By AYA BATRAWY Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil giant Aramco released a lengthy document late Saturday that lays the ground for investors to buy into the world's most profitable company, but it remains unknown how much is on offer.
In its preliminary prospectus, Aramco revealed that it will sell up to 0.5% of its shares to individual retail investors. It did not indicate how much will be made available to institutional investors.
Still, the highly-anticipated sale of even less than 2% of the company has been generating global buzz because even a sliver would make this the world's biggest initial public offering.
Saudi Aramco is the kingdom's oil and gas producer, pumping more than 10 million barrels of crude oil a day, or some 10% of global demand.
Despite questions over Aramco's valuation and how much of the company will ultimately be for sale on Saudi Arabia's Tadawul stock exchange, the company's size and profitability has made it undeniably attractive to potential investors.
The oil and gas company netted profits of $111 billion last year, more than Apple, Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil combined.
Trading on Saudi Arabia's domestic exchange could begin as soon as Dec. 11, according to state-linked media.
Aramco does not appear to have any immediate plans to list more of the company on an international exchange, although there have been talks with major exchanges in recent years.
In the roughly 650-page prospectus, Aramco said the offering period for investors will begin Nov. 17. It will close for individual investors on Nov. 28 and for institutional investors on Dec. 4. Aramco will price its shares on Dec. 5, according to the document.
The company stated its plans to pay out an annual dividend of at least $75 billion starting in 2020, but questions linger over how much Aramco is worth.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman priced the company's value at $2 trillion, but analysts estimate the value is closer to $1.5 trillion.
The kingdom's plan to sell part of the company is part of a wider economic overhaul aimed at raising new streams of revenue for the oil-dependent country, particularly as oil prices struggle to reach the $75 to $80 price range per barrel analysts say is needed to balance Saudi Arabia's budget. Brent crude closed Friday at around $62 a barrel.
Prince Mohammed has said listing Aramco is one way for the kingdom to raise capital for the country's sovereign wealth fund, which would then use that revenue to develop new cities and lucrative projects across Saudi Arabia.
The crown prince has stated that ownership of Aramco will ultimately be moved to the Public Investment Fund, meaning that the Saudi government will remain the largest shareholder. Aramco's low-cost oil production and its enormous reserves have helped transform the kingdom into one of the world's top 20 economies, but the state's control of the company carries a number of risks for investors.
An attack on two key Aramco processing sites in September, which Saudi Arabia has blamed on its regional foe Iran, highlighted how the company's stability and security is directly linked to that of its owners — the Saudi government and its ruling family.
The document listed a number of risks for prospective investors to consider, including how the company's cash flow is significantly impacted by international crude oil supply and demand and the price at which it is able to sell crude oil.
The prospectus noted that the Saudi government ultimately decides the country's level of crude oil production. The kingdom has slashed Aramco's production when it's sought to boost oil prices.
Additional risks on the company's finances include climate change concerns leading to a reduction of global demand for hydrocarbons, political and social instability in the Middle East and terrorism and armed conflict, according to the document.