Bloomberg’s Senior Executive Editor for Economics, Stephanie Flanders, and five other Bloomberg journalists spoke to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud Wednesday night at a royal compound in Riyadh. In the wide-ranging interview, the prince spoke about his relationship with Donald Trump, his commitment to IPO Aramco, plans to invest a further $45 billion in Softbank, energy markets and the recent arrests in the kingdom.
Below is a full transcript of the interview.
Bloomberg: Trump said you would last two weeks only without the U.S.
MBS: Saudi Arabia was there before the United States of America. It’s there since 1744, I believe more than 30 years before the United States of America.And I believe, and I’m sorry if anyone misunderstands that, but I believe President Obama, in his eight years, he worked against many of our agenda – not in Saudi Arabia, but also in the Middle East. And even though the US worked against our agenda we were able to protect our interests. And the end result is that we succeeded, and the United States of America under the leadership of President Obama failed, for example in Egypt.So Saudi Arabia needs something like around 2,000 years to maybe face some dangers. So I believe this is not accurate.
Bloomberg: So if President Trump is doing other things that you want, you don’t mind him saying these incredibly rude things about your father?
MBS: Well, you know, you have to accept that any friend will say good things and bad things. So you cannot have 100 percent friends saying good things about you, even in your family. You will have some misunderstandings. So we put that in that category.
Bloomberg: I think Germany and Canada were friends, and it was less rude what they did.
MBS: It’s totally different. Canada, they gave an order to Saudi Arabia on an internal issue. It’s not an opinion of Canada about Saudi Arabia as much as they are giving an order to a different country. So we believe this is a totally different issue. Trump is speaking to his own people inside the United States of America about an issue. And you’ve got the answer now from me.
Bloomberg: It does seem to be his opinion that the kingdom should pay more for its security. So do you agree with that?
MBS: Actually we will pay nothing for our security. We believe that all the armaments we have from the Untied States of America are paid for, it’s not free armament. So ever since the relationship started between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, we’ve bought everything with money. Before two years ago, we had a strategy to shift most of our armament to other countries, but when President Trump became president, we’ve changed our armament strategy again for the next 10 years to put more than 60 percent with the United States of America. That’s why we’ve created the $400 billion in opportunities, armaments and investment opportunities, and other trade opportunities. So this is a good achievement for President Trump, for Saudi Arabia. Also included in these agreements are that part of these armaments will be manufactured in Saudi Arabia, so it will create jobs in America and Saudi Arabia, good trade, good benefits for both countries and also good economic growth. Plus, it will help our security.
Bloomberg: So we know, U.S.-Saudi relations are just as good now as they were 24 hours ago before the President said these things?MBS: Yes of course. If you look at the picture overall, you have 99 percent of good things and one bad issue.
Bloomberg: With President Trump it seems to be a little bit more than one percent.
MBS: One percent. I love working with him. I really like working with him and we have achieved a lot in the Middle East, especially against extremism, extremist ideologies, terrorism and Da’esh [Arabic acronym for ISIS] disappeared in a very short time in Iraq and Syria, and a lot of extremist narratives have been demolished in the past two years, so this is a strong initiative. We worked together also, together with more than 50 countries, to agree on one goal in the Middle East and most of those countries are going through with that strategy. Now we are pushing back against extremists and terrorists and Iran’s negative moves in the Middle East in a good way. We have huge investments between both countries. We have good improvement in our trade – a lot of achievements, so this is really great.
Bloomberg: I think the heart of what he was saying and why he feels he has to say it is he does want a lower oil price. Can you see why he would be complaining about the oil price where it is at $80?
MBS: We never in the history of Saudi Arabia decided that this is the right or wrong oil price. The oil price depends on trade – consumer and supplier – and they decide the oil price based on trade and supply and demand. What we are committed in Saudi Arabia is to make sure there is no shortage of supply. So we work with our allies in OPEC and also non-OPEC countries to be sure that we have a sustainable supply of oil and there is no shortage and that there is good demand, that it will not create problems for the consumers and their plans and development.
Bloomberg: Has he made a specific request about oil?
MBS: Yes, actually the request that America made to Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries is to be sure that if there is any loss of supply from Iran, that we will supply that. And that happened. Because recently, Iran reduced their exports by 700,000 barrels a day, if I’m not mistaken. And Saudi Arabia and OPEC and non-OPEC countries, they’ve produced 1.5 million barrels a day. So we export as much as 2 barrels for any barrel that disappeared from Iran recently. So we did our job and more. We believe the higher price that we have in the last month, it’s not because of Iran. It’s mostly because of things happening in Canada, and Mexico, Libya, Venezuela and other countries that moved the price a little bit higher. But Iran, definitely no. Because they reduced 700,000 barrels and we’ve exported more than 1.5 million barrels a day.
Bloomberg: And of that, the kingdom is producing how much?
MBS: Today we are around 10.7 million if I’m not mistaken.
Bloomberg: And for the next few months?
MBS: We have spare capacity of 1.3 million without any investment. So in Saudi Arabia we have 1.3 million to go if the market needs that. And with other OPEC countries and non-OPEC countries we believe we have more than that, a little bit more than that. And of course there is opportunity for investment in the next three to five years.
Bloomberg: I think you’ve just had a meeting in Kuwait thinking about reactivating the production in the neutral zone, so how did that go?
MBS: Actually the 1.3 million is capacity that we have today, without that opportunity in Kuwait. So we believe that we are almost close to having something with Kuwait. There are only small issues that have been stuck there for the last 50 years. The Kuwaiti side, they want to fix it today, before we continue to produce in that area.
Bloomberg; It’s an unrelated thing they want?
MBS: It’s part of the sovereignty issues that are stuck, unsolved, between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for the past 50 years. And they want to fix it now before we continue to produce from that area. We think a 50-year-old issue is almost impossible to fix in a few weeks. So we’re trying to have an agreement with the Kuwaitis to continue to produce for the next five to 10 years and at the same time, we work on the sovereignty issues.
Bloomberg: It sounds like you’re not expecting that to happen anytime soon.
MBS: We are ready in Saudi Arabia, and now we’re working with the Kuwaitis. We believe we can have something soon. We’re trying to convince the Kuwaitis to talk about the sovereignty issues, while continuing to produce until we solve that issue.
Bloomberg: But did you make progress on that in this meeting?
MBS: The leadership of Kuwait really wants to move on that. We think that in just one department there, they want to hold to the sovereignty issues before we move any further. The other department in Kuwait, they are supportive of what we are trying to say. It’s good for Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, so I believe it’s a matter of time until it’s solved.
Bloomberg: Now the other big deal, because we have to talk about the other big deal that I know my colleagues are very interested in is Aramco’s negotiation for Sabic, taking the share. Do you have a sense of how that’s going to be structured, how that’s going to go?
MBS: Everyone heard about the rumors of Saudi Arabia canceling the IPO of Aramco, delaying that, and that this is delaying Vision 2030. This is not right. Actually, in mid-2017, we had an issue, which was: What’s the future of Aramco?So Aramco today, it produces oil, and it has a few downstream projects. But if we want to have a really strong future for Aramco after 20, 30, 40 years from today, Aramco has to invest a lot in downstream because we know that the new demand for oil 20 years from now, it will be from petrochemicals. If we see the rising demand from petrochemicals, I believe it’s growing about 2-3 percent today. So definitely the future of Aramco has to be in downstream and Aramco has to invest in downstream.
So when Aramco does that, it will have a huge conflict with Sabic, because Sabic is about petrochemicals and downstream. And the main source of oil for Sabic is from Aramco. So if Aramco does follow that strategy, Sabic will definitely suffer. So before we do that, we have to have some sort of agreement to be sure that Aramco benefits from Sabic and Sabic doesn’t suffer in that process. So we’ve reached a point that PIF will sell the 70 percent that it owns in Sabic to Aramco and Aramco will do the other jobs of merging — or whatever they will do with Sabic — to have one huge mega company in that area in Saudi Arabia and around the world.
Of course, the money coming from that deal will go to PIF, but we cannot IPO Aramco directly after that deal, because you need at least one full financial year before that IPO. So we believe that deal will happen in 2019, so you need the whole 2020 –
Bloomberg: Is that early ‘19?
MBS: It will be somewhere in mid ’19, more or less. You’re talking about $100 billion of deals, so it’s huge.
Bloomberg: So you know what the structure is going to be, roughly?
MBS: This is really complicated, I’m not sure about the details yet. We will come to it.
So the deal in 2019, one financial year in 2020 and then immediately Aramco will be IPOed. We’ve tried to push to IPO it as soon as possible, but this is the timing, based on the situation that we have.
This will not harm the plans of Vision 2030 because PIF will still be funded from the deal of Sabic in 2019 with around $70 billion to $80 billion if I’m not mistaken, and in late 2020, early 2021, it will also have $100 billion from IPOing Aramco. So there is in the pipeline of the cash flow to PIF, $70 billion — $70 billion to $80 billion — then $100 billion, so we are talking about $170 to $180 billion. So PIF is good, the economic plans in Saudi Arabia is good, and that deal is good for the downstream industry in Saudi Arabia.We will produce, we believe, more than 3 million barrels of petrochemicals in 2030, most of it in Saudi Arabia, part of it outside of Saudi Arabia, and that will be done by Aramco and Sabic and this will create huge opportunities for economic growth and jobs.Bloomberg: Can you see why people thought that there was a connection between the two? They say oh, the IPO has been delayed, and now we have this deal we didn’t know about before? Was it not possible to do the IPO before the Sabic deal?
MBS: I believe it would be really a waste of the whole image of Aramco. You cannot do the IPO of Aramco and then give the shareholders a surprise a year later with a new deal that wasn’t on the road map then. So it has to be clear. It has to be clear IPO, clear strategy. So that’s why we have to do that before.Why that story happened, because we believe that there was some leak about the Sabic deal before we did the PR campaign to announce it officially in Saudi Arabia. So when that leak happened, it goes the wrong way. But today I’m trying to say what the right picture is.
Bloomberg: So you still think the IPO is absolutely in the nation’s interest?
MBS: Of course, 100 percent.
Bloomberg: 2020, 2021?
MBS: I believe late 2020, early 2021.
Bloomberg: Will you do full 5 percent, because you’re saying $100 billion?
Bloomberg: And you’re still on the valuation that’s $2 trillion, even though there’s a lot of skepticism about that?
MBS: We will see. So the investor will decide the price on the day.
Bloomberg: So does that mean, it can be $2 trillion, it can be based on market?
MBS: I believe it will be $2 trillion, above $2 trillion.
Bloomberg: But is it $2 trillion Sabic and Aramco together?
MBS: Of course, I believe it will be above $2 trillion – that’s why I believe it will be above $2 trillion. Because it will be huge.
Bloomberg: Your highness, on the Aramco IPO there’s been a lot of reports and we’ve heard that one of the things that was standing in the way is the international listing. Do you want to do it in New York but there’s the legal issue, do you want to do it in London, do you want to do it in Asia?
MBS: When you’re talking about the biggest IPO in human history, of course you have to look to all of the options that are available. What’s the decision? It will be the decision that helps the interest of the company, of IPOing Aramco.
I believe I’m not allowed to talk about what will happen in that area based on what our lawyer and our banks are saying. But that decision will be made at the right time.
Bloomberg: On the Sabic deal, you said it’s between $70-$80 billion. Can you tell us how would Aramco finance it? Is it going to be mostly debt and partly cash?
MBS: Aramco has really low debt, super low debt compared with the other energy companies around the world, and we now have good oil prices, and they have extra cash that they can use to reinvest in capital investment in Aramco. So they have a lot of tools to do the Sabic investment plus their other downstream strategy in the next 10 years.
Bloomberg: So there is no decision yet on how it’s going to be financed?
MBS: As you know, Aramco is a separate company. There is a board led by Khalid Al-Falih and other people, so I’m not the right person to talk about how Aramco will handle it.
Bloomberg: Let’s talk about the economy. You started to talk about reform I think nearly three years ago now, is there anything you would have done differently in this period?
MBS: Yes of course there is. Any government, any company, any team, they will learn over time. As any human works, of course there will be a few mistakes and a lot of achievements, if he is heading in the right direction. So I believe the last three years were good, and that we couldn’t do anything more than what we’ve done. We learned a lot of things – the whole team, the whole system. We will continue progressing and developing in that area, but the main picture, the main targets, the plan – it’s there. We are continuing to develop it and continuing to work in the same direction, so there’s no change on that.
Bloomberg: A lot of the governments I talk to, there’s always an issue about expectation management. There are different theories – you have to aim high, or know that you should only promise what you can deliver. You aimed very high.
MBS: Yes of course. You have to move the morale of people, the employees, the ministers, the whole area. You have to move the morale and you have to put them really under huge pressure. If you aim low, that means it’s an easy target. That means no one will try to work hard to achieve it. You have to aim high and you have to try to achieve as much as you can, and we said that clearly. We aim high. If we achieve 100 percent, great. If we achieve more, even greater. If we achieve 50 percent, great! Better than achieving nothing. So there is no problem in aiming high.
Bloomberg: Except if it’s about your credibility. If you promise to balance the budget by 2019, if you promise unemployment at 9 percent, when you have to step back from that when things are going in the other direction?
MBS: I believe we promised to balance the budget in 2023.Bloomberg. Now. But originally, it was 2019.
MBS: Yes, because we have advice from a lot of banks, a lot of entities, including The central bank, the World Bank, that you can spend more money in the economy, so why delay that spending. Spend that money. We’ve reworked our strategy and that’s why we moved it to 2023 to raise our budget and to spend to be sure there’s job creation, economic growth and investment in Saudi Arabia.
Bloomberg: But you set the expectation so high, and then you worry – the people who don’t have work now, who are thinking, you were really going to bring down unemployment and actually it’s going up and it’s much higher.
MBS: Yes, and now it’s about 13 percent. But of course, if there are two years of restructuring the economy, of course you will have side effects. You cannot do the restructuring without the side effects. This is part of the side effects of restructuring the economy.
But today we are much more powerful. Today, we talk about the budget of 2019. It’s above 1 trillion riyals for the first time in Saudi Arabia. And it’s 1 trillion and 100 billion riyals. We have our non-oil income or revenue raised by 300 percent. So from 100 billion riyals to 300 billion riyals, etcetera. So there is huge achievement that allows us to deal with the other issues from today and beyond.
I believe the unemployment rate will start to decline from 2019 until we reach 7 percent in 2030 as targeted in the Vision.
And if you look into the numbers, it’s really interesting. So if you see the male unemployment rate, it’s between 5 to 6 percent, which is almost close to normal. But if you look at the female unemployment rate, it’s above 20 percent. We don’t know how much of it is real unemployment and women seeking jobs, and non-real job seeking by women. So now we have a lot of programs to welcome those demands, and that will clarify a lot of numbers and we believe job creation will start from 2019, maybe late 2018.
Bloomberg: On the job creation front, Vision 2030 is centered around empowering the private sector. So for the private sector to create jobs there needs to be private sector growth. And because the economy has been restructuring, there’s been some sluggish growth. Do you see job creation also going again in the government? Which is something that people would say is against the spirit of Vision 2030?
MBS: The number that we look at in the government is how much we spend for employees in the government budget. So in 2015-16, it’s almost 50 percent of our budget is employee salaries and etcetera. Today, it’s 42 percent if I’m not mistaken. In 2020, I believe it will be below 40 percent. And the main target in 2030 is to be around 30 percent of government spending on government employment.
So the size of that spending doesn’t matter to us since it’s below 40 percent and it’s close to 30 percent in 2030 because our budget, our spending, is rising much much more than our spending on government employees.
Of course, the Saudi Arabian government still needs to create a lot of jobs because of the needs in the country, in the army, in the security agencies, in education – especially education – and also in other sectors that are being newly created in sports and different areas. So the economy, the country, the people, need these services, so of course we’ll create these jobs. And we believe that the job creation in the private sector will also grow with time.
Today we have a good percentage. I’m not sure of the exact percentage, but I believe it’s almost 50 percent of government employees and non-government employees. But if you look at the other GCC countries, it’s a totally different number. So today we are in a good situation. I believe in 2030 it will be lower than that. So if you watch the next two years, you will see that we are going in the right direction, but it wouldn’t happen today.
Bloomberg: One of the things if you’re going to be looking to have private sector and foreign investors be a big part of the future Vision and change in the economy, obviously the confidence of investors is very important. Do you feel that the Ritz Carlton arrests affected investor confidence? It’s certainly something that’s talked about.
MBS: It created a lot of rumors, but I don’t believe that it affected that. At the end of the second quarter of 2018, the net foreign investment in the Saudi stock market increased by 40.4% compared to the same period of 2017.
Bloomberg: But overall FDI has gone down dramatically.
MBS: Yes, it went down 80 percent in 2017 from 2016. But 2018 it will be 90 percent more than 2017. This is the number that we are getting for the first half. It will include all the investments. And the 80 percent reduction in 2017, it’s because we believe the deal, the acquisition that the Kingdom company did with Bank Saudi Fransi, it bought shares of foreign investors, so a lot of money went out because of that deal.
And just to point out one number. In 2017, direct investment around the world went down more than 20 percent.
Bloomberg: But it went up in this region, by and large.
MBS: But let’s look to the 2018 numbers. It’s above 2017 by 90 percent. So that means we are going in the right direction.
Bloomberg: This is in what period.
MBS: The first two quarters compared to the first two quarters of 2017.
Bloomberg: Are you seeing some of this coming in the non-oil sector too? Because oil has been — historically you’ve seen a lot of oil investments but the crucial thing is non-oil FDI.
MBS: We believe it’s both. We believe we will have an amazing deal in October, in two weeks from today. So it will be big numbers. It will be in FII [The Future Investment Initiative conference] and it’s far away from oil. This deal is just what’s happening in Saudi Arabia – so there is one deal in FII and there are other deals that will be announced there.
Bloomberg: Any details we can get – what industry even?
MBS: It’s far away from oil.
Bloomberg: Is it technology?
MBS: Maybe. But this is in Saudi Arabia with big numbers.
Bloomberg: Is it anything to do with cars?
MBS: We will see. You know, we are two weeks away from that date.
Bloomberg: On a separate note, we’re very interested to know whether you’ve driven a Tesla.
MBS: Actually, we, PIF invests in a lot of companies in the United States of America, especially in the stock market. And Tesla looked like a good opportunity for PIF and we bought a few shares there. We have almost 5% of the company.
Bloomberg: But have you ever driven a Tesla?
MBS: The Tesla, I never did that. I’ve seen Tesla a lot. I just rode in one with King Abdullah of Jordan. He drove it mostly in LA. But I’ve never driven a Tesla, but they say it’s extremely good.
Bloomberg: You didn’t ask him to have a go?
MBS: It didn’t come to my mind, but it’s really smooth, no noise. I believe it will be a really promising industry in the future.Bloomberg: Do you plan to order one for yourself?
MBS: Maybe not today. Maybe tomorrow.
Bloomberg: He wants to encourage oil.
MBS: We talked about that before and we believe that the rise of electric cars will not harm oil especially for Saudi Arabia. Oil demand will continue raising until 2030 by above 1 percent, 1 to 1.5 percent, maybe more. And some believe that after 2030, it will decline. But we believe that the other side will be a lot of producers disappearing. So for example we believe that China will be decreased sharply if not disappeared after five years from today. And other countries will continue every day to disappear as countries producing oil. Nineteen years from today, Russia will have declined heavily if not disappeared with 10 million barrels. So comparing the rise of the demand for oil and the disappearing supplier, Saudi Arabia needs to supply more in the future. So we don’t believe that there is any risk in that area for Saudi Arabia. No one is talking today about planes going and flying by electricity or ships moving in the sea by electricity. Adding to that the demand coming from petrochemicals and the future of petrochemicals after 10 to 20 30 years from today.
So if you see everyone using – you have plastic in your dress, in your pen – everywhere, and it will continue growing.
Bloomberg: Does Saudi Arabia plan to increase production between now and the end of the year?
MBS: What Saudi Arabia has announced, is that if there’s any demand, we will supply it. Considering our capacity of demand.
BLOOMBERG: There was talk that there was a deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia to increase production more.
MBS: What we’ve announced in Saudi Arabia is we’re ready to supply any demand and any disappearing from Iran.
Bloomberg: Do you have any plans to invest more in Tesla?
MBS: We’ve invested in Tesla like any other financial investor in the stock market. There are discussions with a lot of companies, a lot of funds, but we’ve announced nothing in that area.
Bloomberg: Have you met Elon Musk?
MBS: I’ve never met him.
Bloomberg: Do you think it’s risky to invest in Tesla? It’s expensive, led by an eccentric.
MBS: The PIF has invested in Tesla and we would have a conflict of interest if I say it’s risky to invest in Tesla because PIF already owns some of the shares in Tesla.
BLOOMBERG: Will there be Tesla showrooms in Saudi Arabia?
MBS: I believe this could happen in the coming years. In one or two years we will have Tesla showrooms in Saudi Arabia. Now we have allowed 100 percent ownership of foreign investments in Saudi Arabia so Tesla can open and own 100 percent of their showrooms.
BLOOMBERG: 100 percent ownership applies to which industries?
MBS: Most of the industries, especially retail. For example, Apple will open a store soon in Riyadh.
Bloomberg: Do you think of battery manufacturing as being part of the future?
MBS: We believe battery manufacturing is really changing and moving and will not mature until today so we don’t know what’s the future battery. We believe it’s too risky to invest in battery manufacturing in Saudi Arabia and outside Saudi Arabia because it moved. The source of battery and energy could be changed in the next five or 10 years. So we don’t know what kind of material that battery will use, what kind of technology that battery will use because demand is rising. We think we should just watch that area before we get into it.
Bloomberg: How much has been transferred from the Ritz arrests?
MBS: I’m not sure about the number but I believe it’s something above $35 billion as of today. We think it will complete in the next maybe two years. Forty percent of the current number is being transferred in cash and sixty percent is mostly assets.
BLOOMBERG: Is that being managed by Istidama?
MBS: That’s right. The companies and properties are. The cash goes to the treasury.Two years from now and the case will be totally closed.
BLOOMBERG: Are there some trials happening now?
MBS: I’m sorry, I don’t have … I don’t want to mislead you.
Bloomberg: People who are being held, there are several of them, what’s the plan for them?
MBS: Also I’m sorry I don’t have the accurate data. There are only 8 people left. They’re with their lawyers and facing the system that we have in Saudi Arabia.
Bloomberg: One of the things we hear about the Ritz episode goes into the narrative of, we even hear that from Saudi businessmen and abroad, where you have a crisis or a dispute with Qatar, then you have the Ritz, then there’s an issue Germany. The narrative is there’s more unpredictability, too much unpredictably sometimes for investors, even Saudis.
MBS: I don’t believe this is a serious question. I’m sorry. Because America is now having problems with most of countries and new economic deals, with China, Canada, Mexico. This is normal, to have differences, negotiations and try to seek for better deals and better understanding between countries. It’s normal for the United States of America, it’s normal for Saudi Arabia and each leader is trying to do the best to reach the best situation for his country. This is his job. What’s happening is part of the Saudi government trying to have a better situation for Saudi Arabia, economically, in security, politically or all the areas. Today we have a new agreement with Germany, with a new understanding and business as usual. German investors in Saudi Arabia were not harmed during that period and they continue through their business, through their sales. Only the new opportunities stopped and this is back again. I believe that nothing shows there is risk for any investors or any deals or any commitments in Saudi Arabia in that area.
Bloomberg: Will the former ambassador to Germany return?
MBS: That’s right
Bloomberg: Is it Prince Faisal?
MBS: The old ambassador will go there and I believe he will go to another position later on and we will have a new ambassador there.
BLOOMBERG: and Canada?
MBS: It’s up to them. They’ve taken actions against UN law and against diplomatic principles. They interfered in issues that are not Canadian issues. They’re not Canadian citizens, they’re not Canadian interests. They’re totally Saudi domestic interests. And they’re not allowed to do that. The media can talk about any issue.
Bloomberg: How is this going to be resolved?
MBS: They have to apologize. Simply. And they have to know that they have made a mistake. I believe they know that they have made a mistake, but we will see how we can get things back again.
Bloomberg: The unpredictability point, many people thought you were different, there would be rule of law and reform for women and a change of society. So when these things happen people think, is he new or is he old?
MBS: What has this got to do with what’s happening in Saudi Arabia? There’s a person, and there are charges against him because of national security issues and all the information is available. If you have time and you want to visit the general prosecutor and take a look at the situation you’re more than welcome to go. It has nothing to do with the freedom of speech. But the Canadian government, which has no information about what’s happening, which has no right to interfere in that issue but is interfering, that’s really strange.
BLOOMBERG: Diplomats have been requesting information on these files but haven’t been receiving it.
MBS: That’s not their job. He’s a Canadian diplomat. He’s not a Saudi diplomat. The media are welcome. They have to write their opinions and what they have seen. But you have the Canadian government and you have to take care of Canadian interests. You have nothing to do with Saudi interests.
Bloomberg: What’s the Jamal Khashoggi story?
MBS: We hear the rumors about what happened. He’s a Saudi citizen and we are very keen to know what happened to him. And we will continue our dialogue with the Turkish government to see what happened to Jamal there.
Bloomberg: He went into the Saudi consulate.
MBS: My understanding is he entered and he got out after a few minutes or one hour. I’m not sure. We are investigating this through the foreign ministry to see exactly what happened at that time.
BLOOMBERG: So he’s not inside the consulate?
MBS: Yes, he’s not inside.
BLOOMBERG: Turkish officials have said he’s still inside.
MBS: We are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises. The premises are sovereign territory, but we will allow them to enter and search and do whatever they want to do. If they ask for that, of course, we will allow them. We have nothing to hide.
Bloomberg: Is he facing any charges in Saudi Arabia?
MBS: Actually, we need to know where Jamal is first.
Bloomberg: So he might be facing charges in Saudi Arabia?
MBS: If he’s in Saudi Arabia I would know that.
Bloomberg: So he’s not the person mentioned by Saudi Press Agency?
MBS: No, definitely not.
BLOOMBERG: The broader point is that if you add them all up – Germany, Canada, Ritz – there’s an impression, among not only international investors, but also among Saudi businessmen — which is the private sector you’re trying to encourage — that there’s a nervousness that there might be a next decision that might be surprising.
MBS: We’ve talked about that a lot in the past. In 2015, we had to make a lot of surprises. We didn’t want to reach a point where we would lose a lot of opportunities. Now the chances of a surprise is almost 1 percent. What we are sticking to is the vision, the program of 2020, then we will announce the program of 2025. There’s no new taxation till 2030 and we will do our best to boost the economy and to boost the development of the private sector and all the industries.
Bloomberg: By increasing spending?
MBS: By increasing capital spending, increasing the size of the new Saudi development fund which has several funds under it, increasing money into the PIF to invest in Saudi Arabia and also abroad, making regulations easier, restructuring other industries to create more opportunities for growth and for more businesses to come.
Bloomberg: What about privatization?
MBS: In 2019, we will have more than 20 services that will be privatized, most of them in water, agriculture, energy and some of it in sports. Now we’re talking with investors. Some of them here, some of them global. We want to make sure that these investors have the know how to run the businesses. We will own a little bit of those companies, as the Saudi government, to secure the quality for a period of time and also we are pushing that the majority of these companies when they move to the private sector, most of them will be IPO-ed. So the investors will own the majority, the minority will be for the Saudi government and a little bit will be IPO-ed on the stock market. We need this to increase transparency. We didn’t want to move fast with unknown investors. Picking the right investor, putting it on the stock market, watching it clearly so you can really notice if there are any problems before they really happen so you can intervene to fix things.
So in 2019, more than 20 companies will definitely start privatizing. Most of the companies will be in desalination.
Bloomberg: How concerned are you about capital outflows from the country?
MBS: I believe the numbers have been really good. In the first two quarters, we had more than 90 percent increase in investment into Saudi Arabia. I don’t think there is a reason to worry. As you know in Saudi Arabia we have a free market, a free movement of money. And if you look at the track record of Saudi Arabia, this year, last year and during for example the 1990 Gulf War, Saudi Arabia never blocked any money movement. We continue our commitment in that area, and continue working as a free market.
Bloomberg: One of the reasons why some of the money has been coming back was because of the oil prices being higher. So when you look at the broader economy, things have been definitely picking up for a lot of the same old reasons as in the past. So the oil price rise, but also fiscal spending. This year we’re going to see a rise that is going to help the economy, but it’s not the future vision, it’s back to the old.
MBS: So what should we do? Should we not use the money that is coming from oil? What we are trying to do is to be committed to our fiscal balance program 2023, to continue to spend on the programs that we identified. The only difference that will happen from the higher oil price, is that it will lower the deficit but it mostly will not affect what we’re spending, the extra money we will have – part of it will continue to be part of the Treasury of Saudi Arabia and part of it will be moved to PIF and the new Saudi development fund to raise their capital from today to 2030.
BLOOMBERG: There is extra spending happening this year.
MBS: If it’s in the range of 10% I believe it is in the normal range. As you know, 10 years ago we used to spend 45% more. So if you take the budget track record of Saudi Arabia from 2005 to 2015 you were seeing us spending above 25% to 50% of budget, so we believe 10% plus or minus that’s the normal range.
Bloomberg: A European finance minister told me once that policy makers only do the right thing when they are on the window ledge, looking down. It strikes me it must be difficult for you now to push through reforms now oil is at $80…less urgency?
MBS: I feel the reforms today have happened. We did the reforms of gas prices in Saudi Arabia, it’s done. The electricity prices, it’s done. The water prices, it’s done. So the reform, it’s done. The taxes the VAT. It’s done. So there are no reforms in the pipeline coming that we will not do because the oil price is high. It’s already done. It’s there.
Bloomberg: One related question on this, the last year when you imposed VAT and then raised prices and then his majesty the king four days later announced a package of support that was supposed to be one year. Now the IMF is saying that your deficit is going to go down significantly next year partly based on the assumption that this package not being renewed. Are you looking at renewing it? Or are you committed to the one year?
MBS: His Majesty and the Saudi government last year they believed that part of the program – the Citizen’s Account – it couldn’t be that accurate. So we wanted to be sure that the citizens can manage themselves in 2018, that they are not harmed. Now we have a lot of negotiation in the Saudi government that should we proceed with the citizen’s account and rely on it, or should we move that and rely mostly on compensation. So this is a negotiation we will continue within the Saudi government but we believe it will not harm the spending because the amount of money allocated for that is there. Our negotiation now inside the Saudi government is about how we will spend it for the people.
Bloomberg: For me, one of the most exciting changes in the past year has been watching women be able to drive. But at the same time we’ve seen widespread arrests of people who have been very critical of the government including some of the very women who called for women to have the right to drive.
MBS: I believe there are a lot of people who called for women to have the right to drive and they are walking free in the streets so it’s not about women asking for the right to drive and they have been arrested before Women Driving day. It’s nothing at all to do with that. If you want to see some of the details, you can see tomorrow, and see the charges that they are facing (Bloomberg: they have been charged?) Yes. It had nothing to do with that rumor spreading around. They have connections with agencies of other countries. They have a network, connection with government people, leaking information for the sake these other governments.
Bloomberg: These are espionage charges?
MBS: Yes, you can say that
Bloomberg: Does that mean talking to foreign diplomats and journalists?
MBS: Journalists, no. But intelligence, yes. Secret intelligence. We have some of them with videos. We can show it to you. Tomorrow we will show you the videos.
Bloomberg: There will be a formal case against them?
MBS: I believe there will be a formal case against them based under Saudi law. I don’t have any information to suggest they have been treated in a way that is not in accordance with Saudi law and the process in Saudi Arabia. So all the movement that has happened against them, they’re based on Saudi laws and evidence. We have evidence of videos, we have evidence of voice calls…
Bloomberg: This could be them talking to foreign diplomats?
MBS: A foreign diplomat is totally different from talking to intelligence, and getting money, and being paid money to leak and to stop…
Bloomberg: Which countries are we talking about?
MBS: Qatar is one of those countries that recruited some of those people. And some agencies indirectly working with Iran. Those are the two main countries that were really recruiting these people. Some of the people on this list, they were part of that but they didn’t know that they were part of an intelligence operation, we’ve released them. But the other people, the evidence and the investigations proved that they did know it was intelligence work against Saudi Arabia.
Bloomberg: As far as you’re concerned, it’s unrelated to the things they were campaigning against.
MBS: 100%. Because the things that they were campaigning for, there are thousands of people walking freely in Saudi Arabia campaigning for the same thing.
Bloomberg: For the end to the guardianship law as well?
MBS: Yes, the guardianship law. Just five minutes ago, people in Saudi Arabia will have been talking about it, especially women and they are everywhere, in every city in Saudi Arabia.
Bloomberg: Will there be any change on that?
MBS: Well if we look at the 70s, it’s different from now. The rules of guardianship were held in 1979, if I’m not mistaken, and now we’re looking at the laws that were put in after 1979 and we’re talking to most of the Council of Senior Scholars to see what’s Islamic and what’s non Islamic in that area, and I believe there’s opportunity in that area.
Bloomberg: When you say, many of the economic reforms you say you’ve done, but the social reform we had the big one, of women driving, but you’re not done? Are you going to announce more social reform?
MBS: Yes, our target in Saudi Arabia is to be competitive. So for example, I have a foundation, I’ve been trying for the past month to hire a new CEO, a non-Saudi CEO. I can’t. Because they don’t want to live in Saudi Arabia. That’s a problem. Why? Because of the quality of life and the lifestyle is not good. They want to work one week in Dubai and one week in Saudi Arabia. Come on, what’s happening? So we have to reach the best standard as soon as possible to be sure that people can work in this country and can proceed and build things in this country.
Bloomberg: So what’s the minimum for a good lifestyle? That you have to offer?
MBS: So we get those people to Saudi Arabia. We will try to do our best and I believe we have a good plan to reach that without moving from Saudi based laws and religion. The Islamic religion. We believe the Islamic religion is the model and we believe extremists are trying to move it to the wrong side, but I believe we have achieved a lot in the past year compared to what’s been achieved in the previous 30 years. If you look at that speed, you’ll know it’s only a matter of time.
Bloomberg: I’ve been covering Saudi Arabia for about 17 years. Going back to the point of the arrests. I was here last month and there were a lot of people that I have known for many years who refused to talk to me. They say it’s too risky to be seen talking to a journalist. There was the kind of fear that I haven’t saw before in Saudi Arabia. How do you explain that?
MBS: You might know a few people among 20 million people. I don’t know those people. I don’t believe you’re going to give me the names of those people. But I don’t have accurate numbers or official numbers to say if it’s happening or not. What I believe is the majority of Saudis based on most indicators of public opinion — so a lot of companies and centers globally and a lot of companies and centers in Saudi Arabia have taken public opinion numbers — we have a huge percentage of majority support in Saudi Arabia. This is the number that matters to us.
If there are people who think that if they talk to the media it will create problems for them because of what’s happened to several people in the last two years, it might happen to them, I might create illusions that they fear, it’s not true. I hope you can encourage them. You work for Bloomberg. They will talk to you. They won’t get harmed. It will be a good story for Bloomberg to attack me. So you can encourage them in that way.
But I believe that a lot of movements that happen around the world, they happen with a price. So for example if you look at the United States of America, when for example they wanted to free the slaves. What was the price? Civil war. It divided America for a few years. Thousands, tens of thousands of people died to win the freedom for the slaves. Here we are trying to get rid of extremism and terrorism without civil war, without stopping the country form growing, with continuous progress in all elements. So if there is a small price in that area, it’s better than paying a big debt to do that move. More than that, all these issues we look at them seriously and we’re trying to be sure that no one is harmed as much as we can.
Bloomberg: How do you feel about some of the criticism? Some people say that maybe you’ve made some reforms to the economy and allowed women to drive, but again you’ve arrested some people and you’re not really a reformer. I am sure you’ve seen some of the criticism and attacks. How do you feel about that?
MBS: Actually I didn’t call myself a reformer of Saudi Arabia. I am the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and I am trying to do the best that I can do through my position as the crown prince and the deputy prime minister of Saudi Arabia. But let’s look at the numbers because numbers don’t lie. So Saudi Arabia, the number of those who’ve been arrested in the last three years — fighting extremism, fighting terrorism, fighting a lot of agencies trying to work through Saudi Arabia and use and intimidate people by using freedom of speech etc and what we said earlier: about 1,500.
Bloomberg: Since when?
MBS: In the past three years. But how many in Turkey? 50,000. So those about 1,500, most of their cases have nothing to do with freedom of speech and most of them will return to their homes when the process is finished. Anyone against whom we have clear, accurate information — based on Saudi laws — that they have links with intelligence against Saudi Arabia or extremism or terrorists, they will face Saudi law. We have do to this. We cannot fight extremists having 500 or 700 extremists on the streets recruiting people against the movement against them. So of course it’s against Saudi law, against the interest of Saudi Arabia, against the interest of the whole world.
Bloomberg: I am interested when you say that you didn’t call yourself a reformer because in some of the big interviews you gave in 2016, you were asked are you the Margaret Thatcher of Saudi Arabia you said absolutely. Are you still the Margaret Thatcher?
MBS: Maybe they mean some person bringing something new to the country. I don’t care how the world views me as much as I care about what’s in the interest of the country and the Saudi people. Whatever serves the Saudi people and Saudi Arabia as a country, I will do it with full force, regardless of the impressions that it will create about me. If it’s good, thank you, that’s great. If it’s bad, I will try to clarify myself. If it works, good, if it doesn’t work I have to do what’s good for my country and for my people.
Bloomberg: In 2016, you told us that Aramco ownership will be transferred to the PIF. Is this still the plan?
MBS: No. Aramco’s ownership will continue to be in the hands of the Saudi government, but the money of the IPO will go to the PIF.
Bloomberg: How do you evaluate the PIF so far? Again in 2016 the strategy that you gave us was 50% investments domestically 50% investments globally, excluding Aramco.
MBS: That’s right.
Bloomberg: Where do we stand today with the PIF?
MBS: We are now above $300 billion, we’re getting close to $400 billion. Our target in 2020 is around $600 billion. I believe we will surpass that target in 2020.
Bloomberg: Is it now 50-50?
MBS: Now it’s more than 50 in Saudi Arabia and less than 50 outside Saudi Arabia that’s why we are investing in more places next year.
Bloomberg: One of the places you invested in was SoftBank. Will you be a part of the other $100 billion they’re seeking?
MBS: Of course. Definitely. We are the creators of SoftBank vision fund. We have 45 percent. Without the PIF, there will be no SoftBank vision fund.
Bloomberg: How much of the new $100 billion?
MBS: Same amount mostly.
Bloomberg: Another $45 billion?
MBS: That’s right.
Bloomberg: So a total of $90 billion.
MBS: That’s right. That means we have a huge benefit from the first one. We would not put, as PIF, another $45 billion if we didn’t see huge income in the first year with the first $45 billion.
Bloomberg: How much?
MBS: Masa once announced the number in the last FII that we did more than 20 percent in the first five months, so you can imagine!
Bloomberg: You’re happy?
MBS: Of course!
Bloomberg: What’s happening with Bahrain?
MBS: You will hear an announcement tomorrow in Bahrain. We cannot walk away from GCC countries. There will be a collective announcement of support to Bahrain from Kuwait, UAE and Saudi Arabia. It will be in different categories.
Bloomberg: The figure we heard is in the neighborhood of $10 billion for the financing gap over 5 years.
MBS: It will cover Bahrain’s needs over five years. We believe they’ve taken really serious reforms in the past year. We believe they’ve made huge progress. They have a super amazing team. I told the Bahraini king and the Bahraini Crown prince if you fire any of the people in Bahrain we will hire them next day.
Bloomberg: Yemen. How do you see the conflict evolving, when will it end?
MBS: We hope it will end as soon as possible. We don’t need that on our border. But of course we don’t need to have a new Hezbollah in the Arabian peninsula. This is a red line not only for Saudi Arabia but for the whole world. No one wants to have Hezbollah in a straight through which about 15 percent of the world trade goes through. We will continue to pressure them. We hope they’ll get ready as soon as possible to have negotiations and to have a deal.
Bloomberg: Has it put a significant strain on your relations with allies like the UK?
MBS: Mistakes happen in all wars. Any war mistakes will happen, painful things will happen. We will try to solve it as soon as possible.
Bloomberg: So they’ve voiced concern to you but you don’t believe it’s fundamentally risking the relationship with these allies?
MBS: It’s not a matter of risking the relationship. It’s a matter of national security. We hope they understand. We try to convince them. We believe they understand the dangers in that area but if it will create problems so be it. We can’t risk our national security for the sake of relations with other countries.
Bloomberg: On Masayoshi Son…
MBS: I believe we will have two huge announcements: one will happen in the next months — I am not sure about the date — and we have the finalized structure of the solar investment in Saudi Arabia. So we will have it somewhere around mid-2019. The whole agreement and the structure for the next 10 years. We will have 2GW, starting construction in Saudi Arabia in 2019, and in 2020-2021, we will have 4GW. But the other 196GW, the announcement of the timeline will be in 2019, but today we have almost 4GW from 2019 to 2021 already planned and approved.
Bloomberg: We didn’t get to ask about Neom?
MBS: His majesty spent his vacation this year in Neom, it is a signal that the king, for the first time in 40 years or more, is spending his vacation in his country Saudi Arabia. Under Neom, I believe there are more than 12 small cities or towns next to the sea and other six or seven, some of it in the valley, some in the mountains, towns, and one huge industrial zone, one huge port, three airports, one global big airport. So there are a lot of huge different projects in Neom. Neom is like a small country in a big country. So the first town in an area we call the Neom Riviera will be there in 2020. Most employees will move there. I am pushing to have it in 2019, I don’t know if I will succeed in that. After that, we will have from two to three new towns in Neom every year. Neom city will be completed in 2025. There are interesting partners in the Middle East and globally. Interesting names. I believe we will hear a lot of good stories, one of them we will hear about in February 2019. A new investor will create something new there. We are working on the final details. We are getting his final approval.