Saudi Arabia has reportedly been propping up its stock market when things go bad

  • The Saudi government has been propping up the stock market when negative news sends the market lower, the Wall Street Journal reported.
  • The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was one such example of final-hour buying by funds linked to the government.

The October murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi spooked investors into dumping Saudi stocks. The Saudi government then swooped in to buy them back, shoring up the market.

It’s a familiar pattern when things go south in the country’s equity market, according to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal. Citing people familiar with the matter, the WSJ reported that the Saudi government places massive buy orders, often in the last few minutes of trading, to send the market higher on negative trading days. The government doesn’t buy the shares directly, but purchases them via fund managers at Saudi firms that aren’t required to reveal their clients.

The stock interventions corresponded to news flow relating to the Saudi government’s involvement in Khashoggi’s death.

For example, the WSJ highlighted in a chart how the market opened with a sharp drop after President Donald Trump vowed “severe punishment” if an investigation implicates the kingdom in the murder. Then there was a rally in the final hour, probably at the behest of the government, that helped the market recover.

The Saudi stock market, dubbed the Tadawul, is a key part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to revamp the economy – his government has been eager to tout the safety of the kingdom to foreign investors. The market cap of the index is about $US500 billion.

China is among other developing countries that has been doing this for years. The difference, the WSJ report highlights, is that it’s being done to attract foreigners, who own only about 4% of stock on the Saudi market.

The Tadawul is set to join emerging-market indexes next year, luring billions in foreign capital to the exchange.

Referring to the kingdom’s stock interventions, Abdullah al Marshad, a trader at Saudi Arabia’s Samba Financial Group, said to the WSJ:

“It tells people: Don’t worry.”

Read the full report from The Wall Street Journal here.

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