As Saudi Aramco Shares Hit the Kingdom’s Coveted $2 Trillion Valuation, Some Analysts Say ‘Sell’

December 12, 2019, 10:06 AM UTC

Saudi Aramco jumped for a second day, pushing the oil giant’s value beyond the $2 trillion mark that alienated global investors and potentially making further share sales abroad more difficult.

The stock climbed by the daily 10% limit to 38.7 riyals at the open in Riyadh before trimming gains. It rose 9.4% to 38.50 riyals at 11:30 a.m. local time in trading of 313 million shares, compared with 31.6 million for all of Wednesday.

The surge reflects the kingdom’s efforts to engineer a successful start to trading after international investors balked at the price: Saudia Arabia encouraged local individuals to buy and hold the stock through cheap loans and a bonus-share plan, while pushing wealthy families and regional allies to buy as well. The offering consisted of only 1.5% of Aramco’s stock, so that investors who didn’t get allocated shares in the IPO had to buy in the secondary market.

Aramco raised $25.6 billion in the deal, selling shares at 32 riyals each and overtaking Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. as the most valuable listed company.

The IPO has become synonymous with Saudi Arabia’s controversial Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his efforts to reshape the economy of the world’s biggest oil exporter. But his insistence on the $2 trillion valuation deterred international investors, many of whom said the stock was too expensive given governance and geopolitical concerns.

Analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. said after the first trading day it’s already time to cash out.

A low dividend yield, the political risk of the government still running the company, and a bleak outlook for oil prices all point to a fair valuation for Saudi Aramco that’s about 28% lower than the $1.88 trillion it reached after its first day of trading in Riyadh, Bernstein analysts including Neil Beveridge and Oswald Clint said in a Thursday note.

“For investors who have benefited so far, we would take profit here,” Beveridge said in the note. “For those who have not, we would wait until a better entry point, which will inevitably come.”

The current valuation only makes sense with oil at $100 a barrel, so the downside will eventually materialize, it added. Brent crude on Thursday was trading near $64.

Bernstein initiated coverage of Aramco with the equivalent of a sell rating and a target price of 25.50 riyals, below the 35.20 riyal settlement on its first day of trading.

In a Bloomberg survey last month, global money managers put Aramco’s fair value at between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion.

Overseas share sales

While hitting the target may vindicate Saudi officials, it could complicate any plans to sell part of Aramco’s shares abroad as originally envisaged by Prince Mohammed in 2016, when he said a dual listing could raise as much as $100 billion. Saudi officials met in recent weeks with international investors to sound them out on a possible listing of Aramco’s shares in Asia, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Still, the IPO, touted as part of a blueprint for life after oil for the kingdom is a watershed moment for a business that’s bankrolled Saudi Arabia and its rulers for decades.

The debut was cheered by Saudi and Gulf investors, who see the stock price supported by Aramco’s guaranteed dividends, buying by index-tracking funds and the fact that the region doesn’t have any other listed major oil companies.

Aramco’s “$2 trillion valuation is justified due to secured dividend streams,” Arqaam Capital analysts including Rita Guindy and Jaap Meijer wrote in a report on Wednesday in which they initiated coverage with a buy recommendation and price target of 39.20 riyals.

Arqaam expects a gradual increase of 2% annually in the dividend, potentially being topped up by a special payout of $20 billion in the next three years.

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