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Saudi Arabia Moving Forward With Plans To Sell Shares Of Aramco


Saudi Arabia says it is putting a small part of its huge state oil company up for sale to investors. The state-owned network Al Arabiya broke the news saying shares in Aramco could be available by mid-December. Aramco is at the heart of Saudi Arabia's wealth, but it's not clear whether Aramco can attract investors. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The prospect of obtaining a slice of Saudi Aramco has tantalized bankers and investors since it was first announced about three years ago. Aramco's profits exceed that of Apple, Exxon and JP Morgan Chase combined. It's expected to sell up to 3% of the company, which would make it the biggest initial public offering in history - if it goes ahead.

RACHEL ZIEMBA: My initial response is so little that I'll believe it when I see it.

NORTHAM: Rachel Ziemba is an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security focusing on the economics and political risk of energy-producing countries. She says selling shares of Aramco is critical to helping the kingdom get off its oil addiction.

ZIEMBA: I think the IPO could come any day now. The Saudi authorities very much would like this IPO to go ahead. But they also want it to go ahead at a certain valuation.

NORTHAM: And that valuation is a whopper. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman puts the company's value at $2 trillion. Analysts believe it's much lower, closer to $1.2 trillion. The sale has already been delayed repeatedly because foreign investors were skeptical about the numbers. Today's announcement that the IPO was back on came during an annual foreign investment conference in Riyadh, nicknamed Davos in the Desert, which is presided over by the crown prince. He's still trying to rebuild his reputation after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Ellen Wald, president of Transversal Consulting, is attending the conference. She says news about Aramco created a buzz amongst foreign investors.

ELLEN WALD: The truth is that many do tend to be a bit wowed by Saudi Arabia itself and the investment conference, so I wouldn't be surprised if people walk away from this a little more excited about it, perhaps, than they would have been but still approaching it with trepidation.

NORTHAM: Wald says there's pressure now on wealthy Saudis to invest in Aramco.

Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.