For the past two years, Saudi Arabia has prepared to place its national oil company on the stock market. Officials talked up the Saudi Aramco initial public offering (IPO) with international exchanges and global banks. It seemed like a great idea that the world’s largest oil producing company, valued at $2 trillion, would become the world’s largest ever traded stock.
There are many companies in the world which move and shake markets but perhaps no other organization essential to running a country. Aramco is unique and it runs no ordinary country. Saudi Arabia plays a key role in moving global oil prices. The oil market affects everyone on the planet directly or indirectly. Oil prices have developed and destroyed economies – Sudan and Venezuela being the most recent examples. So that company shedding its cloak of secrecy and deciding to go public is a huge deal. Specially for Saudi Arabia which is run by a monarchy and its affairs cannot be publicly evaluated or scrutinized.
The proposed listing of the national champion was a central part of the young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, a reform drive aimed at restructuring the kingdom’s economy and reducing its dependence on oil revenue.
“I think there was a strong case for the IPO and there still is for the selling of a stake of Saudi Aramco and there are lots of reasons for it,” explains Jim Krane, an energy researcher at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. While Saudi Arabia, like other Gulf states have been trying to move away their economies from oil dependency for years, “the specter of climate action has finally made the Saudis get serious about it. And really the only way to diversify is through Aramco and Aramco is the source of revenues that the Saudi state needs to build other economic sectors.”