The Saudi Arabian economy took a decisive hit last week as foreign investors sold off a reported $1.1 billion in Saudi-owned stocks last week. According to Reuters, this is the single largest sell-off since the country began allowing foreigners to purchase Saudi stock in 2015.
Experts agree that the dumping of the Gulf state’s stocks is a direct reaction to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, earlier this month. Although Riyadh initially denied any involvement in the journalist’s disappearance, the government has admitted that Khashoggi died inside the building during what the Saudis are calling a “fight.”
“The record amount of the sell-off really shows the gravity of the situation,” said Think Markets UK’s chief market analyst, Naeem Aslam, during an interview with Bloomberg. “The Saudis have suffered a major set back, and it is going to take a very long time and hard work for them to gain the same kind of confidence.”
The sell-off comes at a time when the Saudi Arabian leadership is attempting to reform the country’s stock exchange. According to Bloomberg, the exchange, which the Saudis call the “Tadawul,” is currently being rebuilt to match other international stock exchanges. Both FTSE Russell and MSCI Inc planned on upgrading the Tadawul to “emerging market” status in 2019; however, the scandal surrounding Khashoggi’s death may derail that plan.
Many experts also believe that the Saudi Arabian government used state money to purchase a significant number of stocks as a way to offset the selloff and prop the Tadawul up.
Despite Riyadh’s best efforts, the country’s stock market has lost about four percent of its value over the last several weeks. However, many experts are awaiting the US response in order to gauge how severe the backlash will be to the Tadawul.
“The market started to price in a fundamentally different relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.,” said Arqaam Capital’s head of equity research, Jaap Meijer, while speaking to Reuters. “We believe the U.S. will keep Saudi Arabia as its close ally given (amongst other things) the importance of the kingdom in the Middle East region and being the producer of 10 percent of the world oil supply.”
The Saudis’ biggest resource is their vast oil supply, which some feared would be leveraged against any possible economic sanctions from the international community. However, according to a report from Bloomberg, the Saudi government has no plans to decrease its oil production or close its crude markets.
“It looks like both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia would like a way to not have oil be part of any sanctions that result from the Khashoggi murder,” said Michael Hiley, LPS Partners’ head of over-the-counter energy trading in New York.
As The Saudi government’s Energy Minister, Khalid Al-Falih, reassured the world that the Gulf state’s oil would still be available, Brent crude remained near $80 per barrel.