Kuwait - Foreign Investment

Kuwait - Foreign Investment

From the very beginning, government officials were keenly aware that oil was a depletable asset, that the country had few other resources, and that preparations had to be made for the day when there would be no more oil. As soon as the government began to receive oil revenues, officials spent less than the treasury received, leaving a surplus in the state's general reserve to be invested. Because of limited domestic investment opportunities, most investments were made abroad. World Bank economists estimate that about 25 percent of revenues were placed in foreign assets during the 1950s, although the Kuwaiti government's published data have always been vague about reserves as well as about some other economic variables.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Kuwait began investing overseas in property and businesses in Britain. In 1952 Kuwait established an office in London, staffed with experienced British investment counselors who guided the government's placement of funds. In the same year, Kuwait created investment relations with a large New York bank. Because of the vastly expanded oil revenues of the 1970s, Kuwait's overseas investment program grew tremendously. In 1976 the government established the Reserve Fund for Future Generations, into which it placed an initial US$7 billion. It resolved to invest 10 percent of its revenues annually in the reserve fund. Money from the fund, along with other government revenues, was invested in overseas property and industry. In the 1970s, most of these funds were invested in the United States and in Western Europe: in German firms (such as Hoechst and DaimlerBenz , in each of which Kuwait owned 25 percent), in property, and in most of the United States Fortune Five Hundred firms. In the 1980s, Kuwait began diversifying its overseas investments, placing more investments in Japanese firms. By the late 1980s, Kuwait was earning more from these overseas investments than it was from the direct sale of oil: in 1987 foreign investments generated US$6.3 billion, oil US$5.4 billion. The Financial Times of London estimated Kuwait's overseas investments in early 1990 at more than US$100 billion, most of it in the Reserve Fund for Future Generations.

The Iraqi invasion proved the importance of these investment revenues. With oil revenues suspended, the government and population in exile relied exclusively on investment revenues, including sales of investments for sustenance, for their share of ongoing coalition expenses and for postwar reconstruction and repair of the vital oil industry.


Country Studies main page | Persian gulf states Country Studies main page