that Saudi Arabia is now threatening with taking to some other global capital market.

While Saudi officials haven’t decided where to list the shares, bankers say the New York Stock Exchange is the best place to debut such a large offering. The government has been meeting with officials from numerous exchanges, including London, people familiar with the process said.

Furthermore, with its "investment" in the Clinton Campaign now lost, Saudi officials are looking at other avenue with which to grease Washington, and specifically how they will invest money from the kingdom’s massive Public Investment Fund. Danging the carrot, Saudi officials have indicated they are effectively turning the sovereign-wealth fund into a war chest for non-oil investments abroad—a coffer that would expand with proceeds from the Aramco IPO.

So what has gotten the Saudis so riled up?  It appears that the kingdom is particularly alarmed by the federal legislation approved in September to allow victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia to seek damages.  The prospect of being found liable for the attacks has made Saudi leaders worry that big transactions in the U.S. could expose their assets to legal judgments.

Which, traditionally, would have a simple solution: just give the Clinton Foundation an extra million and it 3will go away. This time however, with Trump in charge, the Saudis have no idea how to approach the US government when it comes to "purchasing" political favors.

And while it grapples to find the right approach, Saudi Arabia had beefed up its lobbying operation to wage a furious effort to defeat the terrorism legislation. After Congress overrode a veto of the bill by President Barack Obama , lobbyists for Saudi Arabia pressed lawmakers to amend it. Lobbyists have argued that the measure is too broad and could have the unintended result of prompting lawsuits against the U.S. by foreign individuals. 

Those lobbyists also had raised the specter that the law could affect Saudi Arabia’s U.S. investment plans.

A shift in Saudi Arabia’s U.S. investing strategy now could become a negotiating point in the kingdom’s broader relationship with the U.S. Many in Washington expected legislators to soften the law after the November elections, something Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky) hinted at in September. At that time, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was forecast to win the election. The White House declined to comment. But congressional leaders haven’t revisited the law since Mr. Trump’s victory, and have now adjourned until next year, likely leaving the law to the next Congress and a president who has indicated no interest in changing it.

The biggest problem for the Saudis is that Trump has been a fervent supporter of the bill. He called Obama’s veto attempt shameful and said it would “go down as one of the low points of his presidency.”

In a statement before Congress voted to overturn the veto, Mr. Trump said: “If elected president, I would sign such legislation should it reach my desk.” Mr. Trump didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Also, there was the infamous spat between Trump and Saudi prince Bin Talal...

Then again, it may be just one of things Trump is preparing to flip-flop on. The President-elect has said he is a friend of Saudi Arabia, and picked Gen. James Mattis, a longtime supporter of Saudi Arabia, as his defense secretary.

Yet Trump has also questioned U.S. military support to the country. In another potential challenge to Saudi Arabia, Mr. Trump has been an advocate for increasing U.S. oil production, in part to limit imports.

Saudi companies have stakes in U.S. refineries and are trying to expand into petrochemicals. But Trump adviser Harold Hamm, the chief executive of oil producer Continental Resources Inc., said recently that Saudi Arabia shouldn’t be allowed to own petrochemical plants in the U.S., since it would collide with U.S. business interests by having the plants process Saudi oil, rather than buying from U.S. producers.

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Bit the real carrot is the Aramco IPO. While a Saudi Aramco IPO in New York was never a certainty, many had assumed it would take place there. However, the changes in the U.S. have further delayed Saudi decisions on how to move ahead with their plans. The offering is part of a Saudi strategy to reduce its reliance on oil and diversify its economy. The IPO is also the primary impetus behind Saudi Arabia's change of heart, where the kingdom is now pushing for higher prices and lower production, a U-turn from its November 2014 stance. After all the probability of finding $100 billion worth of investments is much higher with oil at $60 than $30.

In July, the Saudi fund said it would invest $45 billion in a fund run by Japanese internet and telecommunications giant SoftBank Group Corp.  The WSJ sources say the Saudi officials decided to make the huge investment in SoftBank after the terrorism legislation, and the money that went into SoftBank could have gone directly into U.S. investments or U.S. investment firms. There were concerns about their exposure if they invested directly, one person said. Naturally, one can counter that they would have nothing to be concerned about if they are - as they claim - fully innocent of anything to do with Sept 11.

The Saudi fund was also interested in SoftBank on its own merits, said a person familiar with the matter, including the ability to put a large amount of money to work with a single investment and the likelihood that the fund would have access to deals from some of the world’s top entrepreneurs.

Of course, the investment had an ulterior motive too: to get Trump on the same page as the Kingdom. Some of the money that went to SoftBank appears likely to end up in the U.S. via SoftBank investments. SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son met with Mr. Trump at Trump Tower in New York on Dec. 6 and told reporters afterward he would invest $50 billion—some of it from the fund the Saudis backed—in the U.S. and create 50,000 new jobs.

So yes, much of the money invested in the US via SoftBank will come from Saudi Arabia, just as the Saudis want it, as from that moment on they would have leverage... just like they did over Clinton.

It remains to be seen just what Trump's policy toward Saudi Arabia will be, and if he will merely perpetuate the flawed foreign policy of his predecessor.