SAUDI Aramco has set a price range for its listing that implies the oil giant is worth between US$1.6 trillion and US$1.7 trillion, below the US$2 trillion the Saudi crown prince had targeted but still making it potentially the world's biggest IPO.
Aramco said on Sunday it plans to sell 1.5 per cent of its shares or about three billion shares, at an indicative price range of 30 riyals to 32 riyals - valuing the IPO at as much as 96 billion riyals (S$34.8 billion) at the top end of the range.
If priced at the top, the deal could just beat the record-breaking US$25 billion raised by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba in its stock market debut in New York in 2014.
Aramco's float is the centrepiece of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plan to diversify the world's top crude exporter away from oil.
Aramco does not plan to market its domestic IPO abroad, three people familiar with the matter said, which suggests international roadshows will not take place.
"This will put the burden of the deal on local and regional banks," one of the three people said.
"This means most of the investors will participate as Qualified Foreign Investors in a Saudi transaction," another one of the people said.
Aramco finally kicked off its IPO on Nov 3, announcing plans to list shares on the local stock exchange in Riyadh after a series of false starts. Prince Mohammed, who had floated the idea of the listing four years ago, is seeking to raise billions of dollars through the deal to invest in non-oil industries and create employment.
But the investment world is still trying to decide what the famously secretive company is worth. Analysts from banks working on the Riyadh bourse had projected a wide valuation range for Aramco of between US$1.2 trillion and US$2.3 trillion.
On one hand, Aramco is the world's most profitable company with a planned dividend of US$75 billion next year, more than five times larger than Apple's payout, which is already the biggest of any S&P 500 company.
On the other, it is a bet on the price of oil at a time when global demand is expected to slow from 2025 as measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions are rolled out and the use of electric vehicles increases.
The deal is also rife with political risk as the Saudi government, which relies on Aramco for the bulk of its funding, will continue to control the company. Prince Mohammed's reputation was tarnished by the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.
In addition, Aramco's oil plants were targeted on Sept 14 in attacks which initially halved its output. The firm has said the strikes would not have a material impact on its business.
The share sale is expected to be a huge hit among Saudi citizens who are being offered 0.5 per cent of the company.
Retail investors have until Nov 28 to sign up for the IPO while institutional investors can subscribe until Dec 4, with company management going on marketing roadshows this week.
The Aramco listing means a year-end rush for equity markets with Alibaba currently taking orders for a Hong Kong listing that is expected to raise up to US$13.4 billion for the online retailer.
The Riyadh listing comes after initial hopes for a 5 per cent IPO on the domestic and international bourses were dashed last year amid debate over valuation and where to list Aramco overseas. REUTERS