Saudi Aramco prices shares at top of range in world's biggest IPO

News Network
December 6,2019

Riyadh, Dec 6: State-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco’s initial public offering (IPO) will be the biggest in history, but will fall short of the towering USD 2 trillion valuation long sought by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Aramco priced its IPO at 32 riyals (USD 8.53) per share, the top of its indicative range, the company said in a statement, raising USD 25.6 billion and beating Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s record USD 25 billion listing in 2014.

At that level, Aramco has a market valuation of USD 1.7 trillion, comfortably overtaking Apple Inc as the world’s most valuable listed firm. But the listing, expected later this month on the Riyadh stock exchange, is a far cry from the blockbuster debut originally envisaged by the Crown Prince.

Aramco did not say when shares would start trading on the Saudi stock market but two sources said it was scheduled for December 11.

Saudi Arabia relied on domestic and regional investors to sell a 1.5 per cent stake after lukewarm interest from abroad, even at the reduced valuation of USD 1.7 trillion.

Demand from institutional investors, including Saudi funds and companies, reached USD 106 billion, while retail investment’s demand hit USD 12.6 billion.

Around 4.9 million Saudi retail investors have bought shares in the oil giant, including 2.3 million aged between 31-45.

Aramco’s advisors said they may partly or fully exercise a 15 per cent “greenshoe” option, allowing it to increase the size of the deal to a maximum of $29.4 billion.

The pricing comes as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is gearing up to deepen oil supply cuts to support prices, provided it can strike a deal later this week with allies such as Russia.

Climate change concerns, political risk and a lack of corporate transparency put foreign investors off the offering, forcing the kingdom to ditch ambitions to raise as much as USD 100 billion via an international and domestic listing of a 5 per cent stake.

Even at a USD 1.7 trillion valuation, international institutions baulked, prompting Aramco to scrap roadshows in New York and London and focus instead on marketing a 1.5 per cent stake to Saudi investors and wealthy Gulf Arab allies. Saudi banks offered citizens cheap credit to bid for shares.

DIVERSIFY FROM OIL

The IPO is the culmination of a years-long effort to sell a portion of the world’s most profitable company and raise funds to help diversify the kingdom away from oil and create jobs for a growing population.

“The amount raised by the IPO itself is relatively contained given the size of the economy and medium-term funding requirement of the transformation plan,” said Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.

“Nevertheless, combined with other areas of funding, we believe that there is meaningful capital in place to progress with the investment plans aimed at diversifying the economy.”

The government promoted the investment as a patriotic duty, particularly after Aramco’s oil facilities were attacked in September, temporarily halving the kingdom’s oil output.

Despite the official push and offer of loans to fund share purchases, interest was relatively muted compared with other emerging market IPOs, including the listing of a top Saudi bank in 2014 which was oversubscribed many times over.

Alibaba’s listing in Hong Kong this month had bids for 40 times the number of shares on offer.

Sources have said the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) and Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), sovereign wealth funds of two of Saudi Arabia’s Gulf allies, planned to invest in the deal. ADIA declined to comment, while KIA did not respond to requests for comment.

Saudi citizens were offered 0.5 per cent of the company or about a third of the offering, an unprecedented retail offering compared with previous Saudi IPOs.

Aramco has planned a dividend of USD 75 billion for 2020, more than five times larger than Apple’s payout, which is already among the biggest of any S&P 500 company.

But investing in Aramco is also a bet on the price of oil and growth in global demand for crude, which is expected to slow from 2025 as steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions are rolled out and the use of electric vehicles increases.

The IPO also carries political risk as the Saudi government, which relies on Aramco for the bulk of revenues, controls the company.

Saudi Arabia has faced international criticism after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and for its role in a war in Yemen.

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Muslims in UAE urged to perform Eid al-Adha prayers at home

Agencies
July 23,2020

Abu Dhabi, Jul 23: Muslims in the United Arab Emirates have been asked to perform Eid Al-Adha prayers at home even as mosques will be allowed to operate at an increased capacity of 50 percent from Aug. 3.

Mosques in the UAE have been operating at 30 percent capacity after they reopened on July 1.

Announcing the move, Dr. Saif Al Dhaheri, the official spokesman for the National Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Management Authority, stated that after assessing the situation and coordinating with the concerned authorities, it was decided that Eid Al-Adha prayers would be conducted in homes and takbeers broadcast through visual and audio means.

He also announced that the Emirates Fatwa Council has recommended that donations and sacrifices should be to official charitable causes in the country only.

Al Dhaheri advised the public to donate during this time to the official charitable bodies in the country with sacrifices and donations, through smart applications concerned with sacrifices or through slaughterhouses outlined by the local authorities that guarantee the application of precautionary and preventive measures and provide remote services without the need to enter livestock markets or slaughterhouses.

Al Dhaheri stressed the need to avoid family visits and gatherings, and replace them using electronic means of communication or phone contact, as well as refraining from distributing Eid gifts and money to children and individuals during this occasion recommending to instead use of electronic alternatives.

Al Dhaheri pointed out that it is necessary to avoid visiting pregnant women, children and those with chronic diseases who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 and not to allow them to leave the home and avoid going out to public places to preserve their health and safety.

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Hosting ‘limited’ hajj required double efforts amid pandemic: Saudi king

Agencies
July 31,2020

Makkah, Jul 31: Organising this year's scaled-down hajj required "double efforts" by Saudi authorities amid the coronavirus pandemic, King Salman said Friday after being discharged from hospital following gall bladder surgery.

Only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom are participating in this year's pilgrimage, compared with 2019's gathering of some 2.5 million from around the world.

"Holding the ritual in the shadow of this pandemic... required reducing the numbers of pilgrims, but it obliged various official agencies to put in double efforts," 84-year-old King Salman said in a speech read out on state television by acting media minister Majid Al-Qasabi.

"The hajj this year was restricted to a very limited number of people from multiple nationalities, ensuring the ritual was completed despite the difficult circumstances," he said.

The speech came on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim festival of sacrifice, a day after the king left hospital following a 10-day stay for surgery to remove his gall bladder.

The hajj, which began on Wednesday, is one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime.

Authorities implemented the "highest health precautions" during the rituals, the king said.

Pilgrims, who were all tested for the virus, are required to wear masks and observe social distancing.

For Friday's "stoning of the devil", the last major ritual of the hajj, Saudi authorities offered the pilgrims pebbles that were sanitised to protect against the pandemic.

In a sign that its strict measures were working, the health ministry reported no coronavirus cases in the holy sites on Wednesday or Thursday.

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Deadly Beirut blast could have been missile attack or bomb, says president

Agencies
August 8,2020

Beirut, Aug 7: A devastating explosion that destroyed much of Beirut might have been the result of a missile attack or bomb, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said, as the death toll from the blast rose to 154.

More than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate had been sitting in a port warehouse for six years, but there have been conflicting accounts about why Lebanese authorities decided to empty the shipment of explosive material. The vessel carrying the flammable cargo was heading from Georgia to Mozambique when it stopped in the Lebanese port to load up on iron, according to the ship’s captain.

By Friday, 19 suspects had been arrested and Lebanon’s former director general of customs Chafic Merhy had been questioned by military police.

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