Aramco Delays Long-awaited IPO Again

21.10.2019 -

Saudi Aramco has once again pulled the plug on the imminently expected launch of its long anticipated initial public offering (ipo), which if it ever gets off the ground could be the world’s largest-ever stock market listing.

According to reports circulating at the end of last week, the launch plans last expected to be finalized on Oct. 20 have been rescheduled for December 2019 or January 2020. A Saudi official told the Wall Street Journal that “a few things needed to be fine-tuned,” including financial figures for the 2019 third quarter.

Several other reasons have been put forward for the ipo’s latest delay, which came as a surprise to the markets, especially as a listing prospectus was scheduled to be published on Oct. 25, followed by an investor roadshow.

On Oct. 20, the leading theory seemed to be Saudi rulers’ fear that the offering of the world's most profitable firm might fall short of the $2 trillion valuation sought.

Additionally, fund managers are said to have been dissatisfied with the quality of the information provided by the oil producer, compared with what is considered to be standard prior to launch. In particular, the Saudi government was seen as needing to explain the impact of the strike on Aramco’s oil refinery in September.

In a statement announcing the delay, Aramco said it “continues to engage” with the government, hinting that the latter may not be ready for an ipo. “The company is ready, and timing will depend on market conditions and be at a time of the shareholders choosing,” it said.

Comments from the market said the renewed postponement is likely to again raise questions about whether Aramco and the Saudi government are serious about opening up the oil group’s books to scrutiny from global investors.

Environmental Groups Criticize Fossil Fuel Investment

Apart from the usual channels, Aramco’s on-again, off-again stock launch plans have faced opposition from another corner, though this may not have impressed the Saudis. Leading international NGOs have urged major investment banks to help save the planet by refusing to work on the – potentially lucrative – deal.

In a letter to Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, among others, organizations including Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth warned that the ipo would enfranchise the oil giant to raise billions of dollars to build petrochemical production facilities that will worsen the climate crisis.

The listing, the critics said, would mark the biggest single infusion of capital into the fossil fuel industry since the Paris climate agreement was reached in late 2015. Earlier, criticism had focused to Saudi Arabia's dismal human rights record, especially the widely reported killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s embassy in Istanbul last year.