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Saudi Aramco maintains dividend despite 45% slump in profit

Saudi Aramco maintains dividend despite 45% slump in profit

Income still increased for the first time in five quarters as oil prices steadied

Saudi Aramco left its dividend unchanged at $18.75bn even as it failed to generate enough cash to cover the payout and reported a 45 per cent drop in third-quarter profit.

Net income at the world’s biggest oil company was SAR44.2bn ($11.8bn), broadly in line with analysts’ expectations. Sales fell 25 per cent from the same period of 2019 to $53.3bn.

The state energy firm’s free cash flow was $12.4bn between July and September, compared with $20.6bn a year earlier. Gearing climbed to 21.8 per cent from 20 per cent in June and from minus 5 per cent in March, when Aramco had more cash than debt.

Aramco’s shares rose 0.6 per cent to SAR34.40 in early trading in Riyadh, paring this year’s drop to 2.4 per cent. The stock has been bolstered by management’s insistence that it will pay a $75bn dividend in 2020, almost all of which will go to the Saudi Arabian government.

Income still increased for the first time in five quarters as oil prices steadied following their battering earlier in the year as the coronavirus spread globally and demand for energy cratered.

“We saw early signs of a recovery in the third quarter due to improved economic activity, despite the headwinds facing global energy markets,” CEO Amin Nasser said. “We continue to adopt a disciplined and flexible approach to capital allocation in the face of market volatility.”

Although the results suggest the worst of the pandemic’s impact on energy demand may have passed, Aramco still faces a brittle market. Oil prices fell to a five-month low this week amid fresh travel restrictions in Europe aimed at stemming a surge in virus cases.

OPEC and allied producers — who agreed to slash crude exports in April — are weighing whether to delay an easing of those curbs to buttress crude prices.

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