Saudi wealth fund makes bet on video-game makers

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NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is pursuing investments in an industry long favoured by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: video games.

The Riyadh-based Public Investment Fund (PIF) acquired more than US$3bil worth of stock in three United States video-game makers during the fourth quarter, according to a regulatory filing. They include Activision Blizzard Inc, (pic) Electronic Arts Inc and Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.

The sovereign wealth fund, also known as PIF, is controlled by Prince Mohammed, who told Bloomberg Businessweek in 2016 that he was part of the first Saudi generation to grow up playing video games.

The crown prince credited video games with sparking ingenuity in the Bloomberg Businessweek profile, while telling the New Yorker in 2018 that his favourite diversion is the Call of Duty series, Activision’s best-selling franchise.

In November, a subsidiary of the crown prince’s charitable organisation, the Mohamed bin Salman Foundation, said it purchased a one-third stake in SNK Corp, the Japanese developer of King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown. The charity, also known as the MiSK Foundation, said it would increase its stake to 51% in the future.

The sovereign wealth fund acquired 14.9 million Activision shares with a market value of almost US$1.4bil during the fourth quarter, according to a Form 13F filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Its other purchases included 7.4 million Electronic Arts shares and 3.9 million Take-Two shares worth about US$1.1bil and US$826mil, respectively, at the end of December.

Shares of all three game-makers have gained since the third quarter ended, with Activision jumping some 27%, thanks in part to an upbeat earnings report earlier this month.

Electronic Arts is up almost 12% and Take-Two has climbed about 18% since Sept 30, roughly equal to the 17.7% total return for the benchmark S&P 500 index.

The PIF is a key part of the crown prince’s plan to diversify the Saudi economy from its dependence on oil. The fund has made several high-profile investments in recent years, including a US$4.4bil stake in Uber Technologies Inc and big commitments to Softbank Group Corp’s Vision Fund.

The total value of the public investment fund’s 13F holdings was US$12.77bil as of Dec 31, up from US$7.05bil as of Sept 30. ─ Bloomberg

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