Aramco IPO: To buy or not to buy?

Aramco IPO: To buy or not to buy?

“To buy or not to buy”, that is the question! Most Saudis will eventually buy into their oil company giant Saudi Aramco as the question has moved from if to how much. That’s normal. Everything about this sale is amazingly enormous and different. We never thought this day would come!

After the first announcement that 5 percent of Aramco would be sold to local and international investors, there was total shock followed by heated debate. Some thought we were selling our notational treasures to foreigners – including our oil wells. Many felt that allowing outsiders to own part of the company would give them the right to share in management and decision making - including production levels. “Having oil consumers on board will enable them to drive production up and prices down, against our best interests,” some argued.

On the other hand, many understood that selling a tiny piece of the firm ensures that the reigns are firmly in our hands. One shareholder who owns 95 percent of the company, versus millions of owners, is powerful enough to lead. Aramco is not the owner of oil wells but is licensed to explore and produce oil and gas, for a certain period of time. However, it does not have the right to decide what fields to exploit or the level of production. That is the sovereign right of the Saudi state.

So why then? Are we that desperate for cash? If so, can’t we just borrow what we need - as usual?

Yes, money is needed to finance mega projects of our Saudi Vision 2030, but that’s not all. Aramco is the largest and most profitable company in the world. It is transforming into an energy - not just oil - global conglomerate, producing all sorts of energy and petrochemical products, owning refineries, factories and gas stations, and investing in other energy businesses and projects all over the world.

To keep growing and expanding in these directions, it needs to become a public corporation. This means higher standards of corporate governance, accountability and transparency.

The decision to sell 1.5 percent in the local share market, Tadawul, will give priority to Saudi and GCC nationals, as well as residents and registered foreign investors. In the first five days, two thirds of shares were bought. Bigger investors usually wait till near the end to buy. Therefore, I expect this IPO to be a resounding success.

Most Saudis will not sell, at least 1,000 shares each, for 6 months, to realize the 10 percent bonus on them. Other reasons include a minimum of 5 percent profit guaranteed to all holders for five years.

Such success and measures will help set the right price for the share, ahead of future offerings on international markets. Corporate performance, oil prices and regional security will determine the timing of such an offering - probably years later - as well as the share price - expectedly higher.

So to those wondering whether to buy or not, I can only tell them: I am buying and won’t be selling anytime soon.

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @kbatarfi