Saudi Aramco pulls off a coup

23 March 2010

Securing financial commitments for about $20bn of refinery projects in the kingdom after a difficult year for project finance is no easy task

Saudi Aramco, the largest oil producer in the world, is in the process of pulling off a particularly impressive feat even by its own lofty standards.

By the end of 2010, the state energy company should have raised finance for around $20bn of large refinery projects in the kingdom.

Aramco is close to finalising around $10bn of funding for the development of its export refinery at Jubail, a massive piece of project financing.

But at the same time the company is looking to raise a similar amount for the development of another refinery at Yanbu.

Aramco and its partners on the projects, France’s Total and the US’ ConocoPhillips, also hope to convince banks to lend them the money at a substantial discount to current market rates. Pricing on the Jubail deal, at under 200 basis points above the London interbank offered rate (Libor), was tough for many banks to swallow.

But they did so because of the importance of their relationship with Aramco. Sources close to the Yanbu project say the sponsors hope to squeeze bankers even further on pricing for that deal.

Potential lenders had been complaining that if Aramco was not going to offer market pricing, they would not make large loans to the company. But both the Jubail and Yanbu deals saw heavy commitments from banks resulting in oversubscription. Bankers, it seems, are prepared to take whatever Aramco offers them.

Nevertheless, completing both of these deals inside 12 months of one another, at the tail end of one of the worst financial crisis in decades, will be a staggering achievement.

But spare a thought for other projects in the kingdom. Aramco’s success may hit the liquidity of credit available to them. With a number of large schemes planned by sponsors without Aramco’s financial clout, they could find they have to pay more to attract banks.

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