The value of the combined sovereign wealth funds of Gulf countries remains exceptionally strong by global standards. Their combined standing has not experienced a downturn in any meaningful way even in the low-oil price environment.
According to the Sovereign Wealth Institute, the shared value of SWFs of GCC countries stood at $2.9 trillion in March 2017; this is about the same in June 2016 and represents a notable 38.5 per cent of the world’s total. Again, this does not demonstrate material change from the levels held in the past years.
And as in the past, the UAE leads the GCC with a robust $1.3 trillion, thus holding some 44 per cent of the total SWF of the six-nation grouping. This is undoubtedly substantial. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority alone holds a notable $828 billion; this is supplemented by a sturdy $200 billion from the Investment Corporation of Dubai.
The Abu Dhabi Investment Council maintains $110 billion. What’s more, at the start of the year, Abu Dhabi merged Mubadala Development Co and International Petroleum Investment Co into Mubadala Investment Co, with the new firm boasting $125 billion in assets, 14th by global rankings.
Saudi Arabia has a notable $697 billion as SWFs, divided into $514 billion and $183 billion for Sama Foreign Holdings and Public Investment Fund, respectively. In reality, the total held by Sama has been experiencing a steady fall due to plunge of oil prices as well as costs associated with the war in Yemen.
Kuwait holds SWFs of $524 billion, which represents a fall compared to 2016, while Qatar maintains a sizeable $320 billion.
Oman has $24 billion through two SWF funds, though reports suggested that the authorities are considering merging the State General Reserve Fund and Oman Investment Fund to streamline management and cut unnecessary duplicate costs.
The larger State General Reserve Fund was set up in 1980 with the intention of focusing on investments outside the sultanate. In turn, the Oman Investment Fund was established in 2006 to fulfil specific investment strategies of the finance ministry. The merging of two funds in Abu Dhabi is serving as a model and deserves to be emulated.
Bahrain, the smallest economy within the GCC, has less than $11 billion via the Mumtalakat Holding Company.
Worryingly, a recent report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch suggested that the economies of Bahrain and Oman are suffering from weak fundamentals, party reflecting relatively low external assets. This is a grim reality of the fallout in low-oil price environment.
To make a long story short, GCC countries have been showing the capability in maintaining steady SWFs. Some of them have a record of making generous outreaches to the international community when encountering financial crisis. This was on display several times in recent years such as during the sub-prime calamity.
Closer home, Oman and Bahrain have been receiving financial aid to help deal with the socio-political crisis from 2011.
The challenge ahead lies in making utility of the SWFs to overcome socioeconomic issues at home and abroad.