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Saudi tycoon gears up for new investment spree

RIYADH: Saudi tycoon Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said on Monday he is gearing up his Kingdom Holdings group for major new investments including Gulf hotels and a one-kilometer-tall tower in Jeddah on the Red Sea. Alwaleed said he was transferring 180 million of his own shares in US banking giant Citigroup into Kingdom Holdings at no cost to shore up its balance sheet. 
“I am very positive about the future,” he told a rare press conference at his headquarters, the Kingdom Tower skyscraper in Riyadh. 
“We are always looking for new investments,” said Alwaleed, Kingdom’s chairman and 95-percent shareholder. 
The 54-year-old nephew of King Abdullah said Kingdom Holdings was in talks on four major new investments, without giving details. 
But he added that Kingdom, which owns major luxury brands like the George V in Paris, the Fairmont Raffles Hotels group and the Four Seasons Hotels group, would invest in new hotel properties in the Gulf region and Arab world. 
The injection into Kingdom of his own personal shares of Citigroup, which was facing severe problems only one year ago, will allow the leading Saudi investment house to raise more funds, Alwaleed said. 
The transfer of the 180 million shares boosted Kingdom’s assets by $597 million, he said, while the bank’s recovery would bring strong returns to the group. 
“It is very clear that the worst for Citi is over,” he said. “Citi is on the right path right now.” 
Alwaleed also strongly hinted that Kingdom would return to profit in the just-finished fourth quarter of 2009 after decreasing losses in each of the previous three quarters. 
“All the accumulated losses have been wiped out,” he said. 
He said Kingdom was determined to move ahead on an estimated $26.6-billion residential and commercial real estate project in Jeddah, including a skyscraper that would top 1,000 meters (3,281 feet). 
That would be 172 meters higher than the just-crowned world’s tallest building in Dubai, the 828-meter Burj Khalifa. 
Both Kingdom’s and the prince’s personal investments took heavy hits in the US financial crisis and the global economic meltdown. 
Kingdom – which holds an investment portfolio that includes Apple, News Corp, luxury retailer Saks, Proctor & Gamble, and PepsiCo, and a host of major Saudi companies – turned in a $7.98 loss at the end of 2009. 
Between 2008 and last year, Kingdom sold several key luxury hotel properties and refinanced others to raise more than $800 million to strengthen its finances. 
The assets it shed included its 50-percent stake in Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues in Geneva for a net gain of $60 million. 
Alwaleed’s own fortune also took a huge hit. In 2005, Forbes magazine ranked him the world’s fifth richest man with an estimated 23.7 billion dollars in assets. By March 2009, Forbes ranked him number 22 with 13.3 billion in assets. –AFP
By December, Arabian Business estimated his wealth at $18 billion , making him the wealthiest Arab. _AFP

 

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