Saudi Aramco shares sink as the oil price war and coronavirus toll escalates

March 15, 2020, 9:55 AM UTC

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Saudi Aramco is cutting planned spending this year, in the first sign that the oil-price war the kingdom unleashed is hitting home.

Capital expenditure will be between $25 billion and $30 billion in 2020 and the spending plans for next year and beyond are being reviewed, Aramco said. The oil giant is lowering that range from the planned $35 billion to $40 billion announced in its IPO prospectus, and compared with $32.8 billion in 2019.

“We have already taken steps to rationalize our planned 2020 capital spending,” Chief Executive Officer Amin Nasser said. Given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on economic growth and demand, Aramco is adopting “a flexible approach to capital allocation,” he said.

The oil-price war led by Saudi Arabia and Russia threatens more pain for the company as producing nations prepare to boost supply. Discounted pricing to markets already reeling from weak demand and crude that lost roughly half its value since the beginning of the year threaten a further hit to revenue.

The shares fell as much as 0.5% on Sunday, extending the decline this year to 18%. Aramco’s market value has declined from a peak of over $2 trillion in December to about $1.5 trillion.

The coronavirus’ knock-out blow to oil use has overwhelmed OPEC’s initial optimism on demand this year, with analysts now expecting a drop in consumption. The OPEC+ group’s failure on March 6 to agree on further cuts is only exacerbating a glut as buyers search for storage tanks and vessels.

Saudi Arabia, Russia and others intend to boost production once the current accord to lower output expires in March. The kingdom pledged to supply 25% more oil in April than it produced last month, and Wednesday ordered Aramco to boost output capacity by 1 million barrels a day.

Key 2019 numbers:

  • Net income including minority interests: 330.7 billion riyals ($88 billion) vs 416.5 billion riyals a year ago
  • Revenue: 1.11 trillion riyals vs 1.19 trillion riyals
  • Operating profit: 674.9 billion riyals vs 798.4 billion riyals

Oil prices fell last year even as Saudi Arabia trimmed output as part of efforts between OPEC and other producers to rein in production. Drone and missile attacks on two of its biggest facilities in September temporarily slashed production by more than half, but didn’t cause a big surge in prices.

Brent crude averaged $64.12 a barrel in 2019 compared with $71.67 the previous year. Saudi production slipped to an average of 9.83 million barrels a day from 10.65 million in 2018, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Aramco restored output to pre-attack levels by early October.

Aramco’s 2018 net of $111 billion made it by far the world’s most profitable company, exceeding the combined incomes of some of the world’s biggest companies including Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. and Alphabet Inc.

With assistance from Verity Ratcliffe.

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