Saudi Aramco flotation ‘coming soon’

Middle East
Read Time3 Minutes, 33 Seconds
The Future Investment Initiative forum in RiyadhImage copyright Reuters

The stock market flotation of one of the world’s most profitable firms is coming “soon”, the Saudi energy minister has said.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said the decision on when to list Aramco rested with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The energy minister was giving a speech at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh.

Last year’s event was overshadowed by the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

This led to dozens of Western leaders and executives boycotting the gathering last year.

But on Tuesday, the bosses of HSBC, Blackstone, BlackRock, Colony Capital and Evercore were among the crowd at the Ritz Carlton luxury hotel.

Less than 24 months ago the same hotel served as one of the detention centres for more than 200 businessmen, ministers and princes during a corruption purge that unnerved investors.

Stock market flotation

Aramco intends to start the listing process on 3 November, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources.

The firm is considering floating a 1% to 2% stake on Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul market, in what would be one of the largest ever public offerings, the news agency said.

Aramco said on Tuesday it “does not comment on rumour or speculation.”

“The company is ready and timing will depend on market conditions and be at a time of the shareholders’ choosing,” it said.

On Wednesday, Prince Abdulaziz said: “It [the Aramco flotation] is going to come soon… but it will come at the right time with the right approach and definitely with the right decision.

“And it will be a Saudi decision first and foremost.

“Specifically, Prince Mohammed’s decision.”

Flotation delay

Aramco’s stock market listing was delayed earlier this month in part after difficulties attracting big investors. Its initial public offering has had several false starts.

Crown Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, wants a valuation of $2tn (£1.55tn) for the firm.

However, bankers have put the valuation at between $1.2tn and $1.5tn.

Some investors are concerned about the future for oil prices which, while fluctuating wildly, have fallen over the past five years due to stable demand and oversupply.

In addition, markets were shaken by drone attacks on 14 September which initially halved Aramco’s output.

Some foreign investors have been wary of putting money into Saudi Arabia due to concern over its human rights record and the commercial viability of some projects.

But attendees on Tuesday said the turnout was impressive and reflected reforms to modernise the largest Arab economy.

Prince Mohammed in 2016 launched a plan to transform the economy of the world’s largest crude exporter in part by developing non-energy industries.

But state oil giant Aramco remains a big draw for some investors.

Timing

Saudi-owned news channel Al-Arabiya said on Tuesday that Aramco will start investor subscription on 4 December, citing sources.

The transaction price will be announced on 17 November, and Aramco will start trading on 11 December, the broadcaster reported.

Crown Prince Mohammed first flagged the prospect of an Aramco flotation three years ago.

‘Desert Davos’

Saudi Arabia has attracted high-profile business and political figures to its “Davos in the Desert” event, including some who stayed away last year over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

On 2 October 2018 Mr Khashoggi, a journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia’s government, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who led an investigation into his death, concluded that the State of Saudi Arabia was responsible for a “premeditated extrajudicial execution”.

The investor event, under way in Riyadh, features US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who pulled out last time.

Mr Mnuchin said the Aramco listing will be a “great opportunity for developing Saudi capital markets”.

In 2017 Donald Trump made a pitch for Aramco to be listed in America, saying it was “important” to the US.

Others who have changed their minds about staying away from the conference include the bosses of Credit Suisse, Blackstone and BlackRock.

HSBC’s John Flint dropped out in 2018, but interim boss Noel Quinn is there.

The event, officially known as the Future Investment Initiative, is being held for the third time and is viewed as the kingdom’s key annual investment event.

It is organised by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and despite its nickname, has no connection with the World Economic Forum’s annual event in the Swiss resort of Davos.

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