Persian Gulf investors nervous

The World

Almost exactly a year ago, Abu Dabi’s sovereign welfare fund injected $7.5 billion dollars into an ailing Citigroup and Kuwait also invested in Merrill Lynch. Western governments responded with alarm bells about possible political motives and their lack of transparency. What a difference a financial catastrophe makes. Today Britain’s Prime Minister was in the UAE talking about how he welcomes foreign money from sovereign wealth funds. The U.S.’s Deputy Treasury Secretary made a similar statement recently as well. But because of falling oil prices and burnt by these foreign investments, few sovereign wealth funds are taking risks these days. The Gulf States’ new view was evident at this private equity fund conference in Dubai a few weeks ago. The mood has turned 180 degrees from a similar conference 18 months ago. This analyst says investors are playing it safe. He says sovereign wealth funds are taking a wait and see attitude. Late last month, Abu Dabi’s Royal Family bought thousands of shares in Barkley’s, Britain’s second biggest bank, which made it the largest shareholder. But others funds are looking to repatriate some of their wealth. The analyst says he doesn’t think funds will start selling all their foreign assets, but their level of aggressiveness in the near-term will be determined by how this financial crisis plays out. With oil prices down, most funds are being very conservative. This analyst says he hopes a new U.S. administration will usher in the beginning of the end of the financial crisis which could give foreign wealth funds the confidence to get back in the market.

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