On Monday morning, Saudi state-owned oil company Aramco held an earnings call in which CFO Khalid Al-Dabbagh announced that Aramco was preparing for an IPO. Following Aramco’s successful bond offering earlier this year, Saudi Arabia is seeking to generate yet more capital to finance the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s economy.
Aramco is the largest producer of oil in the world. It supposedly supplies 1 in every 8 barrels of oil sold globally and produced 10 million barrels of oil a day in the first half of 2019. According to its earnings call, it brought in a net income of USD 46.9 Billion, down 12% YOY from 2018’s USD 53.02 Billion. Falling oil prices contributed to the decrease in net income, with each barrel in the first half of 2019 selling for an average of USD 66, down 4% from last year’s USD 69. Still, Aramco remains the world’s most profitable company. Should it choose to go public, it would vastly overshadow Apple, currently the most profitable public company with a net income of USD 31.5 Billion.
It is also notoriously secretive. Because it is not yet a public company, it does not have to reveal the same information that publicly listed companies must. This earnings call, the first that Aramco has ever hosted, signifies Aramco’s move towards financial openness to attract international investors. In the upcoming months preceding the offering, Aramco may be pressured by potential investors to reveal financial information, including its dividend protocol and more specifically, relationship with Saudi Arabia.
The earnings call addressed these issues in part. It was revealed that Aramco paid USD 46.4 Billion in dividends to Saudi Arabia in the first half of 2019, USD 20 Billion more than the USD 26.4 Billion it paid in the first half of 2018. According to Mr. Al-Dabbagh, the company paid it’s shareholder a USD 26.4 Billion in an “Ordinary Dividend” with the remaining USD 20 Billion paid as a “Special Dividend” due to exceptionally high performance. Such a dividend, if split between all future shareholders, could significantly boost the value of Aramco’s stock in its IPO. However, investors need to be sure of Aramco’s dividend protocol beforehand. Several questions still need to be answered, such as if similar “special” dividends would be paid out in the future or whether dividends would reach shareholders other than the Saudi government. In the first half of the year, a significant portion of Saudi Arabia’s budget able to be satisfied by the dividend that Aramco paid out. With a public offering, whether or not Aramco will continue to dip into its profits to fund the Saudi Arabian government is a question sure to come up.
The earnings call on Monday morning revealed massive profits and signified a move towards an IPO, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, may occur as early as 2020. However, many questions remain to be answered before Aramco can go public and reliably attract international investors.