Iran’s sovereign wealth fund (SWF), the National Development Fund of Iran (NDFI), witnessed its foreign currency reserves mount to $44bn at the end of January 2013, and the country’s officials said that more than $20bn-worth of projects in Iran will be earmarked by the fund to receive foreign exchange facilities.
The NDFI's announcement that it would finance selected projects, which was made in early February, was a sign that despite tightening international sanctions, the country’s oil revenues are on a positive growth trajectory. In a meeting with the governors of Iran’s state banks, NDFI officials maintained that the country’s SWF would provide financial support for up to 70% of foreign companies’ needs in Iran, and it would support projects in the manufacturing, industry and agricultural sectors.
Established in 2011 under Iran’s ‘Fifth Development Plan’, the NDFI was intended to stabilise the government’s annual budget and buffer the country’s economy against exogenous shocks from fluctuating oil prices. The decision by the deputy minister of industry, mining and trade, Masoud Movahhedi, to allocate IR49,000bn ($4bn) of the SWF reserves to industry and mining projects revealed that the SWF will play a key role in enabling the government to shore up the country’s energy sector.
The NDFI will also play a key role in opening the country to more foreign investors. Set up with an eye on attracting more foreign businesses into Iran, the NDFI has increasingly moved to invest part of its reserves into offering loans to foreign businesses. According to the NDFI’s official statement: “Foreign investors are welcome and they can… receive loans, provided that a minimum of 30% of investment is made by [an] investor.”
The SWF has been part of a proactive approach by the Iranian government to court foreign investors, and in a statement to the local media, Behrouz Alishiri, the vice-finance minister of Iran, said: “Foreign investments made in Iran have risen considerably, and the sanctions have not really been that impactful.”
Despite facing a new round of economic sanctions, which were approved by the US government in December 2012, Iran's officials claim that FDI into the country has proved resilient. “If we provide proper conditions for investments to be made in Iran and guarantee the returns of the foreign side with low risk, then foreign companies will welcome the Iranian projects without any limitations,” said Mr Alishiri. “The government [will] offer various loans… to pave the ground for the presence of foreign investors.”