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Goldman Sachs applies for Saudi equities trading licence-sources

DUBAI, June 2 (Reuters) - Goldman Sachs has applied to Saudi Arabia's capital markets regulator for a licence to trade equities in the kingdom, two sources familiar with the move said, in the latest step by Western banks to expand operations in the country.

Goldman has made the application to the Capital Market Authority (CMA) and a successful outcome could lead to a further expansion of its business in the kingdom, one of the sources said.

Goldman has been operating in Saudi Arabia since 2009 as an agent and underwriter. In 2014, the Saudi Capital Market Authority approved a change in the bank's profile and it has been authorised to arrange, advise and manage investment funds and portfolios, according to its website.

Further details of the business buildup or hiring plan were not immediately known

Goldman declined to comment, while CMA did not respond to a Reuters request for a comment.

The Wall Street bank's move indicates growing interest among investment banks and fund managers to expand in Saudi Arabia after the kingdom unveiled plans for oil firm Aramco's $100 billion initial public offering and introduced a string of reforms since 2015 to attract foreign capital.

Citigroup obtained an investment banking licence recently which will allow it to return to the kingdom after more than 13 years, while Credit Suisse AG is seeking a banking licence in the kingdom to build a fully-fledged onshore private banking business.

The opening up of the market and privatisation of state-owned companies are part of a reform agenda to diversify the Saudi economy beyond oil by 2030.

The Saudi stock exchange opened itself to direct investment by foreign institutions in mid-2015 and last year eased restrictions on foreign ownership in its stock market in order to improve the investment environment.

The reforms have encouraged international firms such as BlackRock Inc, Citigroup, HSBC, and Ashmore Group to join the list of institutional investors that can directly trade the market. (additional reporting by Katie Paul in Riyadh and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Editing by Keith Weir)