Not Everyone’s Buying What Saudis Are Selling
It was a strong debut today for the world’s biggest initial public offering. Shares of Saudi Aramco jumped 10%, the daily limit, in Riyadh. Its market value is a whopping $1.88 trillion.
There was never any possibility of the listing flopping. For Aramco isn’t just any old oil company. It’s the state money-spinner for Saudi Arabia, and its power and prestige echoes that of the Kingdom’s rulers, including its young Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Prince Mohammed touted the IPO to raise money for projects that could wean the country off oil. He’s pushing a blueprint known as “Vision 2030” to attract foreign investment, balance the budget and privatize government assets. He’s lifted a ban on women driving and relaxed dress codes, in part to try and attract more tourists.
Prince Mohammed faces an offshore backlash over Yemen — where a Saudi-led coalition has fought Iranian-backed Houthi rebels since 2015, leading to a humanitarian disaster. There was an international outcry over the murder of columnist and critic Jamal Khashoggi.
Aramco is part of the bid to fashion a “new” Saudi. But Prince Mohammed may need to do more to rework the economy and build international faith in its future.
Impeachment debate | The U.S. House Judiciary Committee will take a historic step tonight when it begins considering two narrowly written articles of impeachment seeking to remove U.S. President Donald Trump from office for allegedly abusing his power and obstructing Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled off a delicate political maneuver by announcing in quick succession the articles as well as the delivery of a trade deal that’s one of Trump’s highest priorities.
- The Judiciary panel meets at 7 p.m. in Washington, with debate expected to go for several hours before continuing tomorrow.
Narrowing lead | The U.K.’s Brexit election is heading for a tight result with a major poll showing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lead has halved in the past two weeks. The possibility of another messy hung parliament has hit the pound, while anti-Brexit campaigners are pinning their hopes on a tactical voting campaign to sway the result.
- Despite personal and political differences, European Union officials are secretly hoping Johnson wins so that progress can be made on Brexit at last.
Lights out | South Africa is in the grips of severe electricity shortages that forced mining companies to temporarily halt operations, disrupted telephone services and threatened to push the economy into recession. While the blackouts eased today, President Cyril Ramaphosa had to cut short a visit to Egypt to deal with a crisis that’s highlighted his government’s failure to reform state companies weakened by corruption and low investment.
Running out of patience | Trump has refused to respond as North Korea carried out short-range missile tests and chipped away at international sanctions. But that may not last as the regime hints at a provocation this month, possibly including a long-range missile launch or atomic test as a “Christmas gift” to the U.S.
- A Senate committee is pushing ahead with bills to sanction Turkey and Russia, plus measures that could tie Trump’s hands on cultivating personal relationships with other leaders.
Ominous warnings | In Israel’s toxic political atmosphere, talk has turned to assassination. Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leaders have received death threats as two divisive and inconclusive elections dovetail in a caustic mix with the premier’s indictment for fraud. It’s a worrisome parallel with the vitriolic campaign against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before he was gunned down in 1995, Gwen Ackerman and Yaacov Benmeleh report.
What to Watch
- European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is due today to set out a climate plan that will transform the way Europe produces energy, polices businesses and manages trade relations.
- Algerians have been in the streets for nine months demanding the right to choose a president with popular support, but in tomorrow’s vote, their choice will be between five regime loyalists.
- Bougainville moved a step closer to becoming an independent nation today after results from a referendum showed an overwhelming majority — 98% — want the province to cut its ties with Papua New Guinea.
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And finally ... Alberto Fernandez’s inauguration yesterday as Argentina’s new left-wing president wasn’t without its drama. A senior Trump adviser flew to Buenos Aires but skipped the ceremony upon learning a top minister to Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro would be there. The right-wing administration in Brazil — which was sniping with Fernandez even before he took office — indicated it’d skip the event, but Deputy President Hamilton Mourao was dispatched at the last minute.
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