Ford, others to skip Saudi investment forum
Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia on Sunday threatened to retaliate for any sanctions imposed against it after President Donald Trump said the oil-rich kingdom deserves “severe punishment” if it is responsible for the disappearance and suspected murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.
The warning from the world’s top oil exporter came after a turbulent day on the Saudi stock exchange, which fell as much as 7 percent at one point.
Already, international business leaders — including Ford Motor Co.’s Bill Ford Jr. — are pulling out of the kingdom’s upcoming investment forum, a high-profile event known as “Davos in the Desert,” and a sell-off on Riyadh’s Tadawul stock exchange showed that investors are uneasy.
The exchange dropped by over 500 points, then clawed back some of the losses, ending the day down 264 points, or more than 4 percent. Of 188 stocks traded on the exchange, 179 ended the day with a loss.
“Something this big would definitely spook investors, and Saudi just opened up for foreign direct investment, so that was big,” said Issam Kassabieh, a financial analyst at Dubai-based firm Menacorp Finance.
The statement was issued as international concern grew over the writer who vanished on a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul over a week ago. American lawmakers threatened tough punitive action against the Saudis, and Germany, France and Britain jointly called for a “credible investigation” into Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The kingdom has called such allegations “baseless” but has not offered any evidence Khashoggi ever left the consulate.
In an interview scheduled to air Sunday, Trump told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that Saudi Arabia would face strong consequences if involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance.
“There’s something really terrible and disgusting about that, if that was the case, so we’re going to have to see,” Trump said. “We’re going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment.”
But the president has also said “we would be punishing ourselves” by canceling arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
In a statement published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the kingdom warned that if it “receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom’s economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy.”
The statement did not elaborate. However, a column published later by the general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news network suggested Saudi Arabia could use its oil production as a weapon.
Benchmark Brent crude is trading at around $80 a barrel; Trump has criticized OPEC and Saudi Arabia over rising prices.
“If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure,” Turki Aldakhil wrote.
It’s unclear, however, whether Saudi Arabia would be willing to unilaterally cut production.
Aldakhil added that Saudi arms purchases from the U.S. and other trade could be at risk as well. “The truth is that if Washington imposes sanctions on Riyadh, it will stab its own economy to death, even though it thinks that it is stabbing only Riyadh!” he wrote.