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Alwaleed's Kingdom, on prowl for acquisitions, plans hotel sale

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Kingdom Tower in Riyadh, May 6, 2013. REUTERS/Faisa
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Kingdom Tower in Riyadh, May 6, 2013. REUTERS/Faisa

By Mirna Sleiman and Angus McDowall

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal will hold onto his most high-profile investments, which range from stakes in Citigroup and News Corp to microblogging site Twitter, while seeking out new targets to diversify his global portfolio.

Kingdom Holding <4280.SE>, Alwaleed's investment vehicle, has asked investment banks to identify possible acquisition targets around the world and plans to sell its stake in 20-30 hotels in the next two years, he told Reuters on Monday.

"We have talked with certain investment banks to look at opportunities that we may have not seen in our region. This is in motion right now," said Alwaleed, who owns 95 percent of Kingdom, in an interview in Riyadh on Monday.

"We intentionally try to be diversified by location and by industry so we won't have much concentration in one arena."

Kingdom Holding, which went public in 2007, has a market value of around $17 billion, making it one of the largest listed investment firms in the Middle East.

Alwaleed, a nephew of King Abdullah, has also moved to divest some of his investments in real estate and hotels in recent months, and said he plans to sell 20-30 more hotels in Africa, the Middle East and Asia in the next two years.

"Those are traded portfolio. We just take them, we reconstruct them with our partners, we brand them... and then we sell them. It's like a recycling situation," he said.

Kingdom owns stock in hotel ownership and management companies such as Movenpick, Fairmont, Raffles and Four Seasons, which Alwaleed said he would not sell. It also has direct stakes in specific hotels run by these companies.

Kingdom has been selling such stock in recent months. It booked a $32.9 million gain from sale of some equity in New York's Plaza hotel in December, retaining 25 percent. It also sold its interest in Fairmont Hotel and Raffles Suites & Residences in Manila last year.

However, despite these plans, he said Kingdom would retain a stake in major hotel companies and in landmark assets.

"Hotels that we as Kingdom Holding directly own such as the Plaza Hotel in New York, the Savoy in London, the Four Seasons in Toronto and George V in Paris, these are the anchor ones that are not for sale," he said.

Kingdom Holding first-quarter net profit rose 9 percent year-on-year, but the company's share price has dropped 18 percent since the start of 2013.

Alwaleed said he thought the share price was "just taking a breather" after being one of the strongest performing stocks in Saudi Arabia's <.TASI> all-share index last year.

HIGH-PROFILE INVESTMENTS

Alwaleed said Kingdom would retain its holding in major investments including Citigroup Inc , News Corp , Twitter and its most recent acquisition, the Chinese online retailer 360buy Jingdong.

Kingdom owns 2 percent of Citi and 7 percent of voting shares in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. It has invested $300 million in Twitter and $160 million in 360buy.

He said he did not anticipate Twitter would launch an initial public offering (IPO) soon and should draw lessons from Facebook's disappointing launch last year .

"There's no rush for Twitter to go public. We never push them to go public fast. The issue is when will Twitter be ready to go public?" he said.

"The Facebook IPO was not well managed, obviously. The lessons learnt there are that you should time the IPO at the right time and be sure to have a price that does not only help shareholders but also (helps) new shareholders getting into the company," he added.

An IPO at Kingdom's most recent acquisition, 360buy, was planned for 2014 or 2015, but that "there's no rush", he added.

Alwaleed said he had confidence in the performance of new Citigroup Chief Executive Michael Corbat, whose conservative strategy he said was beginning to show in results.

Citigroup posted a 30 percent increase in first-quarter net profit in April, beating analysts forecasts as the No.3 U.S. bank generated more money from underwriting stock issues and advising companies on mergers.

The stock has risen 18.8 percent year-to-date and surged nearly 45 percent in the last one year.

He also said he had not yet decided whether to retain stock in both the entertainment and publishing wings of News Corp after the company carries out plans to split its television and film assets from its newspapers this summer.

However, he said it would make sense for the media company to try to buy out other investors in British satellite channel BSkyB once the fallout from the scandal of phone hacking at News Corp's British newspaper unit fades into the background.

News Corp abandoned plans to acquire the rest of BSkyB under political pressure after revelations in 2011 that journalists at one of its British newspapers had hacked into voice mail recordings on a massive scale.

"On Sky, there are two concepts here. One is to divest completely BskyB or to buy it completely... I can't speak on behalf of Mr Murdoch as he has to decide, but I think both make sense because we are in the middle now at 40 percent ownership," he said.

(Reporting by Mirna Sleiman and Angus McDowall; Writing by Angus McDowall and Dinesh Nair; Editing by Peter Graff)

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