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Aramco Was Supposed to Be the Biggest IPO Ever. Now Even the CEO Can’t Say When It Will Happen

The Saudi Arabian Oil Co. was once planning to make the world’s largest initial public offering, with a $2 trillion valuation. But then Aramco, as the state-owned company is commonly known, delayed the IPO from this year to next year, and now the CEO won’t say when it might happen.

Amin Nasser told CNBC that Aramco remains committed to an IPO but that it is indefinitely delayed by the company’s plans to buy a 70% stake in petrochemicals firm Saudi Basic Industries (SABIC) from the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund. SABIC is Saudi Arabia’s largest publicly listed company, and the stake would be worth $70 billion. Nasser told the Financial Times that negotiations over the price had not yet begun.

Aramco had aimed to raise up to $100 billion with its flotation, but it was never clear exactly where the company would be listed. (And Wall Street observers believed a valuation of $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion was more realistic.) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to make Saudi Arabia’s economy more sustainable and less focused on fossil fuels.

Nasser told CNBC that Aramco had already prepared for the IPO, converting the enterprise into a joint stock company, appointing new board members, and having a third-party audit of its reserves. “All the elements that are required for listing Saudi Aramco were done. So it shows you the commitment of the government for listing Saudi Aramco,” Nasser said. But he declined to estimate a timeline.