Aramco keeps $75bn dividend promise even with oil’s plunge

The kingdom needs an oil price of $84 to balance this year’s budget



Even with oil prices having slumped, Saudi Aramco said it still intends to give at least $75bn to shareholders this year.

The world’s biggest company by market value, which listed in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh in December, will pay the dividends on a quarterly basis, it said in its 2019 financial results released on Sunday.

Capital expenditure will drop to between $25bn and $30bn this year, from $32.8bn in 2019.

Even so, the firm would still need at least $100bn to meet its dividend and capex commitments alone, almost matching its 2019 payments.

The spread of the coronavirus and the oil-price war instigated by Saudi Arabia after Russia rejected coordinated production cuts has sent Brent crude prices spiraling. They have dropped more than 50 per cent since the end of December to around $33 a barrel, and some analysts predict they’ll fall further to below $10 a barrel.

Low oil prices would crimp Aramco’s earnings and hurt Saudi Arabia’s finances. The kingdom needs an oil price of $84 to balance this year’s budget.

Aramco will be able to achieve a free cash flow of $63bn in 2020, according to Riyadh-based Al Rajhi Capital. That calculation assumes the company pumps 10.7 million barrels per day and Brent crude prices average $30 a barrel.

Raising debt is an option as borrowing costs are low and the company is still within its debt-to-equity ratio of 5-15 per cent. The yield on Aramco’s $3bn bond due in 2029 has climbed this month amid a global selloff of emerging-market assets, but at 3.65 per cent is barely higher than when the debt was issued in April.

The government could also cut its own dividend allocations while paying private shareholders, which own around 1.5 per cent of the company, their portion of the $75bn.

“They don’t need to liquidate assets, restructure or borrow capital,” said Mazen Al-Sudairi, head of research at Al Rajhi. “They can do it easily from their cash flow, but it might affect the money transfer to the government for one or two quarters.”

Aramco’s profit slumped 21 per cent in 2019 to SAR331bn ($88bn) because of lower oil prices and production. Drone and missile attacks on two of its biggest facilities in September temporarily slashed production by more than half.

Despite the fall, the energy producer is still the world’s biggest company by market value and the most profitable. Aramco’s 2019 income was equal to that of Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. and Exxon Mobil Corp. combined.