One concern expressed by Western states during the Dubai World debt crisis last December was that Arab Sovereign Wealth Funds will withdraw from their European and US investments in order to raise cash for troubled firms at home. The repayment of a $3.52bn Sukuk by Dubai World's real estate subsidiary Nakheel which matured on December 14 was only secured due to a $10bn bailout package from Abu Dhabi. A reason to retreat from stakes overseas?
That might be far-fetched, as the Gulf States have been investing abroad since the 1960s. The Gulf's oldest SWF, the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) for example, has been a major shareholder at German car producer Daimler since 1974. Not even the eight-month long Iraqi occupation in 1990/1991 could harm this long-term investment.
"Although the term SWF entered the mainstream in recent years, Arab capital spent by governments in Western blue chip firms is not new. These funds were only labelled differently," explains Dr Nasser Saidi, Chief Economist at the DIFC Authority.
Shift in expectations
At a first glance, the partnership seems to be still intact at the beginning of the new decade. In March 2009 Abu Dhabi's Abaar Investments became the largest shareholder in Daimler when it bought a 9.1% stake worth $2.9bn, overtaking Kuwait's 7.4% share. Abaar announced in November 2009 that it aims to double its share. Qatar's SWF, The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) holds 10% at Credit Suisse, Switzerland's leading bank (the 'CS', as the Swiss use to call the bank, overtook its troubled rival UBS in 2009).
At a second glance, it is clear that the times when SWFs were satisfied with receiving annual dividend payments from their peers are over. Daimler, for example, had to commit itself in building the research and development of electric cars in Abu Dhabi in exchange for Abaar's engagement.
The oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi (home to a tenth of the known oil reserves) also showed that it has not only money but also teeth. On December 16, Abu Dhabi sued Citigroup over a $7.5bn investment it conducted in 2007. Abu Dhabi said the US Bank engaged in "fraudulent misrepresentation" in a 2007 fundraising in which the SWF invested $7.5bn in convertible bonds. ADIA has lost about 90% since then.
Far Eastern opportunities
Moreover, new opportunities in the Far East mean a lesser focus in the occidental continents. The green shoots of a Sino-Arabian capital partnership became visible only in recent years. In April 2008, one of Dubai's SWFs, Dubai International Capital (DIC), launched, along with China's First Eastern Investment Group, China Dubai Capital, which will target opportunities in China's growing economy.
This $1bn investment vehicle seems tiny against leading names, but a start has been made. The same year, the DIFC and Hong Kong agreed to build up a common capital market for Islamic financial instruments. This was the result of a landmark visit made by Dubai's ruler and UAE's Vice President HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum to the People's Republic of China during that time.
The history of the DIC gives proof that the SWFs do not seek either perpetual allies or eternal partnerships.