Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia replaced the head of its stock market regulator with a World Bank executive amid speculation the kingdom, home to the largest Arab bourse, will move toward opening its equities market to foreign investors.
Mohammad Al al-Sheikh, a World Bank executive representing Saudi Arabia, replaces Abdulrahman A Al Tuwaijri as chairman of the Capital Market Authority, the Saudi Press Agency reported. Al Tuwaijri was relieved of his duties by royal decree, SPA said, without giving a reason. The benchmark Tadawul All Share Index dropped 0.1 percent at the 3:30 p.m. close in Riyadh.
“The financial market needs to develop larger restructuring plans that help it in attracting investments,” Fadhel Albuainain, who previously was a director at Saudi Hollandi Bank’s operations in Jubail and is currently setting up his own consultancy business, said by phone today. “I expect Al-Sheikh will form a vision for foreign investment in the Saudi market and set a date to open it.”
Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy, operates a stock exchange with a market capitalization of 1.43 trillion riyals ($381 billion), compared with $120 billion for gauges in the United Arab Emirates and $314 billion for Turkey, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The kingdom, which allows non-resident foreigners to invest in shares via equity swaps and exchange-traded funds, will open the market only gradually, Al Tuwaijri said in April.
Morgan Stanley, the sixth-largest U.S. bank by assets, and Credit Suisse AG are shifting their Middle East and North Africa equities business to Riyadh from Dubai. VTB Capital Plc, the investment banking unit of Russia’s second-largest lender, is considering an equities business in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is embarking on a spending plan valued at more than $500 billion to build infrastructure and industry as well as combat unemployment. MSCI Inc. reintroduced coverage of the stock market last year, stoking bets the nation may get emerging-market status at the index provider.
Al al-Sheikh, who holds a Harvard Law degree, was appointed to the board of the World Bank representing Saudi Arabia in September, according to the website of U.S. law company Latham & Watkins. Latham practices in the kingdom in association with Al-Sheikh’s law office, its website shows. Al al-Sheikh also specializes in mergers and acquisitions, capital markets and project finance, according to Latham.
The appointment follows some reshuffling of government positions in the kingdom since 2011. Fahad al-Mubarak, previously a managing director at Morgan Stanley, took over as the kingdom’s central bank governor in December that year.
Al al-Sheikh served as a legal adviser at the World Bank in Washington from 1998 to 2001, according to the Capital Market Authority. He moved to Saudi Arabia in 2003 to work as a lawyer and legal adviser before his appointment at the World Bank, the regulator said.
“I suspect that he will start regulating the Saudi financial market with new laws and regulations,” said Mohammed al-Omran, a financial analyst and president of the Gulf Center for Financial Consultancy in Riyadh. “Al-Sheikh is well-suited for the position as his experience of securities and financial markets combined with his legal background would be just what CMA needs at the moment.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Shaji Mathew at firstname.lastname@example.org