Saudi Aramco’s publicized plans to sell its shares on the open market are expected to target the downstream sector exclusively, well-informed sources told Reuters. According to the initial announcements, no stakes would be offered in upstream crude oil exploration and production operations.
The sources added that the company was looking at listing shares in ‘joint downstream subsidiaries’ both in the country and globally. An option is to establish a holding company to group together Aramco’s stakes in the downstream subsidiaries, but in this case shares in the parent firm will not be offered.
Aramco’s downstream projects are estimated at between $100b to $150b in total and the company may end up selling between 30% to 49% of its downstream stakes, according to analyses cited by Bloomberg. Some experts explained that selling downstream shares could generate enough revenue to allow Aramco to double its refining capacity, which requires additional finances. Given the currently decreased level of Saudi finances, due to low oil prices, this ambition may not materialize without the privatization plan. Investing in overseas refineries is a proven tactic used by Riyadh and other international oil actors to guarantee crude oil exports and expand their share in the refined products market.
It is unclear which of ARAMCO’s current joint venture foreign partners may be involved in a sale. Potential candidates are Royal Dutch Shell with operations in the Jubail refinery, Exxon Mobil in the Yanbu refinery, and China Petrochemical Corp (Sinopec) in the YASREF refinery. Aramco and its subsidiaries enjoy an equity interest in over 5mb/d of refining capacity, reported Trade Arabia.
Initial share offerings are, however, likely to be limited to Saudi investors, despite the fact that the Saudi stock market had opened to foreign investments in 2015. Investors from abroad may not be offered to buy their shares at discounted prices, instead would have to purchase the stakes in the secondary market.