Saudi Aramco Delays IPO Again as Valuation Doubts Re-Emerge
Saudi Aramco is pushing to complete its initial public offering this year by relying more on local investors, after international money managers’ skepticism triggered a delay, people with knowledge of the matter said.
The state-owned oil producer is considering making a formal announcement of the listing plan as soon as the next few weeks, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. The kickoff, originally slated for Oct. 20, was postponed after overseas investors pushed back at its touted US$2 trillion valuation.
Aramco plans to press on with the listing plans by relying more on demand from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East, the people said. Some domestic funds have been invited to a meeting at Aramco’s headquarters in Dhahran on Wednesday to discuss the IPO and may be asked for commitments shortly afterward, the people said.
While Aramco may need to reduce its valuation expectations below the initial US$2 trillion target, local institutions are seen as less sensitive to the pricing, one of the people said. Aramco hasn’t finalized a new timetable, and the schedule for the share sale could still be pushed back again, according to the people.
The process has been rocky from the start, with several delays since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman first mooted the IPO project in 2016. Plans were revived early this year before facing a setback after an attack last month on the company’s biggest processing plant. Whether Aramco can still succeed in listing this year will depend on whether it can drum up enough demand from Saudi investors as well as the regional funds it’s been approaching.
An imminent announcement could give Saudi Arabia some good news as it prepares for the Oct. 29 start of its annual Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh. The three-day confab, known as “Davos in the Desert,” is set to attract some of Wall Street’s top dealmakers, as well as representatives from major institutional investors across the globe.
The delay also gives research analysts at the IPO banks time to incorporate Aramco’s third-quarter results into their pre-IPO assessment valuations, a person with knowledge of the matter has said.
The company, officially known as Saudi Arabian Oil Co., said in an emailed statement Tuesday it continues to engage with its owner on IPO readiness activities. The timing of the listing will depend on market conditions and be at a time of its shareholders’ choosing, according to the statement.
The Saudi government is seeking investments from the kingdom’s wealthiest families for the IPO, some of whom had members held in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh during a 2017 corruption crackdown, Bloomberg News has reported. The crown prince wants the proceeds from IPO to feed the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund charged with making the kingdom’s economy less dependent on oil.
The oil market may also be concentrating minds on getting the deal done. The International Energy Agency expects crude supply to outstrip demand by more than a million barrels a day in early 2020, putting pressure on Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC to cut production.