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Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund gets an Uber-sized stake in oil giant Aramco as it bets on airlines, video games, and sports



Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is at the forefront of the kingdom’s bid to diversify from its oil reliant economy, with high-profile bets on tech, sports and airlines. And now it’s getting a present from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: a $163 billion stake in Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s most profitable public companies.

The crown prince announced the completion of the transfer of an 8% stake in Saudi Aramco, the crown jewel of the country’s economy, to PIF on Thursday, according to the Saudi state news agency. That 8% stake is worth about $163 billion, roughly the size of Uber’s entire market cap. 

It’s the third time the PIF has increased its stake in Aramco. The fund has had a 4% stake since 2022, and Sanabil, a PIF-owned investment company, owns another 4% stake.

Together, PIF and PIF-affiliated entities now have a 16% stake in Saudi Aramco, worth $327 billion, or around the total market value of Samsung Electronics or Home Depot.

The transfer is a “continuation of Saudi Arabia’s long-term initiatives to boost and diversify the national economy” in line with the country’s Vision 2030 strategy, said the country’s state news agency. 

Aramco reported full-year profit of $161.1 billion in 2022 off the back of higher energy prices. The figure is the largest annual profit achieved by an oil and gas company. Aramco will report full-year earnings for 2023 on March 11. 

What is Vision 2030?

The Public Investment Fund was started in 1971, and has recently taken a more prominent role in Vision 2030: Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s push to diversify the country’s economy and rely less on its oil industry. The Fund manages over $700 billion, and was a major investor in the tech sector, funneling money towards Softbank’s Vision Fund and Uber. 

Yet the PIF has also made some headline-grabbing investments in industries like aviation, sports and video games.

The Fund is backing Riyadh Air, Saudi Arabia’s second flag carrier, which is tasked with expanding the country’s aviation reach and turning it into a regional transport hub.

It’s also invested nearly $40 billion into its gaming subsidiary, Savvy Gaming Group, that’s meant to establish a foothold in the approximately $180 billion video game industry. Last year, the group acquired Scopely, the developer behind “Monopoly Go” and “Marvel Strike Force,” for $4.9 billion. The Fund also invests in established video game publishers: For example, it’s the largest outside investor in Nintendo.

But it’s the PIF’s investment in the world of sports that gets the most attention—and controversy.

The PIF owns the four largest clubs in the Saudi League (Cristiano Ronaldo now plays for Al-Nassr FC, a PIF-owned Saudi club), as well as Newcastle Football Club in the U.K. The PIF also backs LIV Golf, which is currently in merger discussions with the PGA Tour. 

Critics brand these investments as “sportswashing,” or trying to use investments in professional sports to repair Saudi Arabia’s reputation following the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

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