Saudi Aramco Announces Plans to Go Public

The oil-producing giant, Saudi Arabia’s crown jewel, could become the most valuable company in the world to go public.

By ETHAN WRENN

Saudi Arabia’s giant state-owned oil producer, Saudi Aramco, announced plans on Sunday to go public in what could be the largest initial stock offering ever.

The company, the kingdom’s crown jewel and probably the world’s most profitable enterprise, said it planned to sell an unspecified percentage of its shares on the Saudi stock exchange, the Tadawul. Trading is expected to begin next month, although it did not specify a date and offered few other specifics.

Bankers have told the Saudi government that investors may value the company at around $1.5 trillion, people briefed on the matter said previously. That would make Aramco the most valuable public company in the world, surpassing the current leader, Apple.

Aramco’s chairman, Yasir al-Rumayyan, said the announcement represented “important progress” toward delivering “the kingdom’s blueprint for sustained economic diversification and growth.”

Aramco is the behemoth in the oil business, alone producing about one-tenth of the world’s output. Last year, it made $111 billion in net income, almost twice Apple’s profit and many times the earnings of lesser rivals like Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell.

And Sunday’s announcement sets up what may be the biggest initial public offering ever, with a chance to exceed the nearly $22 billion that Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, raised in one day in 2014.

When Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince who is the country’s de facto ruler, first announced plans to take the company public in 2016, he said that the company would be valued around $2 trillion, that the offering would take place by 2017 and that its shares would trade on a premier international stock exchange like New York, London or Hong Kong, as well as the Tadawul in Riyadh.

And while Prince Mohammed had been eager to have Aramco trade on both the Saudi exchange and a more prominent stock market, that appears off the table for the time being.

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Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, who was recently appointed energy minister, told the conference on Wednesday that the listing would be “a Saudi decision first of all and, specifically, Prince Mohammed’s decision.”

In what seems an effort to prompt local residents to invest, Aramco said that Saudi nationals who held shares for 180 days would be eligible for a bonus share for every 10 purchased. These bonuses are capped at 100 shares.

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