'Absolute giant': Saudis put state oil company on the market

The AM Show 04/11/2019

Saudi Arabia's giant state oil company has finally kick-started its initial public offering, announcing its intention to float on the domestic bourse in what could be the world's biggest listing as the kingdom seeks to diversify its economy away from oil.

But in its long-awaited announcement, Aramco, the world's most profitable company, offered few specifics on the number of shares to be sold, pricing or the date for a launch.

Bankers have told the Saudi government that investors will likely value the company at around US$1.5 trillion, below the US$2 trillion valuation touted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he first floated the idea of an IPO nearly four years ago.

Kiwi economist Cameron Bagrie told The AM Show on Monday while oil is a "sunset industry", there will be a lot of interest in Aramco. 

"The world is moving away from fossil fuels, not towards it. But this is a big, big company. It's an absolute giant. It makes about $50 billion a year.

"People are talking about an asset valuation anywhere between US$1.2 and US$2 trillion around the globe, which dwarfs anything else."

The most valuable company in the world at present is Microsoft, with a market cap of just over US$1 trillion, closely followed by Apple, Amazon and Google owner Alphabet.

Aramco also hasn't said what measures it has taken to beef up security following unprecedented attacks on its oil plants in September - just one of many risks investors will face, according to Bagrie.

"They don't control their own output - that will be set by the Saudi Arabian government as a part of OPEC. So this one's not for the faint-hearted - it will be interesting to see where the price gets set at." 

Sources have told Reuters the oil company could offer 1 to 2 percent of its shares on the local bourse, raising as much as US$20 billion-US$40 billion. A deal over US$25 billion would top the record-breaking one of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba in 2014.

"Today is the right opportunity for new investors to reap the benefits of Aramco's ability to achieve value, and boost it on the long-term," Aramco chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan told a news conference on Sunday at the company's headquarters in the eastern city of Dhahran.

The company will spend the next 10 days talking to investors and sounding out their interest and the price range will follow, he said.

Why the Saudis are going public with Aramco

The IPO is designed to turbocharge Mohammed's ambitious economic reform agenda by raising billions to build non-energy industries and diversify revenue streams.

Rumayyan said a decision on an international listing for Aramco shares will be made in the future, without giving a time frame or venue for the overseas listing.

"Selling a small piece of Aramco in a captive market gives the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) more control to prop the value of Aramco up over its fair value," said Gary Ross, CEO at Black Gold Investors.

Confirmation of the sale of shares in the oil giant, whose formal name is Saudi Arabian Oil Co, comes about seven weeks after the crippling attacks on its oil facilities, underlining Saudi Arabia's determination to push on with the listing regardless.

Aramco said it does not expect the September 14 attack, which targeted plants at the heart of Saudi Arabia's oil industry and initially halved its production, would have a material impact on its business, operations and financial condition.

Aramco accounted for about one in every eight barrels of crude oil produced globally from 2016 to 2018, it said on Sunday.

Its net income for the third quarter of 2019 amounted to US$21.1 billion, according to Reuters calculations, dwarfing the income for the same period of oil giants like Exxon Mobil, which was just over US$3 billion.

Rumayyan said the valuation should be determined after the investor roadshow. CEO Amin Nasser told the same news conference that Aramco plans to release the prospectus on November 9.

The AM Show / Reuters / Newshub reporter Dan Satherley