Natural Gas

Arab SWFs Struggling with Rentier State Strategies

The last days Abu Dhabi Pension Fund and state-holding company ADQ announced that they will be investing $2.1 billion in ADNOC’s gas pipeline assets, acquiring a 20% stake in the ADNOC subsidiary with lease rights to 38 gas pipelines covering 982 kilometers.

The Abu Dhabi fund will partner in deal announced in June by a consortium of Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), Brookfield Asset Management, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, NH Investment & Securities and Italy’s Snam. The latter groups stated they will invest $10.1 billion in ADNOC gas pipeline assets for a 49% collective stake. ADQ, set up in 2018, is the owner of Abu Dhabi Ports, Abu Dhabi Airport and bourse operator ADX.

At the same time another Abu Dhabi SWF Mubadala announced that it has taken a 3.1% stake in the Spain-based gas system operator Enagas. The new stake falls in line with Mubadala’s investments in other Spanish assets in the oil and technology industries. Enagas owns stakes in firms in the Mediterranean region, Latin America and the United States.

Mubadala also announced that it invests 200 million euros ($235 million) in German pharmaceutical company Evotec SE as part of the Abu Dhabi wealth fund’s plans to expand its portfolio. The Abu Dhabi-based fund, managing around $232 billion, has engaged on a diversification strategy plowing mainly its cash in technology to prepare for a less-crude dependent future. Mubadala Investment stated that it will subscribe to 9.2 million Evotec shares, taking about a 5.6% stake in a private placement. In September, Mubadala acquired a 5% stake in private equity firm Silver Lake.

The Abu Dhabi moves stand contrary to its main rival Qatar’s Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). The latter, holding the main revenues of the former OPEC-member, officially has already assessed its own hydrocarbon sector companies investments. Mansour Al Mahmoud, QIA’s CEO, stated at an International Institute of Finance event that QIA has more than half of its assets invested in private equity and listed shares as it chases higher returns.

He indicated that QIA’s “approach is always to be a long-term investor, this gives us an advantage”. With around $295 billion in assets, the fund is now active mainly in stocks, private equity and venture capital. Mahmoud added that QIA had stopped investing in fossil fuel companies.

Still, roaming through last weeks’ media reports, the picture is diffuse. Arab SWFs also are reported to have invested in the Russian Sovcomflot IPO last week. The Russian entity has listed 17.2% of the company on the Moscow Stock Exchange, raising US$550M.

The Russian government still holds 82.8% of the shares in the company. The Sovcomflot IPO was supported by global bookrunners and coordinators, VTB Capital, Citi, Sberbank, JP Morgan and Bank of America. Russian sources stated that the shares were purchased by retail investors with the state Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Russia’s sovereign wealth fund.

Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev stated that main partners have come from leading sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia. Saudi Public Investment Fund, ADIA, QIA and others all are working with RDIF. Sovcomflot wants to expand in the key areas of sea energy transportation and seismic exploration. It will also help serve existing Russian and international energy projects more efficiently and participate in the development of new routes, including through the Northern Sea Route and the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation.

The above painted picture however is more opaque than shown in media. Arab SWFs are increasingly being tasked to fill in the financial gaps in their domestic markets, as oil and gas revenues of most Arab petrostates are dwindling. With COVID-19 continuing, global oil and gas demand destruction still high, and future prices still under extreme pressure, government revenues are not sufficient to cover budget deficits.

As has been shown in Saudi Arabia, the call on Aramco to provide additional cash, is growing, which is not different from the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. The latter is even hit twice, as its major LNG projects and possible liquefaction expansion plans are facing a major global gas glut forcing prices to historically low levels. Dwindling Petrodollars are a fact of life for the coming years. The latter situation already is showing its ugly face in the Arab financial sectors too. Instability in the banking and financial markets in the region are increasing, as was reported also by ratings major S&P, in a recent report.

The latter stated that risks in the banking sector including reduced profitability as “the pandemic and drop in oil prices could mark the start of a new era” are continuing. The report indicated that “rated banks in the GCC face an uphill struggle in the next 18 months due to the protracted nature of the economic recovery and the expected gradual withdrawal of regulatory forbearance measures”. The Samba-NCB merger in Saudi Arabia is one of the outcomes already.

The latter ripples will for sure put a damper on the attractivity of Arab SWFs too. If the financials of these sovereign wealth giants are depressed further, oil-gas and construction or infrastructure projects in the region will feel the impact. Lower financial liquidity could impact possible future projects of Aramco, ADNOC, NOGA, QP or KOC, leading to a possible scenario as now is being shown by IOCs such as Shell, BP and Equinor. Less financial strength of Arab oil companies will not have a ripple effect on oil production and prices, but will be a Tsunami of unknown order.

Middle East Sovereign Wealth Fund Direct Transactions Comprise Larger Portion of Investments

Data: SWFI.com (SWFI Asset Owner Terminal)

Filter: Sovereign Wealth Funds. Amount Min: US$ 10,000,000. Type: Deal, New Security Issue, Open Market. No fund commitments.

Direct Sovereign Wealth Fund Transactions – Middle East and Asian SWFs Transaction Amount as a Percent of All SWF Transaction Amount

Year Gulf SWF Transactions / All SWF Transactions Asian SWF Transactions / All SWF Transactions
2020* 42.32% 22.09%
2019 26.98% 38.65%
2018 22.59% 49.12%
2017 15.64% 38.40%
2016 19.27% 36.34%
2015 18.19% 69.01%
2014 22.46% 46.24%
2013 13.13% 23.57%
2012 26.87% 46.89%
2011 33.49% 38.93%
2010 33.43% 41.12%
2009 42.94% 37.17%
2008 38.60% 47.98%