Crown Prince approves announcement as energy giant consults investors

DUBAI/RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday agreed that the initial public offering of state oil giant Aramco will be announced today, five sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. The world’s top oil company will announce its intention to float (ITF) on Nov 3, the sources added. “The crown prince finally gave the green light,” one source said.


Aramco declined to comment. Saudi Aramco officials and advisers have held last-minute meetings with investors over the past few days in an attempt to achieve as close to a $2 trillion valuation as possible ahead of an expected listing launch yesterday, according to sources.
The final meeting by the Saudi government on Friday evening was to decide whether to go ahead with the listing. Although Crown Prince Mohammed put a $2 trillion valuation on the company in early 2016, bankers and company insiders say Aramco’s value is closer to $1.5 trillion. At that price, Aramco would still be worth at least 50 percent more than the world’s most valuable companies, Microsoft and Apple, which each have a market capitalization of around $1 trillion. Riyadh is looking to list a 1 percent-2 percent stake on the Saudi stock market to raise at least $20 billion-$40 billion.


If the deal exceeds $25 billion, Aramco will become the biggest IPO in the world, topping Alibaba’s $25 billion IPO in 2014. The listing is the centrepiece of the crown prince’s plan to shake up the Saudi economy and diversify away from oil. But there have been various delays since it was first announced in 2016. Prince Mohammed wants to eventually list a total of 5 percent of the company. An international sale is expected to follow the domestic IPO.


Analysts’ meetings with top institutional investors are likely to begin today, another source said. The state-owned oil major has also approached governments in the Gulf and Asia, including China, to try to secure the bulk of the investment from countries on friendly terms with Saudi Arabia, as the reception elsewhere has been cooler, sources have previously said.


Aramco officials and advisers were holding last-minute meetings with investors in an attempt to achieve as close to a $2 trillion valuation ahead of today’s IPO announcement.


The Aramco officials and advisers are meeting institutional investors around the world, according to the three people familiar with the matter. Chief executive Amin Nasser has been meeting investors in New York and London this week, they added.


The main sticking point remains the $2 trillion valuation, which has often been considered too ambitious by advisers and some insiders, according to the three sources. A valuation closer to $1.5 trillion is more likely, with wealthy Saudi families the main investors in the IPO, they said.
“Saudi Aramco does not comment on rumors or speculations,” the company said in an emailed response to Reuters’ queries about the meetings and IPO launch date. Aramco added it was ready for the IPO, and that the timing would depend on market conditions.
Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz said on Wednesday that it would be a Saudi decision, specifically by Crown Prince Mohammed. A weak outlook for oil prices, against a gloomy global economic picture and increasing climate change activism, could dampen investor interest, particularly in the Western world.


“Aramco’s officials and advisers are still on the road,” said one of the sources, a major institutional investor. Saudi Arabia is separately still holding government-to-government meetings to attract investment from sovereign wealth funds, the investor added.


The state-owned oil major has also approached governments in the Gulf and Asia, including China, to try to secure the bulk of the investment from countries on friendly terms with Saudi Arabia, as the reception elsewhere has been cooler, sources have previously said.


Dividend payout

The listing is the centrepiece of the crown prince’s plan to shake up the Saudi economy and diversify away from oil. But there have been various delays since the 2016 announcement. Aramco has said it will pay a base dividend of $75 billion, which at $2 trillion would mean a dividend yield of 3.75 percent, below those already offered by competitors like Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell.


Shell’s dividend yield is over 6 percent and Exxon’s over 5 percent, according to Refinitiv data. Oil majors have been raising payouts to shareholders over the past years to counter rising pressure from climate activism on investors to dump oil stocks and help the world switch to cleaner fuels such as wind and solar.


To achieve $2 trillion, in the largest IPO in history, Riyadh needs the initial listing of a 1 percent to 2 percent stake on the Saudi market to raise at least $20 billion to $40 billion. Prince Mohammed wants to eventually list a total of 5 percent of the company. An international sale is expected to follow the domestic IPO. The close relationship between new Aramco chairman Yasser al-Rumayyan, who also heads the PIF, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, with the crown prince was a governance concern of some investors, the sources said. The PIF (Public Investment Fund) will use the proceeds of the Aramco IPO sale to deliver on the prince’s ambitious domestic and economic reforms. – Reuters