RIYADH – A planned stock offering of a small part of state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco "will come soon" and only at the direction of Saudi Arabia's crown prince, the kingdom's energy minister said Wednesday, further underlining the power of the 34-year-old royal.
The minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, did not address reports that Aramco shares will begin to be traded on Riyadh's Tadawul stock market in December, but like Aramco itself, he did not dispute the initial public offering dates reported the day before by a Saudi-owned satellite news channel.
However, there have been repeated delays to the IPO and analysts remain skeptical about it drawing a $2 trillion valuation wanted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Yet, Prince Abdulaziz, while promising an audience at Riyadh's Future Investment Initiative forum that he wouldn't talk about the IPO, ended up doing so anyway in the folksy manner he's become known for since becoming energy minister in September.
"It will come in the right time with the right approach and definitely with the right decision," the prince said. "And it will be a Saudi decision, first and foremost. Specifically, Prince Mohammed's decision."
Prince Mohammed hopes for a very-optimistic $2 trillion valuation for Aramco, which produces 10 million barrels of crude oil a day and provides some 10% of global demand. That would raise $100 billion he needs for his ambitious redevelopment plans for a Saudi Arabia hoping for new jobs, as unemployment stands at over 10%.
However, economic worries, the trade war between China and the United States and increased crude oil production by the U.S. has depressed energy prices. A Sept. 14 attack on the heart of Aramco already spooked some investors. Meanwhile, major companies like Apple and Microsoft have only $1 trillion valuations.
But the investment forum, coming a year after the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi saw investors shy away from Saudi Arabia, has had more people attend — likely over the coming IPO.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, speaking at the forum in the first event foreign journalists could film after being locked out the day before, praised the proposed Aramco IPO.
"The Aramco IPO is going to be a great opportunity to grow the capital markets here and watch its success," he said.