Saudi Arabia's vow to respond with "greater action" to any economic or political sanctions linked to the disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi has dented global market sentiment Monday and potentially added pressure to a host of U.S. stocks linked to the Kingdom's powerful sovereign wealth fund and its critical oil industry.
President Donald Trump told CBS's 60 Minutes that the Saudis would face "severe punishment" if the government were to be found responsible for the presumed murder of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post reporter who hasn't been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on September 28. but added that he wouldn't want to "hurt jobs" or "lose an order like that" when asked about the potential for sanctions on the sale of military equipment to Riyadh. The Saudi-controlled government news agency, meanwhile quoted a senior official who said the Kingdom would "respond with greater action" to any international sanctions, noting its "influential and vital role in the global economy".
The escalating dispute has some investors concerned that economic sanctions could affect investments linked to Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), one of the largest in the world with more than $220 billion in stakes around the globe, including Japan's SoftBank Group (SFTBY) and its tech-focused Vision Fund.
The Vision Fund, a brainchild of SoftBank's billionaire founder Masayoshi Son, gets nearly half of its $100 billion in funding from the Saudi PIF, which it has used to build stakes in companies such as ride-sharing start up Uber Technologies and Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker Nvidia Corp. (NVDA) - Get NVIDIA Corporation Report .
SoftBank shares, in fact, slumped more than 7.4% in Tokyo Monday, closing at a two-month low of 9,251 yen each, as investors fled the stock amid concerns that its association with the Saudi PIF could affect its ability to grow Vision Fund investments.
Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's Kingdom Holding Co. is also a major investor in Citigroup (C) - Get Citigroup Inc. Report , a stake it has held since 1991, and many other U.S.-based investment banks have been scrambling to grow their Saudi-related business amid the broader economic reform plans of King Mohammed bin Salman and the planned IPO of state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco, which could fetch a market value of $2 trillion once it's floated on international exchanges as expected next year, which could generate fees of around $200 million for the banks involved.
Citigroup, for example, has re-entered the Saudi market this year and has said it's considering a full banking license in the Kingdom, and advised the government on its $11 billion U.S. dollar bond issue last spring. European rival HSBC plc HSBC said earlier this year that it's "very much contributing" to Saudi Arabia's privatization process while banks such as Credit Suisse (CS) - Get Credit Suisse Group AG Sponsored ADR Report and Goldman Sachs (GS) - Get Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (GS) Report , both of which can trade equities in the domestic market, are looking at matching Citigroup's aim for full licensing.
Several U.S. firms, however, have pulled out of a planned Saudi-sponsored investment conference later this month, officially called the Future Investment Initiative but better known by its "Davos in the Desert" nickname, including JPMorgan (JPM) - Get JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) Report , which earned more than $20 million in Saudi-related fees this year, and Ford Motor Co. (F) - Get Ford Motor Company Report . Goldman, Bank of America (BAC) - Get Bank of America Corp Report and Mastercard (MC) - Get Moelis & Co. Class A Report are still slated to attend as of Monday morning, as is Asia-focused investment bank Standard Chartered plc (SCBFF) .