By Souhail Karam
RABAT, March 31 (Reuters) – An investment holding firm controlled by Morocco’s royal family on Saturday posted a 50 percent rise in its net profit helped mostly by higher earnings from banking, mining, steel and sugar affiliates active mostly in the domestic market.
National Investment Co., or SNI, made a net consolidated profit of 4.3 billion dirhams ($513 million) in 2011 versus 2.9 billion dirhams in 2010 in comparable terms, showed financial statements published in pro-establishment newspaper Le Matin.
Through SNI, the Alaouite dynasty – that has been ruling Morocco for close to four centuries – is the biggest private stakeholder in the local economy. This position has recently sparked growing criticism, especially at the height of mass pro-democracy protests last year inspired by Arab Spring revolts.
In 2011, Forbes ranked King Mohammed as the world’s seventh richest royal, estimating his personal net worth at $2.5 billion, which placed him ahead of rulers of Qatar and Kuwait and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
Opponents, as well as many business leaders, say firms controlled by the king and his close inner circle dominate key economic sectors. At times, demonstrators have carried placards reading ‘SNI clear off’.
The protests have lost near-total momentum after King Mohammed offered to trim his powers and allowed moderate Islamists to lead for the first time the government, enabling him to stay firmly in charge.
In addition to the net consolidated profit, SNI made 1.07 billion dirhams in net profit from minority interests in 2011, the statements showed.
Consolidated turnover rose 16 percent to 50.4 billion dirhams and assets rose 10 percent to 115.2 billion dirhams. SNI did not say how it raised its profit and turnover in 2011.
Through affiliates and subsidiaries, SNI generates the bulk of its revenue from Morocco and African countries. This helped it weather the repercussions of the financial crisis hitting the European Union, Rabat’s main trade and political partner.
Morocco’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by around 5 percent in 2011 to 818 billion dirhams.
Market sources say Siger, the firm that groups the main business interests of the Moroccan royal family, holds a stake of around 60 percent in SNI, a figure it declines to comment. Siger is an inversion of Latin word Regis that means “kingly”.
SNI is under legal obligation to publish its financial statements because it has bonds traded in the stock market.
Morocco’s antitrust authority has also pledged total even-handedness in dealing with businesses owned by the monarchy, although it noted that exception may be made in sectors that help preserve social stability and firms that are leaders in other sectors.
SNI is the main shareholder in some of the country’s biggest firms. These include AttijariWafa Bank, miner Managem , sole steel mill Sonasid, sugar refining monopoly Cosumar, cement firm Lafarge Maroc and Marjane, Morocco’s main supermarket chain.
The holding is putting some of those stakes up for sale, including AttijariWafa and Cosumar.
SNI’s holdings make up about 12 percent of the Casablanca bourse by market capitalisation. It is involved in partnerships with French firms including Lafarge, Danone and Renault.
It plans to focus its future growth strategy on other sectors such as tourism, telecoms and renewable energies. Rabat has recently launched a major solar energy development plan, designed to turn the North African country into a main supplier of clean electricity to Europe.
($1 = 8.3828 Moroccan dirhams) (Reporting By Souhail Karam; editing by Ron Askew)