The crisis triggered by the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is hurting Saudi Arabia’s plans to attract and retain international stock-market investors.
Foreigners were net sellers of a total of 4 billion riyals ($1.1 billion) of stocks last week, more than any other since data was first made available in 2015, with the exception of a one-time outflow from a single transaction in September 2017.
Most of the sales came from qualified foreign institutional investors, which were first authorised to trade directly in the market three years ago. Local retail investors were also net sellers for the week, while Saudi institutions were net purchasers.
Investors from outside the kingdom and local individuals accelerated sales as volatility surged amid escalating concerns tied to the government’s potential involvement in the death of Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.
On Sunday, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the killing was carried out by a “rogue operation” that then tried to cover it up. European leaders and even President Donald Trump have expressed skepticism over the official explanation.
The crisis comes as the kingdom’s market regulator and its stock exchange, known as Tadawul, proceed with reforms aimed at aligning the market with international standards as part of a broader plan to diversify the economy.
Foreigners are still net buyers for the year after they accelerated purchases in the first half, when FTSE Russell and MSCI announced they will upgrade Saudi Arabia to an emerging market starting in 2019.
Record amount of sell-off
“The record amount of the sell-off really shows the gravity of the situation,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Think Markets UK in London.
“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 Tadawul All Share Index fell as much as 3.3 percent on Monday, before paring the loss to 0.2% by the close.
Saudi Arabia had the biggest outflow among exchange-traded funds that buy emerging markets last week. Despite the increased concerns, the main Saudi stock gauge posted a 1.6% increase for the week, prompting traders to speculate that funds tied to the government could be propping up shares, a suggestion that hasn’t been confirmed. Numbers provided by the stock exchange on Sunday show that Saudi institutional investors were net buyers of 7.8 billion riyals in the week ended October 18, the highest value since June 2017.
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