Aramco Chair Shuffle Hints at IPO Progress
Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khalid al-Falih has been removed as chairman of the country’s flagship company Saudi Aramco, which is also the world’s largest oil company. The move by the Saudi government is being seen as yet another sign that Aramco is inching closer to a long-awaited stock listing.
Observers have noted also that the change at the top – on the surface, at least – dodges the somewhat thorny issue of having the same person run both the oil and the energy ministry and the industry. This was a concern voiced by analysts earlier this year when Aramco made its first timid move into the public capital markets, selling bonds worth about $12 billion in bonds.
The choice of 49-year-old Yasir al-Rumayyan as the new Aramco chairman, is said to show also that crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is generally regarded as running the country, has the process firmly in his grip.
The new chair, who also leads Saudi Arabia’s $320 billion Public Investment Fund and has had a long career in finance, is reportedly close to the prince and can be expected to take a more finance-driven approach to shaping Aramco than Al-Falih, an engineer who represents Saudi Arabia at OPEC meetings.
Still unclear is the potential size of the initial public offering or where it will be listed.
Under discussion most recently was the flotation of around 5% of the company, which could raise tens of billions of dollars for the crown prince’s project to extend Saudi Arabia’s economic involvement beyond the oil sector.
The government has said in the past that it will list Aramco both on the Saudi stock exchange Tadawul, and a major international market, and this has led to a frenzied competition among leading exchanges outside the company.
The ipo discussion cooled earlier due to sinking oil prices as well as international outrage over the killing of critical Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul last year. In the interim, Aramco, at the government’s behest, took a 70% stake in compatriot petrochemical producer SABIC.