HolidayBuyer's Guide

Saudi prince takes Priceline losses in stride

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is not overly concerned about losses in the name-your-price e-tailer, in which he invested $100 million, although it is down 94 percent this year after it said it will miss sales goals.

NEW YORK--Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, sitting in his suite at the Plaza Hotel here, watches a TV report about his investments.

The Saudi billionaire is grinning as the story details his fortune--that is, however, until the subject turns to Priceline.com.

Alwaleed, who lost $80 million by investing in the Internet company this year, points the remote control toward the screen.

"We should mute that," he says.

Alwaleed isn't grinning anymore. Instead, he's laughing. After all, says the nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, he's still worth $20.7 billion.

"Sometimes a stock can get hit bad, like Priceline," he says with a chuckle. "Sometimes we get it wrong."

It's almost midnight Wednesday, and Alwaleed, 43, is still dressed in the tuxedo he wore earlier to a dinner in the hotel's grand ballroom. Over lobster tail and rack of lamb, News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch made a speech praising the prince, who owns $1.1 billion of News Corp. stock. The Arab Bankers Association of North America gave him a lifetime achievement award.

During an after-dinner chat with a dozen news reporters, Alwaleed is more happy about being the night's guest of honor than he is concerned about losses in Priceline, in which he invested $100 million, and which is down 94 percent this year after it said it will miss sales goals.

Thanks to investment gains in other companies--such as Citigroup, which makes up half his fortune--this year's stock slump trimmed the value of his holdings by just 10 percent from a high of $23 billion earlier this year, he says. That compares with drops of 37 percent for the Nasdaq composite index and 9 percent for Standard & Poor's 500 index from their peaks.

Dropping investments
For Alwaleed, the losses simply mean it's time to move on. "We don't see any further investments in the Internet," he says.

In fact, the prince, who describes himself as a long-term investor, has gotten out of some companies. Several that he listed among his holdings in May are missing from a similar list he provided Wednesday.

Xerox (a $129 million stake in May), AT&T ($150 million) and Daewoo ($150 million) are no longer listed. Also gone are three Internet companies in which he had invested $50 million each: DoubleClick, InfoSpace and Internet Capital Group.

Alwaleed didn't comment specifically on those companies, only saying he considers some of the Internet stocks as part of a trading portfolio. The Internet companies he's holding onto are America Online ($770 million), eBay ($51 million), Amazon.com ($60 million) and Priceline ($20 million), according to his figures.

Alwaleed says he's sticking with Priceline, which allows people to bid for airline tickets and other items. "We believe we have a case for bringing them back," he says.

And he's had strong words for the company's founder, Jay Walker. "The advice I gave him is 'Deliver,'"Alwaleed says. "If he does not deliver, he cannot regain confidence."

Copyright 2000, Bloomberg L.P. All Rights Reserved.

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