Saudi Aramco Trading Opens as Biggest IPO Ever

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s oil company Aramco began public trading on Wednesday, gaining 10% in its first moments on the market in a dramatic debut that pushed its value to $1.88 trillion, higher than any other listed company in the world.

Trading on the Saudi Tadawul stock exchange came after a mammoth $25.6 billion initial public offering that set the record as the biggest ever in history.

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is welcomed by French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in Paris, France, on April 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

Aramco, owned by the state, has sold a 1.5% stake in the company, pricing its shares before trading at 32 Saudi riyals, or $8.53.

At pre-trading auction early in the morning, bids for Aramco reached the 10% limit on stock price fluctuation allowed by Tadawul. That pushed the price of Aramco shares in its debut to 35.2 riyals, or $9.39 a share.

Aramco is now the most valuable listed company in the world, worth more than Microsoft or Apple. It’s worth more than the top five oil companies — Exxon Mobil, Total, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and BP — combined.

Aramco is selling 0.5% of its shares to individual retail investors — most of whom are Saudi nationals — and 1% to institutional investors, most of which are Saudi and Gulf-based funds.

The retail portion was limited to Saudi citizens, residents of Saudi Arabia or nationals of Gulf Arab states.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he will use the money raised from the sale of a sliver of the kingdom’s crown jewel to diversify the country’s economy and fund major national projects to create jobs for millions of young Saudis entering the workforce.

What the 34-year-old crown prince had initially sought was a $2 trillion valuation for Aramco and the sale of up to 5% of the company on an international stock exchange as well as the Saudi market, which could raise $100 billion.

Potential buyers outside Saudi Arabia thought his $2 trillion valuation was too high. With the gains made on Tadawul and a strong local push, the company moves closer to clinching that $2 trillion mark without even listing internationally.

“They have had to launch the IPO on their own stock exchange as the valuation was unlikely to be achieved elsewhere,” said John Colley, associate dean at Warwick Business School in the U.K.

He said the surging price on launch suggests that buying may be from those affiliated with the crown prince.

In the lead up to the flotation, there had been a strong push for Saudis, including princes and businessmen, to contribute to what’s seen as a moment of national pride, and even duty.

Aramco, which has exclusive rights to produce and sell the kingdom’s energy reserves, was founded in 1933 with America’s Standard Oil Co. before becoming fully owned by Saudi Arabia four decades ago.

Strong demand for Aramco’s stock has so far been mostly drawn from Saudi funds, rather than the wider net of international investors the crown prince’s economic diversification plan may need to succeed.

While the sale of Aramco is a step toward raising new streams of capital for the government’s Public Investment Fund, it is only part of a much larger transformation needed to move the economy away from reliance on oil exports.

Zachary Cefaratti, CEO of Dalma Capital, which invested in Aramco through funds, said he anticipates the company soon will become the first in the world valued at more than $2 trillion.

Institutional investors raised more $106 billion during the book-building period of the Aramco IPO that closed last week. Less than a quarter of that, 23%, was raised from non-Saudi investors, according to lead adviser Samba Capital.

Saudi companies and government institutions raised 51% of the $106 billion in institutional demand, with public and private funds contributing to the remaining 26%, Samba Capital said.

To encourage Saudi citizens to buy and hold of Aramco stock, the company says it will pay a dividend of at least $75 billion in 2020. Individual Saudi investors who hold their shares for six months from the first day of trading can also receive up to 100 bonus shares, or one for every 10 held.

The government encouraged Saudis by making it easier to get credit for stock purchases.

The result was that just over 5 million people, nearly all of them Saudi nationals in a population of around 20 million citizens, generated subscriptions of $13 billion.

With oil prices hovering around $63 a barrel, the kingdom needs a break-even oil price of $87 a barrel to balance its budget and climb out of deficit, according to Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.

One of the biggest expenditures is government salaries for the millions of Saudis who work in the public sector.

Aramco’s flotation could help generate billions of dollars in capital to invest in job-creating projects that benefit private businesses and keep unemployment from rising beyond current levels of roughly 12%.

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