- Saudi Arabia sold $7.5 billion in bonds on Wednesday, drawing in $27 billion in orders, highlighting strong demand for the country’s debt by international investors.
- The sale is the first for Saudi Arabia following the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which sparked a global outcry against the kingdom.
- The Middle Eastern oil giant has been selling more sovereign debt in recent years as low oil prices impact the country’s economy.
Saudi Arabia has tapped international debt markets for the first time since the twin PR disasters of the death of Jamal Khashoggi and the US senate’s rebuke of the country’s efforts in Yemen.
It seems investors aren’t perturbed. Saudi Arabia, a serial borrower, has attracting plenty of orders from major Western banks.
The country bought in $7.5 billion in issuance with orders of about $27 billion, a sign there’s high demand for Saudi debt. The sale was led by BNP Paribas, JPMorgan, HSBC, Citigroup and NCB Capital.
A $4 billion 10-year bond was priced at 175 basis points (a 100th of a percent) over US Treasuries and a $3.5 billion 31-year bond priced at 230 basis points. While those prices offer relatively generous yields for investors, they are similar to what Saudis paid on other recent bonds, suggesting demand wasn’t dampened by the furor over the murdered journalist or its military activities.
Investors were also keen to get involved in Saudi debt because the country is joining one of JPMorgan’s key emerging-market bond indexes this year – boosting sentiment. Figures suggest that US investors made up around 40 to 45% of the total order book.
“It’s been a strong start to the year for emerging markets and appetite has improved significantly,” said Richard House, chief investment officer for emerging market debt at Allianz. “The country has become a big issuer in recent years.”
The kingdom’s prosecutors are conducting trials for 11 suspects in Khashoggi’s murder, which occurred in a Saudi consulate in Turkey in October.
Investors have been getting closer to Saudi Arabia in recent years after lower oil prices in 2016 forced the kingdom, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to seek new funding strategies in an initiative dubbed ‘Vision 2030.’
Saudi Arabia is likely to require even more international funding this year, with lower oil prices impacting its budget forecasts despite efforts to stabilize the market through OPEC.
In the past two and a half years, Saudi Arabia has sold close to $60 billion in bonds, becoming one of the biggest issuers of debt among emerging markets. The country raised $11 billion in one deal last year which was the largest single issuance by an emerging-market borrower, beating out its estranged neighbor Qatar in the process.
Diversification from oil has become key as the country seeks build out into the desert. It seems it has so far managed to win over deep-pocketed backers on the way.