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Saudi Arabia to sell more shares of Aramco — Crown prince

Cash to go to public investment fund

By AFP - Jan 31,2021 - Last updated at Jan 31,2021

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman speaks during the Future Investment Initiative conference in a virtual session in the capital Riyadh, on Friday (AFP photo)

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said the kingdom will sell more shares of energy giant Aramco in the coming years, following the world's biggest public listing in 2019.

"There will be Aramco share offerings in the coming years, and this cash will be transferred to... the Public Investment Fund (PIF) to be re-injected inside and outside the kingdom," Prince Mohammed told Riyadh's Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in a virtual session on Thursday.

The prince did not specify a timeframe or what portion of the company's shares will be sold in future offerings.

Aramco was listed on the Saudi bourse in December 2019 following the world's biggest initial public offering, generating $29.4 billion for 1.7 per cent of its shares.

Analysts say sales of additional shares could struggle to generate investor interest amid a downbeat energy market as the coronavirus pandemic saps global energy demand.

"International investor interest in fossil fuel assets is diminishing with each passing day," a Gulf-based international banker said.

Another share offering would be a "tough sell in the current economic climate", the banker added.

Late last year, Aramco posted a 44.6 per cent slump in third-quarter profit, as the pandemic weighed on the global demand for crude oil.

Aramco, seen as Saudi Arabia's cash cow, has revealed consecutive falls in quarterly profits since it began disclosing earnings in 2019, piling pressure on government finances as the kingdom pursues ambitious multi-billion dollar projects to diversify its oil-reliant economy.

Prince Mohammed said future share offerings would be a key way to boost the PIF, the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund which is the main engine of its diversification efforts.

The PIF intends to boost its assets to 4 trillion riyals ($1.07 trillion) and directly or indirectly create 1.8 million jobs by 2025, the crown prince said in a speech aired by state television last Sunday.

The PIF will invest $40 billion annually in the domestic economy over the next five years, he added, as the kingdom battles high unemployment and a coronavirus-triggered slump.

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest crude exporter, has been hit hard by the double whammy of low prices and sharp cuts in production. 

A drop in oil income is expected to hinder Prince Mohammed's ambitious "Vision 2030" reform programme to overhaul the economy.

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