Private Sector Waits for Libya's Next Revival

Oil companies are understood to be preparing to move back into the North African country, which used to pump 1.6 million barrels per day before the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi's government began six months ago.

Lybian rebels deploy for a second day on several kilometres from the key city of Ajdabiya to try to attack government forces that have encircled the town on March 22, 2011.
Patrick Baz | AFP | Getty Images
Lybian rebels deploy for a second day on several kilometres from the key city of Ajdabiya to try to attack government forces that have encircled the town on March 22, 2011.

Exports could resume within six months, analysts have said. According to a report from Exclusive Analysis, the forecasting firm, many pumping stations in the east of the country have been sabotaged by pro-Gaddafi forces and will need to be repaired, as will the export terminal at Brega.

While fighting continues, and predictions that the Gaddafi regime are over seem premature, the international community – and multinational companies – are looking to revive their interests in the country, should the situation stabilize.

That itself is in doubt for the time being. As Alia Moubayed, head of research for the Middle East and North Africa at Barclays Capital, told CNBC on Tuesday morning, "Obviously it's a huge and daunting challenge, and for any transitional government… there are still questions of legitimacy that are raised by the Libyans themselves, and the support that they will have from the population at large is still a big question."

"There are other countries in the region that have gone through similar experiences… the challenge of bringing all the Libyans together can very well turn into a messy thing, if there is any chance of having an insurgency," she added.

Should the Transitional National Council go from a revolutionary movement to a government, and manage to unify the disparate Libyan opposition and bring the country back to functioning economically, there may be a considerable upside, both domestically and for the world economy, and not just from the resumption of oil flows.

Back Into the International Fold

During the 1980s, Gaddafi was an international pariah. Ronald Reagan called him the "mad dog of the Middle East" after a Libyan-sponsored attack on a Berlin nightclub, which killed an American soldier. Reagan ordered a bomb attack on the Gaddafi compound, which missed the Colonel, but killed his adopted daughter, Hanna.

In 1988, Libyan-backed terrorists blew up Pan-Am Flight 103 from London to New York over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing 270 people. However, by 2004, Gaddafi had renounced its support of terrorism and pledged to open its economy to the West. In 2004, then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Libya, shaking hands with Gaddafi on a trade mission that saw RoyalDutch Shell sign an $890 million exploration deal.

After its re-admittance into the international fold between 2004 and 2011, Libya, with its $44 billion per year in hydrocarbon exports and nearly $100 billion in foreign exchange reserves, rapidly emerged as an investment destination for international business.

After an arms embargo on Libya ended in 2003, international arms companies from France, the UK and Russia bid aggressively for deals in the country, according to news reports from the period and data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks the transfer of arms. Few contracts were actually signed, however.

Banks, including HSBC , Societe Generale , BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole subsidiary Fransabank all opened representative offices in Libya before the revolution, according to Libyan Central Bank records.

International players in the oil and gas market, including Russia's Gazprom, which signed a memorandum of understanding with the Libyan National Oil Company (NOC) in 2008, Chinese national oil companies CNOOC and Sinopec were both active in the country, as were Italy's ENI , France's Total and Austria's OMV .

Other companies and institutions built links with the country. The director of the London School of Economics resigned in March 2011 over the university's funding links with the Libyan government. Rentokil Initial, the British pest control business, signed a multi-million dollar deal to control the rat population in Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi.

The Gaddafi regime, for its part, was active overseas through its sovereign wealth fund, the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), which had holdings in major companies in the West, as well as running a portfolio of real assets, including petrol stations, refineries and hotels.

Libya's Investment

The fund had front companies and subsidiaries around the world, including the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (Lafico) and Dalia Advisory Limited in London.

As part of an $8-10 billion equity portfolio, the fund's UK investments have at times included a 3 percent stake – more than 200 million pounds – in the education group Pearson , publisher of the Financial Times, a 7.5 percent holding in the Italian football club Juventus , around 2 percent of Finmeccanica , the aerospace company, and almost 2.5 percent of Unicredit .

The LIA was often used to further Gaddafi's political ends, particularly in Africa, where the Libyan ruler continued to espouse a vision of political federation within the African Union.

As well as investing in real estate and infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, the country's "Libyan Africa Investment Portfolio" included the creation of FM Capital Partners, an Africa-focused investment fund, in London.

Gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the country has been erratic, tracking the oil price and oscillating between a post-Millennium slump of -4.3 percent in 2001, to a growth peak of 13 percent in 2003. Hydrocarbons account for around 25 percent of GDP.

GDP per capita was $11,300 in 2010, slightly higher than other leading emerging markets, such as Russia, Brazil or Turkey, but this figure masked considerable income disparity and unemployment, which, along with systematic political repression, contributed to the popular uprising.

The rebel command has tried to reassure investors that their contracts will be safe, but with the endgame in sight, companies from those countries which participated in airstrikes may see the benefits of their leaders' decisions, analysts said.

"Firms from countries that provided continuous and strong support to the rebel movement may find themselves in a better position to secure future business," Anthony Skinner, principal political risk analyst at Maplecroft, wrote in an email to "France and the UK lobbied hard for the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which effectively authorised a no-fly zone over Libya. Many firms from these countries now find themselves in an advantageous position versus other foreign competitors.

"The position of investors from countries that have been more reluctant to place their full weight behind the rebel movement or did so more recently is more tenuous, however," Skinner said.