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A closer look at Saudi Arabia.
Emerging Markets

Emerging Markets Up Close: Opportunities in Saudi Arabia

Josh Rubin
Portfolio Manager and Managing Director
2 May 2023
5 min watch

Emerging Markets comprises more than 25 countries. We kick off a series looking at individual nations within the EM universe and begin with Saudi Arabia.

Read Transcript
Emerging Markets Up Close: Opportunities in Saudi Arabia

Elle Wu:          One important factor to keep in mind, when talking about emerging markets, is that that asset class comprises of over 25 countries.  There are a lot of places to invest in when looking for strong businesses.  One of the things we want to highlight in our observations in EM series, is different countries that you and your co‑PM, Charlie, have gone to visit.  And we’re gonna kick off this series with Saudi Arabia.  Josh, you recently completed a trip there.  Can you tell us what you’ve learned, what you’ve seen, what you like about Saudi Arabia.

Josh Rubin:     Absolutely.  Saudi Arabia is a very impressive case study in a combination of economic reform and social reform.  It, it was actually my final international trip before COVID and part of my very first international trip after COVID. So, not only have I been watching it from a distance for a number of years, but I, I got to see the book ends of the world closing and then reopening again in relation to COVID.  I think if, if we step back just from Saudi Arabia, and we talk about a few of the key countries in the middle east, what we see are some very interesting and attractive secular trends or a secular foundation.  The population is somewhat in between Spain and Italy, so a fairly sizable population.  The GDP is also at a level of western European, uh, size.  And purchasing power per capita is kind of similar to Portugal.  So, in general, across the middle east, you get an economic foundation that looks more like a western European foundation, and add to that, the currencies are actually pegged to the US dollar.  So, as a, as a US investor, you don’t have currency depreciation risk like you might have in certain other countries.  On top of that, the key countries across the middle east, and Saudi Arabia, in particular are embarking on a process of really trying to diversify their economies, and so what they’re attempting to do, is that they acknowledge the hydrocarbon or petro dollar dependance that they hah, that they have and have had for a long time, and they’re expanding their sector exposures to tourism, to industrial, um, to retail, etc., and they’re bringing women into the workforce.  This is a very complicated subject to address in just a couple of moments, but it is really important relative to some of the more common stereotypes about women’s role in the middle east.  Saudi Arabia is actively working to empower women in the workforce and, and change some of the customs that the west has become more accustomed to sort of the, the Saudi Arabian stereotype.  So, if we look back into the 1960s and 1970s, and the economic drivers of the US baby boom, a key part of that was actually women shifting from being housewives to entering the workforce, and very amazingly, that’s one of the things that’s going to be happening in Saudi Arabia over the next decade as well.  So, we think these countries are creating economic stability by diversifying their economies and they’re accelerating economic growth by changing the dynamics of the workforce and ultimately that should really support equity evaluations, the opportunities for investigating in the equity markets and, and that’s what we’re very excited about today.

Elle Wu:          Now, we can’t talk about the middle east without talking about oil.  What do you think about Saudi Arabia in relation to today’s oil prices?

Josh Rubin:     That’s actually a really important point, and we don’t wanna run away from that fact.  What we think is really impressive about Saudi Arabia, um, the, the government’s commitment to diversifying the economy is, No. 1, we do tend to think about the volatility in oil prices as maybe driving volatility and economic growth across the middle east.  But actually, Saudi Arabia’s economy is fine if oil is $50.00.  Certainly, they’d prefer higher oil prices.  Opec recently cut production a little bit to support or maintain a higher oil price, but in general, we think the Saudi economy can be diversifying and growing even if oil prices are much lower.  Another thing that I think is a question that everybody may want to ask themselves is today what we really see is middle eastern countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates making the necessary investments to increase their ability to grow oil production in the future.  They’re spending the Cap Ex to make that possible in 2025 and beyond.  At the same time, we’re really seeing most western oil companies doing share buybacks, paying big dividends or maybe investing in solar power or other renewables.  We certainly support the energy transition and actually, Saudi Arabia is embarking on its own energy transition, but for the next 10, 20, 50 years, the world is still going to need a lot of oil, and so what we really appreciate is Saudi Arabia is making the investments to grow its oil production to support the global economy.  At the same time, it’s making local investments to support its long-term economic opportunities as well.

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