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RIYADH (Reuters) - The $500 billion mega-city planned by Saudi Arabia will be floated on financial markets alongside oil giant Saudi Aramco as part of the kingdom’s drive to diversify away from oil, the crown prince told Reuters in an interview late on Wednesday.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also said Aramco’s initial public offering is on track for next year and the national oil giant could be valued at more than $2 trillion - a sum some investors have said appears unrealistically high.
His surprise announcement about the listing of NEOM, a 26,500-square km (10,230-square mile) zone that will extend into Jordan and Egypt, is the latest and most extraordinary in a slate of privatization programs led by the floating of Aramco.
The futuristic high tech hub looks set to become a flagship of reforms championed by Prince Mohammed to create jobs, encourage entrepreneurs and permit new freedoms among Saudis steeped in religious puritanism and dependence on the state
“The first capitalist city in the world ... this is the unique thing that will be revolutionary,” said Prince Mohammed, heir to the throne of the largest Arab economy, an absolute monarchy.
“Without a doubt, at the end of the day NEOM will be floated in the markets. The first zone floated in the public markets. It’s as if you float the city of New York.”
The 32-year-old spoke on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative conference, which has attracted nearly 4,000 delegates from around the world to Riyadh this week.
On Aramco’s IPO, he said: “We are on track in 2018... but the listing (details) are still under discussion ... It will be IPO-ed in 2018.”
Switching between English and Arabic, sometimes in the same sentence, the prince seemed most excited discussing his plans for the new city.