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OPINION

Banking: Can nothing hurt Saudi sentiment?

The murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has sparked condemnation of the kingdom’s leadership the world over, but as the dust settles after the Future Investment Initiative, what are the real-world effects, if any, of this crisis on Saudi Arabia’s banking ties?

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All of the heads of large international banks from Europe, the US and Japan who were due to speak at the state-run investment conference in late October, eventually cancelled.

And a small number of deals with the kingdom seem to have been delayed or cancelled, including proposed investments by the Saudi Public Investment Fund in space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

But take a step back and the picture looks a lot less clear-cut.

For one, bank heads only pulled out once most western media groups, corporations and politicians had already done so, and it therefore looked untenable for them to uphold their attendance.

More importantly, most of the big banks were in fact present at the conference, just no longer on panels, with sometimes large delegations of lower-ranking bankers mingling in the crowd at the Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh, where the event was held.

On panels still appeared the heads of Moelis & Co, which has been advising state oil company Saudi Aramco on its planned IPO, UK venture capital firm SoftBank Investment Advisers and oil major Total, as well as partners of consultancy firms McKinsey and PwC.