Sun, Nov 18, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Abu Dhabi AMD stake raises concerns

MAJOR MINORITY An 8.1 percent AMD stake sold to the Mubadala Development Company will make the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund AMD's No.3 shareholder


With oil prices surging and US stock prices slumping, chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc's (AMD) sale of an 8.1 percent stake to the Abu Dhabi government's investment arm represents the latest plunge by a wealthy Middle Eastern nation into a troubled US corporation.

It also raises fresh questions about the appropriateness of Middle Eastern firms owning large chunks of US businesses that specialize in advanced technologies.

AMD, the world's No. 2 microprocessor maker, needs the US$622 million investment from the Mubadala Development Company to help lift the company out of a deep financial slump.

AMD has lost more than US$1.6 billion so far this year, and has just US$1.5 billion in cash on hand as it works to pay down US$5.3 billion in debt. The financial woes have caused AMD's stock to fall more than 35 percent since the start of the year, a slide that has wiped out nearly US$4 billion in shareholder wealth.

The infusion, announced on Friday, is a necessary jolt for AMD as it hunts for money to fund its counteroffensive against Intel Corp, the world's largest chip maker, and amid a huge spike in investments in US companies from Middle Eastern nations.

Middle Eastern investments in US companies has increased more than fivefold this year, leaping from US$4.5 billion on 32 deals last year to nearly US$25 billion on 42 deals so far this year, according to data compiled by Thomson Financial.

The money invested in the past two years is more than the entire total invested from 1990 to 2005, according to the latest Thomson data. During that period, US$24.8 billion in investments were made in 258 deals.

Oil-rich countries have been enriched further in recent months by a run-up in the price of a barrel of oil, which has been hovering in the US$90 range while many US stocks continue to suffer from the housing and lending morass that's led some banks to absorb billions of dollars in losses.

The biggest deal so far this year involving Middle Eastern firms was General Electric Co's US$11.6 billion sale of its plastics division, completed in August, to petrochemicals manufacturer Saudi Basic Industries Corp, a public company based in Riyadh that is 70 percent owned by the Saudi Arabian government.

Firms based in the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven oil-rich states, have invested nearly US$10 billion in real estate, financial, power generation and other types of companies in the US.

Earlier this year, Mubadala bought a 7.5 percent stake in the management operations of private-equity firm Carlyle Group for US$1.35 billion, and this week unveiled a partnership with military contractor Northrop Grumman Corp to collaborate on aerospace and aviation technologies.

The deal with AMD makes the Abu Dhabi government-run investment fund AMD's third-largest shareholder, according to AMD's latest regulatory filings, a development that AMD vows will not trigger a review by the US government because it's a minority investment and Mubadala will not get a board seat.

However, some experts doubt that claim, citing the sensitivity of AMD's technology, which besides being used widely in consumer personal computers and corporate servers is also used in Defense Department computers and other government machinery.

John Reynolds, an attorney at Wiley, Rein & Fielding in Washington, said the transaction could face scrutiny by Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, or CFIUS, a 12-member panel headed by the Treasury Department, because the US government is very interested in acquisitions by government-run investment funds, known as sovereign wealth funds, such as Mubadala.

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