Saudi Arabia is preparing for the end of the oil age by creating a $2trillion investment fund which is set to be ‘the largest on Earth’.
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) established by the kingdom’s second-in-line to the throne will eventually be large enough to buy Google, Apple and Microsoft with money to spare.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who oversees the fund, claims that the initial public offering could happen as soon as next year.
It comes as Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter, insists that it will only freeze its oil output if other key producers, including Iran, take a similar measure.
‘What is left now is to diversify investments,’ the 30-year-old prince told Bloomberg, during an interview from the royal compound in the kingdom’s capital, Riyadh.
‘So within 20 years, we will be an economy or state that doesn’t depend mainly on oil.’
It is nearly 80 years since the first oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia but, with crude prices plummeting worldwide, the nation plans to shake its dependence on the market.
One of the first steps will be for Saudi Arabia to sell shares in Aramco’s parent company, which will transform the oil giant into an ‘industrial conglomerate’.
According to the prince, the son of King Salman, the sale of Aramco could come as early as 2017.
But if all goes to plan, the fund will eventually be large enough to buy all four of the world’s largest publicly traded companies Apple Inc., Google parent company Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Although the proportion of foreign investments is currently at just five per cent of the fund, PIF plans to increase it to 50 per cent by 2020.
But Prince Mohammed said he doesn’t believe the kingdom has a ‘real problem’ when it comes to low oil prices, despite the fact the price of a barrel of crude oil has more than halved.
‘Undoubtedly, it will be the largest fund on Earth,’ added the prince. ‘This will happen as soon as Aramco goes public.’
The prince went on to confirm that Saudi Arabia will only freeze its oil output if other key producers, including Iran, take a similar measure.
‘If all countries agree to freeze production, we’re ready,’ he said.
‘If there is anyone that decides to raise their production, then we will not reject any opportunity that knocks on our door.’
His remarks come ahead of a meeting of major oil producers led by Russia and Saudi Arabia set to take place in Doha on April 17, to discuss measures to stabilise prices, including a proposal not to pump out oil above a certain level.
Iran indicated it was ‘ready to participate’ in the meeting and demanded an exemption from the freeze in order to boost its exports, according to Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak.
Oil prices are being hit in part owing to the return of Iranian crude to markets after crippling economic sanctions on Tehran were lifted following last year’s nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
The upcoming meeting in Doha is a follow-up to talks in February between Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, in which they first mooted the output freeze.
Prices have collapsed from levels above $100 seen in mid-2014 largely owing to supply outrunning demand as global economies, particularly China, suffer a growth slowdown.