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New Saudi mega-city will be listed publicly, crown prince says

The $500 billion (Dh1.8 trillion) mega-city planned by Saudi Arabia will be floated on financial markets alongside oil giant Saudi Aramco as part of the kingdom’s drive to diversify away from oil, the crown prince told Reuters in an interview late on Wednesday.

The 26,500-square kilometres (10,230-square mile) business and industrial zone, named NEOM, will extend into Jordan and Egypt.

It was unveiled on Tuesday at a three-day international investment conference.

The surprise announcement is the latest — and most extraordinary — in a slate of privatisation programmes led by the floating of oil giant Saudi Aramco. The sales are designed to boost the Saudi economy and create jobs for millions of young people.

“The first capitalist city in the world … this is the unique thing that will be revolutionary,” Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman said.

“Without a doubt, at the end of the day NEOM will be floated in the markets. The first zone floated in the public markets.

It’s as if you float the city of New York.” Prince Mohammad also said the Saudi Aramco IPO was on track for next year, dismissing reports of delays, adding it could be valued at more than $2 trillion (Dh7.34 trillion).

The 32-year-old spoke on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative conference, which has attracted nearly 4,000 delegates from around the world to Riyadh this week.

Focus on growth

Adjacent to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba and near maritime trade routes that use the Suez Canal, the zone will serve as a gateway to the proposed King Salman Bridge, which will link Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

“It won’t be listed in the markets until the idea is mature enough,” Prince Mohammad said. “It might be after 2030, it might be before, but the idea and the strategy is to float it eventually.” The new city will not follow the rules and regulations enforced in the rest of Saudi Arabia, which imposes Sharia based on a strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.

NEOM will be fully owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF) until its listing, the PIF has said.

Prince Mohammad said the name mixed “neo”, meaning new, with M, the first letter of the Arabic word for future.

The new city is part of the crown prince’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan to overhaul the economy of Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s largest producer, and provide jobs for an overwhelmingly young population amid a global oil price decline since 2014.

Economic growth has slowed and the economy may shrink this year as the government introduces austerity measures.

“The idea is not to restructure the economy as much as to seize the opportunities available that we didn’t address before. We have high capacity and we use only a little,” he said.

Qatar issue

Prince Mohammad said Saudi Arabia’s dispute with neighbouring Qatar had not affected investment. “Qatar is a very, very, very small issue,” he said.

Saudi Arabia and three Arab allies cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar earlier this year over accusations Doha supported Islamist “terrorists”.

Source: Gulf News

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