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Sovereign Wealth Funds

Saudi sovereign wealth fund plans to borrow to double investment returns

Roller coaster in Jeddah, where the PIF is spending $4.8 billion to redevelop the RedSea waterfront.

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund will borrow to boost returns from its investments as it seeks to diversify the kingdom's oil-dependent economy.

The Public Investment Fund will also look for more partnerships like its tie-ups with money managers Blackstone Group and SoftBank Group Corp. as part of its aim to boost assets under management to $2 trillion by 2030, Managing Director Yasir Al-Rumayyan said in a Bloomberg Television interview at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh. The fund will seek to hold a quarter of those assets in foreign markets, he said.

"If you look at investments we have today, it's basically all equity — we need to look at leverage," Mr. Al-Rumayyan said at the event Tuesday. "If we're in one project, we can use the underlying project as the base for the leverage with no recourse to the rest of the portfolio."

Saudi Arabia is stepping up plans to turn the Public Investment Fund into a global giant and central to its efforts to diversify the economy away from oil. The kingdom aims to transfer ownership of state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco — which is planning the world's biggest initial public offering next year — to the fund.

The PIF is targeting annual returns of 8% to 9% over the longer term, or 2025 to 2030, Mr. Al-Rumayyan said at the conference, where Saudi Arabia is hosting global finance bosses including HSBC Holdings' Stuart Gulliver, BlackRock (BLK)'s Larry Fink and Credit Suisse Group's Tidjane Thiam.

The Saudi fund's current investments return is about 3%, according to a statement announcing the sovereign wealth fund's 2018-2020 program released on Wednesday, with a view to boost it to between 4% to 5% by 2020. By comparison, Norway's sovereign wealth fund, the world's largest, has achieved an average 4% return after management costs and inflation since 1998.

The fund aims to increase its assets to $400 billion by 2020, according to statement. It currently manages $230 billion.

In May, the PIF agreed to commit $20 billion to an infrastructure investment fund with Blackstone Group and to invest as much as $45 billion in a technology fund run by SoftBank. These deals followed a $3.5 billion investment in U.S. ride-hailing company Uber Technologies in June 2016.

The PIF doesn't want to be a passive investor and its deals with Blackstone and SoftBank are redefining the relationship between general partners and limited partners, Mr. Al-Rumayyan said.

"We're not co-investors with GP and we're not typical LP, we're somewhere in the middle," Mr. Al-Rumayyan said. "We have veto rights, opt-out rights, people sitting on boards, and we can put more governance into the relationships and partnerships we have."

At home, the PIF is starting a $500 million energy-efficiency company and built a $2.4 billion stake in a Riyadh-based dairy farm and food processor. It also established a $1.1 billion fund to support small- and medium-sized businesses and is spearheading a $4.8 billion project to redevelop the Jeddah waterfront on the Red Sea — all in the past few months.

More than 90% of PIF's current portfolio is domestic, Mr. Al-Rumayyan said. The fund employs more than 200 people, which it expects to rise to 500 in two years and possibly to about 1,000 by 2025, he said. The fund aims to create 20,000 direct jobs in the kingdom, according to PIF's statement about its program.