Mohamed El-Erian: American CEOs pulling out of the Saudi conference is not a 'big deal' to markets

  • BlackRock CEO Larry Fink and Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman are among the latest who reportedly have decided not to attend.
  • Financial markets signal that the torrent of American CEOs pulling out next week's Saudi investment conference is not a great concern, El-Erian says.

Financial markets signal that the torrent of American CEOs pulling out next week's Saudi investment conference is not a great concern among global investors and traders, economist Mohamed El-Erian told CNBC on Monday.

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink and Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman are among the latest who have decided not to attend as questions mount over the disappearance and suspected killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin reported on Monday, citing sources. At least another half dozen executives are also expected to bow out Monday, the sources said.

Over the weekend, J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Ford Chairman Bill Ford canceled their planned trips to the Future Investment Initiative (FII), also known as "Davos in the Desert," scheduled for Oct. 23 to 25.

Oil prices on Monday were building on modest gains on Friday after taking a beating in the global sell-off on Wednesday and Thursday.

"You're talking about a major oil producer" in Saudi Arabia and only a small move in crude, El-Erian told "Squawk Box." "The market is telling you ... this thing is not going to be a big deal."

The Saudi king's order of an internal investigation into what happened to Khashoggi is significant, El-Erian said. A joint Turkish-Saudi team was set to search the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where Khashoggi was last seen on Oct. 2.

"The commentary is going to be a big deal," El-Erian said. "The market is saying, 'Yeah, somewhat of a higher risk premium in the oil markets, somewhat of a higher risk in sovereign Saudi, but not that much.'"

El-Erian told CNBC he was invited to attend the FII event, but he declined because of a scheduling conflict. But had he accepted the invitation, the chief economic advisor at Allianz said, he would have canceled last week.

On Friday, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he won't be attending the conference, co-hosted by the Saudi sovereign Public Investment Fund, which invested $3.5 billion in the ride-hailing firm in 2016.

However, as of Friday's interview on CNBC and indications over the weekend, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was still planning to go to the conference.

A spokesperson for Treasury told CNBC on Monday, "We will be evaluating the information that comes out this week."

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