Energising the region

27 August 2017

The Aramco IPO will, for the first time, allow private investors to buy a direct stake in Gulf oil

The public listing of shares in Saudi Arabia’s national oil company Saudi Aramco is one of the most exciting business plans ever seen in the region.

The flotation will, for the first time, give private investors the opportunity to buy a direct stake in Gulf oil, which accounts for nearly half of regional economic output and almost two-thirds of revenues. It is also an investment in Saudi Arabia Plc – the region’s biggest economy and the world’s biggest oil producer.

And it is not only Aramco that is opening up to private shareholders. Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Oman have said they are considering some form of part-privatisation.

The benefits to the region are considerable. As well as the funds raised by the initial public offerings (IPOs), the listings will attract institutional investors to the region’s bourses.

The sell-offs also provide a vital cornerstone for the region’s great economic restructuring as it seeks to respond to lower oil prices by handing over responsibility for growth to the private sector. But the risks of getting it wrong are also great. So it is essential that Riyadh meets the expectations it has created.

From an investor point of view, it is still unclear what is included in the Aramco IPO, and they need to know the firm they are investing in meets their standards of corporate governance.

But even more important for the region is that the IPOs are successful in delivering benefits to the country as a whole and it is not just a few well-placed individuals who benefit. This means ensuring the IPOs are accompanied by a transformation across the public sector that delivers greater efficiency, less waste and greater scrutiny of spending.

The stakes are high but the potential benefits are greater still.

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