Bidding for shares in the world’s most profitable company will start in a week’s time, it has been announced, as Saudi Aramco fleshed out its plans for a much-delayed float expected to be the largest in history.
The oil company, which is owned by the autocratic Gulf state, said it would take bids for its shares from 17 November and planed to provide further details on the final offer price and the amount of stock for sale on 5 December.
Its prospectus, which was released at the weekend, showed profits of $68.2bn (£53.3bn) for the first six months of this financial year.
The 658-page document gave no indication of the price range that the Saudi government hoped to achieve but City analysts have valued Saudi Aramco, which accounts for more than 10% of the world’s oil production, between $1.1tn and $2.5tn.
Bloomberg reported that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, would be satisfied with a valuation of $1.6tn to $1.8tn. At the upper end of that range, the sale of just 2% of the company would result in a record $36bn float, dwarfing the $25bn raised by the Chinese tech firm Alibaba in 2015.
The prospectus said Saudi Aramco would offer 0.5% of its shares to individual retail investors, which would be worth $9bn at the higher estimate, but did not say how much will be available to institutional investors. The government is pressing Saudi Arabia’s richest families, including individuals controversially detained when Bin Salman was appointed crown prince in 2017, to commit large sums to the IPO.
The prospectus said terrorism and war could have an impact on the share price. It also said the relatively small Riyadh stock market, which is hosting the float, may not be able to cope owing to the expected high volume of shares that will traded on the first day.
The Saudi government, which is anxious for the sale to succeed, has cut taxes on Aramco and revealed incentives for investors not to sell shares on.
Yasir al-Rumayyan, the chair of Saudi Aramco, described the green light for the listing as “a significant milestone in the history of the company” that marked “important progress towards delivering Saudi Vision 2030, the kingdom’s blueprint for sustained economic diversification and growth”.
Riyadh hopes to use its economic crown jewels to help modernise its economy and gain international acceptance despite its troubling human rights record.
Aramco, which stands for Arabian-American oil company, supplies 13% of the world’s oil, producing 11.6m barrels a day from its reserves, which are estimated at almost 230bn barrels. Its profits are down slightly on the year before but still well ahead of the world’s five largest listed oil companies combined.
The most probable buyers of Aramco shares include sovereign wealth funds and state-backed institutions in Russia, China and Abu Dhabi. Banks hired to work on its market debut include Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. Saudi Arabia’s National Commercial Bank and Riyadh-based Samba Capital have also advised on the deal.
The international banks have come under fire from green groups for undermining global efforts to tackle the climate crisis by supporting the listing of the world’s biggest oil producer.
Last month 10 environmental groups, including Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth US, warned banking bosses that the listing would lead to “the biggest single infusion of capital into the fossil fuel industry” since before the Paris climate accord in 2015.
The letter also raised concern over the banks’ eagerness to help raise billions of dollars for Saudi Arabia, “given the horrendous human rights record of the Saudi regime”.
The Guardian revealed last month that Aramco was solely responsible for 4.38% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965, making the oil company the biggest corporate polluter in the world. Aramco has countered the claims with data that a spokesperson said showed it had the smallest carbon footprint of any of the oil majors per unit of output.