The sovereign-wealth funds are stirring. After going quiet as markets crashed and some high-profile investments in U.S. financial companies went awry, the huge pools of capital are back doing deals.
China Investment Corp. is planning a $500 million investment in Blackstone hedge funds and took part in Morgan Stanley’s recent rights issue. The Qatar Investment Authority is considering an investment in Porsche. And with the oil price back above $70, cash is flowing back into Middle East funds.
The moves come at a time when significant new investments by SWFs — with between $2 trillion and $3 trillion under management according to the IMF — have been thin on the ground. Figures from Dealogic put the value of cross-border equity investments by SWFs so far this year at $21.1 billion. But that is flattered by the $12.5 billion conversion of Citigroup preferred shares held by Singapore’s GIC and the Kuwait Investment Authority into common stock. Last year, total investments were $46.9 billion, and they reached $55 billion in 2007.
But as SWFs regain their risk appetites — no doubt helped by successful deals such as the recent profit Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Corp. recently made selling most of its $5.6 billion stake in Barclays Bank — they could be somewhat different investors. Some face serious criticism at home for losses made, especially on Western financial institutions during the crash. In China, for example, many wonder why CIC doesn’t spend its cash supporting the country’s own companies more.
Those who have had dealings with CIC say it is likely to focus more on investing in resource sector and alternative energy companies. Abu Dhabi’s IPIC, after selling out of Barclays, says it is pursuing “hydrocarbon-related” opportunities. Singapore’s Temasek, meanwhile, already has been reorienting its portfolio more toward investments in Asia and Singapore itself.
It seems probable funds will try to invest both closer to home, and in industries that fit more neatly with their own countries’ policy objectives. When they venture overseas, they are also likely to have learned from their mistakes and to be savvier in structuring deals.
But as SWFs get more confident, foreign investments are likely to remain vital. First, capital constrained Western companies need deep-pocketed investors, so political opposition to SWF deals could be more muted than before. That is particularly true if funds are smarter in positioning their investments as strategic partnerships.
In addition, despite protestations that some SWFs want to focus on Asian opportunities, or investments closer to home, there aren’t enough big opportunities to soak up all the cash. Large, liquid Western markets are likely to regain their allure.