How the Saudi dispute could impact Canada’s economy
The decision by Saudi Arabia to halt new investments and unload assets in Canada is likely to have limited impact.
Saudi assets in Canada are confined mainly to stakes in upscale hotel operators, some small stock holdings in companies like Canadian National Railway Co. (CNR.TO), and grain facilities.
Most investments have been made by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal through his Kingdom Holding Co., a Riyadh-based conglomerate with investments in hotels, real estate and equities. The company’s international hotel unit joined Bill Gates’s Cascade Investment and Canadian Isadore Sharp in a 2007 buyout of management company Four Seasons Hotels Inc., taking a 47.5 percent stake.
“The matter does not affect the day-to-day operations of Four Seasons,” spokeswoman Sarah Tuite said in an email. “It is business as usual as we continue to welcome guests to our hotels and resorts worldwide.”
Alwaleed’s influence in the kingdom has diminished after his arrest last year in an anti-corruption sweep by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seen to be sending a message to critics of his leadership with this latest reaction against Canada.
G3 Global Grain Group, a joint venture between state-owned Saudi Agriculture & Livestock Investment Co. and U.S. agri-food company Bunge Ltd., bought a 50.1 per cent stake in the Canadian Wheat Board for $250 million in 2015. SALIC boosted its stake to 75 per cent a year later. The partnership also holds an interest in a grain export terminal being built near Vancouver. On Tuesday, officials of the Winnipeg, Manitoba-based G3 said the company continues to buy and sell grain as usual. Officials didn’t immediately return requests for comment on Wednesday.
Last year, Toronto-based technology startup QD Solar Inc. received funding from a group that included Saudi’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and Netherlands-based venture capital firm DSM Venturing.
Saudi lender National Commercial Bank has an asset manager that held investments in 41 Canadian companies including Suncor Energy Inc. (SU.TO), Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNQ.TO) and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. (CP.TO) in its AlAhli North America Index Fund, according to May 2017 filings. CN Rail, at US$473,500, was the largest Canadian investment of the fund’s US$148.2 million portfolio.
Two-way trade between the two countries is tiny -- around 0.4 per cent of Canada’s total trade in 2017. Canada exported $1.37 billion worth of goods to Saudi Arabia last year, mostly tanks and other armored fighting vehicles and their parts, according to Statistics Canada. The country imported $2.63 billion in goods from Saudi Arabia over that period, mostly crude imported to the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick.
Export Development Canada, the country’s trade financing agency said it has exposure of about $2 billion to Saudi Arabia, and about 250 customers operating in the kingdom.
“Canada stands up firmly and respectfully for human rights,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Wednesday in Montreal, sidestepping questions on the impact of the Saudi moves. He also declined to say whether Canada would apologize for its statements about the women’s activists.
The tanks and armored vehicles are manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, based in London, Ontario, a unit of U.S. defense giant General Dynamics Corp., under a $15 billion contract with Saudi Arabia signed by the Canadian government in 2014.
Saudi’s move had a brief impact on the Canadian dollar, with the loonie depreciating as much as 0.5 per cent to $1.3120 per U.S. dollar after the Financial Times reported the Saudi Arabia central bank and state pension funds instructed overseas asset managers to dispose of Canadian assets starting Tuesday. Canada’s currency later reversed those losses to trade 0.3 per cent higher at 4:29 p.m. in Toronto. The S&P/TSX Composite Index closed 0.2 per cent higher at 16,315.08. Yields on 10-year government bonds fell 1 basis point to 2.36 per cent.
Saudi holdings of Canadian dollar reserves are between $10 billion and $25 billion, with the upper end of that estimate representing 10 percent of daily Canadian dollar trading volume, according to estimates from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
Canadian direct investors in Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, include Barrick Gold Corp. (ABX.TO) the world’s second-biggest producer, and SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. (SNC.TO), Canada’s biggest engineering and construction company.
Barrick doesn’t expect its copper mine in Saudi Arabia to be affected by the escalating tensions with Canada, the Toronto-based miner said. SNC-Lavalin, meanwhile, has been operating in the kingdom for five decades. It had revenue of about $993 million in the country last year, representing about 11 per cent of total sales.