By Tsvetana Paraskova
Saudi Aramco’s much-hyped initial public offering is “most likely” to take place in 2019, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said on Friday, likely confirming that plans for the IPO have been pushed from this year to next.
“We’re simply waiting for a market readiness for the IPO,” al-Falih said at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia.
Since the Saudis initially floated the idea to list 5 percent in their state oil giant, officials had been insisting that the IPO will take place in the second half of 2018, until in March al-Falih himself hinted that there might be a delay and the share sale could slip to 2019.
As early as in March, al-Falih told Bloomberg that the H2 2018 deadline was “artificial” and that “The only certain thing about the Saudi Aramco IPO is that a) it will happen, b) the anchor market will be the Tadawul exchange in Saudi Arabia.”
Two months later, oil prices have reached the level that Saudi Arabia is said to have been aiming all along to boost the valuation of Aramco—Brent Crude at $80 a barrel.
Various analysts have been wondering whether the Saudis will manage to pull off the listing of 5 percent of Aramco this year, amid speculation as to which foreign stock market the Saudis will choose, if any, and if the price of oil would be high enough to support a high valuation for the company.
The planned sale of 5 percent of Aramco—in what would likely be the world’s largest IPO ever—could bring Saudi Arabia US$100 billion if Saudi officials’ valuation of the company at US$2 trillion stands. Analysts, however, value the Kingdom’s oil giant at much less, with the majority putting the valuation at between US$1 trillion and US$1.5 trillion.
Analysts have also been concerned over how the Saudi domestic stock exchange could single-handedly manage an Aramco listing amid reports that plans for a foreign venue have been shelved. Some of the biggest concerns for investors about a Saudi-only listing are the possible lack of sufficient liquidity due to the small total market capitalization of the Tadawul stock exchange and an oversized weighting of Aramco in the index.