Slow start to project finance

02 May 2011

Maaden project will attract interest as Saudi deals have been slow so far despite many new schemes

Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Maaden) is planning to launch the financing for the second phase of its massive aluminium complex in early May. By the end of the year, it should have completed the $10.8bn funding package for the project.

The deal will attract a lot of interest over the next months, partly because of the opportunity to fund the ongoing diversification of the Saudi economy. Also because so far this year, the Saudi project finance market has been surprisingly slow.

Although there are massive development plans in the kingdom and a raft of projects at various stages, few deals have actually been offered to the banking market for commitments.

The next Saudi power project, Qurayyah, is still without a preferred bidder and bidding on Medina airport has been delayed. Several other projects are still a few months from approaching banks, if they manage to this year.

That should give the Maaden scheme a clear run at the banks, most of which are already familiar with the project after financing phase one last year. That deal was oversubscribed by about $1bn, indicating that there is plenty of liquidity available for the project.

Most of that came from the local market, where banks are liquid and able to lend riyals at much cheaper rates than international banks can lend dollars. The latest deal is expected to again be dominated by local lenders.

The challenge for Maaden could be in the timing. With summer and Ramadan fast approaching, unless significant progress on building a bank group and starting to agree terms is made before then, the schedule could slip back further.

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