Al-Rajhi Capital, the investment banking arm of Saudi Arabia’s Al-Rajhi Bank, has linked up with Bahrain’s Arcapita Bank to launch a $500m real estate fund.

The two companies are making a joint investment of SR187m ($50m) in the Arc Real Estate Income Fund, and will seek further finance from other investors.

The fund will focus its investments on the GCC region, in particular Saudi Arabia. Its first deal, announced on 22 February, is to buy the main Riyadh distribution hub of Azizia Panda United Company, a local supermarket operator. The facility has been bought for SR299m and will be leased back to Azizia Panda for 18 years.

“There is a genuine, sustained demand for Saudi real estate driven by the kingdom’s demographic profile which is not dominated by a transitory expatriate population,” says Nael Mustafa, head of Arcapita’s Middle East real estate group.

The fund plans a first closing date of 15 March and aims to raise $500m in the first half of 2010.

“As the economic downturn shows signs of bottoming out, we are beginning to see good opportunities for investors with available capital for investment,” says Jorge Cantonnet, managing director and head of private equity at Al-Rajhi Capital.