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Inspired by Aramco IPO, Bahrain may sell stake in oil assets

Inspired by Aramco IPO, Bahrain may sell stake in oil assets

Bahrain, where oil and gas are also central to the economy, wants to balance its budget by 2022

Bahrain, Manama, Cityscape view of Bahrain World Trade Center and Bahrain Financial Harbor

Bahrain may transfer some of its oil and natural gas assets into a proposed state-run fund in which it could sell shares to investors, as the smallest Gulf Arab country seeks to balance its budget.

The government is working on the project and may decide to proceed with it later this year, oil minister Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa said in an interview.

It’s still deciding which assets to put into the proposed fund and how to value them, he said.

After Saudi Arabia sold a stake in national oil company Saudi Aramco last year, “nothing is not for sale anymore,” Al Khalifa said.

A slump in crude prices since 2014 has prodded oil-rich states in the Gulf region to take unprecedented steps to open up to foreign investors to try to boost state coffers. Neighboring Saudi Arabia raised nearly $30bn from the initial public offering of Aramco in December, while Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. has raised funds by bringing in partners for its refining unit and drilling business.

Bahrain, where oil and gas are also central to the economy, wants to balance its budget by 2022.

Its deficit ballooned to 13 per cent of gross domestic product in 2015, though it has improved, narrowing in 2019 to 4.7 per cent of economic output from 6.3 per cent a year earlier, the Finance Ministry said last month.

The proposed fund and the sale of a stake in it would serve as “a channel for private investors to come in, which they haven’t really done in the oil and gas sector in Bahrain,” Al Khalifa said.

Bahrain, with the smallest economy among the six members of the oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council, has struggled as crude prices tumbled by more than half since June 2014.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait together pledged $10bn in financial support for Bahrain in 2018.

The government is monitoring test wells for oil production at the Khaleej Al Bahrain shale oil and gas deposit discovered in 2018, while gas is in early development there, Al Khalifa said.

The ministry plans to organize a roadshow later this year to invite international oil companies to sign deals to produce at three new offshore gas blocks, he added.

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