Kuwait looks to raise stake in China's ICBC

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Reuters | Fri May 15, 2009

By John Irish and Caroline Drees

SWEIMEH, Jordan (Reuters) - OPEC oil exporter Kuwait is looking to raise its stake in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and invest in Chinese energy and industrial sectors, its finance minister said on Friday.

Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea in Jordan, Mustapha al-Shamali also said the world's fourth-largest oil exporter would not reduce its dollar-denominated assets.

Kuwait is home to one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds, the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA).

"We have an investment in ICBC. We have a portion of it and we are going to enlarge it," Shamali said in an interview, without disclosing the size of the stake.

"We could get our share from the market," he said.

Shares of ICBC have risen about 55 percent since hitting a more than four-month low on March 3.

Kuwait, the only state in the oil-exporting Gulf region that does not peg its currency to the U.S. dollar, was not reducing its dollar assets and was keeping some liquid assets to meet its budget requirements, Shamali added.

"No, we are not going to reduce dollar assets," Shamali said. "We've kept some liquid and some semi-liquid to fulfill our requirements for the budget."

Kuwait, which relies on oil export revenues for about 94 percent of total state revenues, is likely to post a budget deficit this year after oil prices plunged from peaks of almost $150 a barrel last July.

ASIAN INVESTMENTS

Gulf oil exporters had amassed enormous surpluses from an oil price rally that started in 2002 and enabled them to invest in building infrastructure at home and to snap up foreign assets to diversify their risk.

The KIA -- which poured $5 billion last year into Citigroup and Merrill Lynch MER.N before it was bought by Bank of America -- has said on a number of occasions it was seeking to expand its investments in Asian countries like Japan.

Shamali said Kuwait was also looking at making investments in other sectors in China, while also pursuing agreements in Southeast Asia to guarantee food security for the desert state that relies predominately on imports of food.

The Gulf state had not, however, discussed buying agricultural land, he said.

"We are looking for investment in any field of either industry or infrastructure, or any of these kinds of investments. We do have some investment there," Shamali said of Kuwait's plans in China.

Without giving specifics, Shamali also said Kuwait had reached an agreement with China on a refinery project in which it would hold a 10 percent stake.

Kuwait Petroleum Corp has said it plans to build a refinery in China under a joint venture with Sinopec Corp. The state-owned firm said in March it planned to spend around half of its investment budget on petrochemical and refinery projects abroad. (Writing by Daliah Merzaban in Dubai; Editing by David Cowell)
Original source: Reuters
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