A market trader holds a handful of 500 Riyal banknotes whilst standing at his fresh food stall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Saudi Wealth Fund Plans San Francisco Office

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is following its peers in Abu Dhabi and Qatar by opening an office in the U.S. tech hub of San Francisco.

“We are working on opening up in London and in the U.S., initially New York but also San Francisco and potentially other cities,” Managing Director Yasir Al-Rumayyan said at a conference in Abu Dhabi. “We feel we should be closer to our businesses over there.”

The Public Investment Fund would join the Qatar Investment Authority and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Co. in opening in Silicon Valley as they build up technology holdings. The funds are seeking to plow some of their oil and natural gas billions into technology to lessen their reliance on crude and to bring home businesses and skills that will help transform their economies.

Saudi Arabia’s U.S. plans come as the world’s biggest oil exporter tries to win back investor confidence after the October killing of Jamal Khashoggi sparked a global outcry. It’s also seeking to move on from an alleged crackdown on corruption that rattled the kingdom’s business elite and weighed on economic growth.

Tech Investments

Since unveiling a strategy in 2016 to transform the PIF from a sleepy domestic holding company into the world’s largest sovereign fund, Saudi Arabia has made a series of bold investments, many of which have focused on technology companies.

The fund has accumulated a stake in electric carmaker Tesla Inc. for about $2 billion on top of a $3.5 billion investment in ride-sharing company Uber Technologies Inc. It also made a $45 billion commitment to SoftBank Group Corp.’s $100 billion technology fund and could make another $45 billion investment in its second Vision Fund, PIF Chairman Mohammed Bin Salman -- who is also Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, said in October.

It’s also looking to bring vertical-farming startup Plenty Inc., which is backed by Masayoshi Son’s Vision Fund, to Saudi Arabia, Al-Rumayyan said. The startup, which has a farm in its hometown of San Francisco, says the company’s indoor technology is more efficient than traditional operations and well suited to harsh climates.

The fund plans to build a workforce of about 700 employees by the end of this year, up from 450 currently, Al-Rumayyan said. By 2025, it aims to boost that number to as many as 2,000.

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