The world’s biggest energy company Saudi Aramco outlined financing plans on Wednesday that will support its expansion into new areas under a sweeping economic reform plan released by Riyadh this week.
The reforms envisage Aramco transforming itself from an oil and gas firm into a “global industrial conglomerate” involved in many sectors and services, using its vast financial resources to create jobs and help diversify the Saudi economy beyond oil.
The plans suggest Saudi Arabia’s state oil company, which Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman estimated this week was worth over $2 trillion, aims to move rapidly into its new role.
“We will continue to build on our accelerated transformation and serve as a pillar, role model and champion of transformation in the kingdom,” Aramco’s official magazine, Arabian Sun, quoted chief executive Amin Nasser as saying.
Aramco’s board, which met in Tokyo last week, decided to provide interim financing for a planned shipyard at the town of Ras al-Khair on Saudi Arabia’s east coast, the magazine said without giving details.
In January, Aramco signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the shipbuilding and repair complex with National Shipping Co of Saudi Arabia (Bahri), a subsidiary of Lamprell Plc, a United Arab Emirates-based engineering firm, and South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries.
The company did not reveal the size of the project, but an oil industry source aware of the scheme said it was expected to cost several billion dollars.
Aramco’s board also decided to set up joint ventures for onshore and offshore drilling rig services, the magazine said without giving details of those ventures.
Traditionally, Aramco has relied heavily on outside contractors to provide it with such services, but it now wants to control more of those businesses to create jobs for Saudis, stimulate local demand and control costs.
The board approved an additional equity contribution for its Sadara petrochemical joint venture with US firm Dow Chemical , Arabian Sun said, without disclosing the size of the capital injection.
Aramco also approved the creation of a programme to issue Islamic bonds (sukuk), the magazine added. It gave no details, but since the capacity of the Saudi banking sector to lend is being squeezed by low oil prices, bankers think Aramco might sell foreign currency debt in the international market.
The reform plan is expected to be accompanied by a big increase in foreign borrowing by the Saudi government and companies as Riyadh juggles the need to pursue development projects with a large state budget deficit caused by cheap oil.
Under the reform plan, a stake of less than 5 per cent of Aramco is to be offered to the public, as well as stakes in some subsidiaries. An initial public offering of Aramco, which will be a complex process given the company’s size and strategic importance, may occur in 2017 or 2018.
Aramco officials quoted in the magazine on Wednesday did not comment on the IPO beyond saying they welcomed it as a way to participate in the reform programme.
Also announced on Wednesday were several appointments to senior posts in Aramco, including four people to the level of vice president.
Nabeel al-Mansour was appointed general counsel, the first Saudi to hold that post. One goal of the reform programme is to move local citizens into jobs, both senior and junior, for which Saudi Arabia has traditionally relied on foreigners.
Comments by top Aramco officials over the past few months indicate the company sees itself not just as a big investor, but as an agent for moving the economy beyond dependence on oil.
For example the firm, which has about 60,000 employees, plans to use its extensive educational and vocational training programmes to help create the human capital needed for the transformation.
“Saudi Aramco will be a bridge for a transition away from itself,” the company’s chairman Khalid al-Falih told a business conference in January.