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Lazard says Saudi base to be Mena investment banking hub

REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Lazard hired Wassim Al-Khatib as chief executive officer of the bank's investment banking business for Mena

Investment bank Lazard Ltd said on Monday it hired Wassim Al-Khatib as chief executive officer of the bank’s investment banking business for the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).

Al-Khatib will also be CEO of Lazard Saudi Arabia, the statement said, adding that the bank plans to make its presence in the kingdom as its regional Mena investment banking hub.

Saudi Arabia raised the stakes in a competition with Dubai, the Middle East’s financial hub, when it introduced a policy in February 2021 that it will no longer sign contracts with foreign companies which do not have a regional headquarters in the kingdom after 2023.

Al-Khatib joins Lazard from Citigroup where he headed its business in Saudi Arabia and prior to that he was the head of National Commercial Bank’s investment banking business where he was a key dealmaker on oil giant Aramco’s, initial public offering.

International banks have been courting Saudi Arabia ever since the kingdom outlined plans to float Aramco, resulting in a landmark $29.4 billion share sale before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Middle East has been a bright spot of activity in an otherwise gloomy year for equity capital markets. Companies have raised some $21.9 billion through IPOs in the area in 2022, more than half the total for the wider EMEA region, which also includes Europe and Africa, according to Dealogic data.

In particular, Saudi Arabia has witnessed a string of IPOs amid a government-led privatisation programme that has also seen state entities shed some of their holdings in listed firms, encouraging local companies and family businesses to go public.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is working with Lazard on funding options and a potential initial public offering of Masar, a $27 billion mega project in the holy city of Mecca, two sources with direct knowledge told Reuters in November.

The kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, which has over $600 billion in assets, is working with Lazard on Masar, and several other projects including the $500 billion economic zone NEOM, the sources said.