Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense, meets with French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius in Paris, France on June 24, 2015.
Photograph by Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
By Laura Lorenzetti
January 7, 2016

Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company Aramaco, likely the world’s most valuable company, could sell its shares in an initial public offering, according to statements by the kingdom’s Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

A possible sale of Aramco shares is under review, said Prince Muhammad in his first on-the-record interview with the Economist. To date, two high-level meetings have been held to discuss an IPO, which could take different forms. Saudi Arabia could sell investors a stake in some of Aramco’s oil or other “downstream” divisions, or it could sell shares in the parent company.

“Personally, I’m enthusiastic about this step,” he said. “I believe it is in the interest of the Saudi market, and it is in the interest of Aramco, and it is for the interest of more transparency, and to counter corruption, if any, that may be circling around Aramco.”

Aramco is a highly secretive company. Officials have said that it is worth “trillions of dollars,” though the company hasn’t released any details on its revenues and revealed only glimpses into its oil reserves. Even so, Aramco is largely considered to be the world’s most valuable company, as reported by the Economist. The oil producer has about 261 billion barrels of oil in reserve. That’s ten times more than ExxonMobil (XOM), which is currently worth $321.5 billion.

If the kingdom were to sell shares in Aramco, it would likely initially float only about 5% of total ownership of the company. Saudi Arabia may sell-off more of the company to public shareholders overtime, but the kingdom is unlikely to give up control of the company.

The discussion of a potential IPO, which would take place on Riyadh stock market, comes amid a year-plus slump in oil prices worldwide, as well as rising tensions in the Middle East, particularly between Saudi Arabia and arch-rival Iran. Oil prices have fallen below $35 a barrel, which has hit the kingdom’s economy hard. A public offering of Aramco shares could both help provide much needed cash to balance its budget as well as provide greater transparency into an opaque and massive company.

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