Saudi Arabia announces IPO of world's most profitable company

Posted November 3, 2019 3:00 a.m. EST

— Saudi Arabia is moving forward with an initial public offering of its huge state oil producer that could shatter records and give investors the chance to own a piece of the world's most profitable company.

The Capital Market Authority of Saudi Arabia said in a statement Sunday that it has approved an application to list shares in Saudi Aramco. It did not say when the highly-anticipated IPO would take place or give details on its size.

Aramco has vast oil reserves and massive daily output. It holds a monopoly in Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporter of crude oil.

The public offering is part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plan to wean his country off oil and develop other areas of the economy. But getting the massive IPO off the ground has been an arduous process full of false starts.

The Saudi government initially discussed floating 5% of the company in 2018 in a deal that would raise as much as $100 billion. It was looking at international markets such as New York or London, as well as Riyadh.

But the project was shelved amid concerns about legal complications in the United States, as well as doubts about the $2 trillion valuation sought by bin Salman — only to be revived earlier this year after Aramco pulled off a highly successful international bond sale.

Estimates of how much the flotation will raise vary widely. Bin Salman reportedly wants the deal to value Aramco at $2 trillion; analysts peg it no higher than $1.5 trillion. Selling even 1% of the company at the bottom of that range would fetch $15 billion, while selling 2% at the top could generate $40 billion, eclipsing the record $25 billion IPO by Alibaba in 2014.

— Sugam Pokharel contributed reporting.

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