The initial public offering (IPO) of the joint venture company had originally been planned for as early as 2007.

“This is something we have been considering for some time,” says Azlan Shahrin, a senior executive at MMC. “The plan is still to go ahead and list the company by the first quarter of next year.”

In January 2008 the local Saudi Investment Bank was appointed adviser for the IPO.

The development of the economic city is estimated to be worth $30bn. Plans for the city include a major port, two aluminium smelters, a copper smelter, a steel mill and an oil refinery.

The detailed design for the port is under way and construction is expected to begin in early 2009. No agreements have yet been signed to develop the copper plant.