Stung by oil slump, Middle East wealthy become more risk averse

Risk appetite levels have fallen a lot among Middle East investors, an executive at Barclays Private Bank told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia
People wearing protective face masks and gloves shop at a supermarket during the coronavirus pandemic in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where wealthy investors throughout the Middle East region are being more cautious, according to Barclays [File: Ahmed Yosri/Reuters]

High net worth individuals in the Middle East have become the most risk averse among wealthy investors in emerging markets after being hit by the oil price crash, an executive at Barclays Private Bank told Reuters news agency.

The bank’s rich clients across emerging markets are shifting towards perceived safer investments, such as dollar assets, equity-paying dividends or selective fixed income, but risk aversion is not as intense as during the global financial crisis, said Salman Haider, Barclays Private Bank’s head of global growth markets.

In the Middle East, however, caution is much more evident.

“In the Middle East the risk appetite levels have fallen a lot,” he said in an interview. “There’s a lot more focus on local liquidity, a lot more focus on preserving liquidity.”

While global stocks have regained some of the ground lost after a rout in March sparked by fears about the economic cost of the coronavirus pandemic, oil prices remain at depressed levels despite a pickup this month.

Haider said risk sentiment was also down in Russia, another oil-rich economy, while appetite was subdued in India. Clients were a bit bolder in other parts of Asia, he said.

The private bank’s clients typically have more than £20 million ($24.7m) in assets available to invest.

“A lot of focus has been on making sure their businesses are able to sustain liquidity needs, working capital and so forth,” said London-based Haider.

There was a broad consensus by clients to shift portfolio flows to sectors such as healthcare and technology, and away from areas more exposed to the pandemic, such as travel and entertainment, he said.

For the larger family offices and mega-wealthy there was an appetite for investment in distressed assets, ranging from bank loans to healthcare and technology assets, in the US and Europe, Haider said.

“We have had interest come in to look at specific direct investment opportunities. These could be direct investment in companies across healthcare and technology where can provide direct access as equity participation,” he said, adding there was also renewed interest in real estate.

Source: Reuters