Investors return to Saudi Arabia as lucrative oil IPO looms

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FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2018, file photo, Saudi employees print badges of participants of the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Lured by a long-looming stock offering of Saudi Arabia's massive state-run oil company, investors and business leaders have returned to the kingdom's capital for an investment forum overshadowed last year by the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

RIYADH – Lured by a long-looming stock offering of Saudi Arabia's massive state-run oil company, investors and business leaders have returned to the kingdom's capital for an investment forum that was overshadowed last year by the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Yet drawing big names to the Future Investment Initiative alone does not mean Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's dream of having Saudi Aramco offer a sliver of itself at a $2 trillion valuation will become a reality.

King Salman's son needs to raise $100 billion required to fund his ambitious development plans for a kingdom desperate to offer jobs to its 34 million people as unemployment remains above 10%.

Stagnant global energy prices and a Sept. 14 attack on the heart of Aramco already spooked some. One ratings company downgraded the oil giant. Meanwhile, questions persist over how the initial public offering will be handled even as Saudi Aramco offers sweeteners and promises of an estimated $75 billion dividend next year.

"Tepid oil prices, the fraught politics of the Middle East and the demonization of fossil fuel producers in response to climate change fears have all made the initial public offering a mission impossible," wrote Roberto Sifon-Arevalo of the ratings agency Standard & Poor's.

The Future Investment Initiative, which begins on Tuesday, will draw 6,000 people and international firms to Riyadh for a forum that's the brainchild of the 34-year-old Prince Mohammed. Already, the forum announced Dow Chemicals, HSBC, Samsung and other global firms will be partners to the event.

Heads of state also will attend, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jordan's King Abdullah II both scheduled to speak Tuesday. Also scheduled is Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a White House adviser.

It again will be held in part at Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which served as a detention facility during a 2017 purge targeting businessmen, princes and others. Described at the time as an anti-corruption campaign, the arrests targeted wealthy potential challengers to the prince and cemented his grip on power amid allegations of torture denied by the kingdom. Authorities later said it saw the government recoup over $100 billion.