Saudi Aramco may create employee shareholders says US think tank

A view shows Saudi Aramco's Manifa oilfield. The oil giant is planning an initial public offering which could be the biggest in history. (Reuters)
Updated 04 April 2018
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Saudi Aramco may create employee shareholders says US think tank

  • New Aramco charter outlines levels of protection for investors against state influence on the company
  • Aramco has around 55,000 employees, mostly Saudi citizens
DUBAI: Saudi Aramco could grant shares to employees in any forthcoming initial public offering, according to an analysis of the company charter it adopted at the beginning of the year.
The new charter also allows Aramco to issue different classes of shares, with the possibility of preferred stock paying higher dividends but with fewer voting rights, the analysis shows.
The revelations about the new corporate set-up at the Kingdom’s leading company, and the biggest oil exporter in the world, come in a paper for the Arabia Foundation, an American think-tank based in Washington DC, by Ellen Wald, non-resident scholar at the foundation and author of the forthcoming book “Saudi Inc.”
Wald and a team at the Foundation have translated and analyzed the charter document — previously available only in Arabic from Aramco — and highlighted what it means for the forthcoming IPO, which could be the biggest in history.
In addition to the provisions on employee and preferred shares, the analysis of the charter, adopted in January, highlights the fact that plans for the IPO are progressing and that Aramco plans to list shares on domestic and possibly foreign exchanges “in the near future.”
It spells out that Aramco’s future remains within the sectors of energy and petrochemicals, and will not become an arm of the Saudi government operating in wider industries.
It also outlines levels of protection for investors against state influence on the company, though concluding that “the state will have overwhelming influence on the board.”
An Aramco spokesman said he believed the analysis to be based on an accurate translation of the Arabic document. He added that there was no obligation on Aramco to publish an English version, though this might be available later.
The paper will add further fuel to the debate about the forthcoming IPO and its place within the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil dependency.
Wald said: “Significantly, the charter provides insight into the future Aramco initial public offering and the ways it will benefit the Saudi economy and Saudi people during and after the state-led economic transformation. Although the charter does not directly inform on Aramco’s potential valuation, it raises important questions for future valuation.”
The implications for around 55,000 current Aramco employees — most of them Saudi citizens — will be significant.
“Providing Aramco stock to Saudi employees of Aramco could infuse the economy with cash from diffuse sources. This would decentralize wealth, increase commercialism (and private spending), raise real estate values, and perhaps encourage domestic investment in local small businesses. This infusion of wealth into private hands in Saudi Arabia, coupled with private and pension-plan purchases of Aramco stock, would mean that a large portion of Saudi Arabia would acquire a personal stake in the success and future of the largest company in the Kingdom,” Wald said.
“The opportunity for Saudis to own shares in Aramco would be an important contribution to the overall economic transformation of Saudi Arabia, which is currently a primary aim for the Saudi government. The government’s economic transformation plans are, in part, designed to incentivize the people to take a larger stake in their own economic futures,” she added.
The provisions on what kinds of shares can be offered in any further IPO could also have an effect on the eventual valuation of the company. “Although the charter only specifies one class of common stock, Aramco may offer a second class of preferred shares in the future. Preferred shares would limit voting rights but increase dividends, potentially indicating a higher valuation for Aramco while maintaining state control over the Aramco board,” Wald said.
The issuance of preferred shares would require a special shareholder meeting to approve the conversion of common shares.
“Preferred shares do not confer shareholder voting rights to the shareholders, but preferred shares do grant a higher share of the net profit of the company. In other words, preferred shares would offer a higher dividend, if the company creates them,” said Wald.
Higher dividend shares would affect the valuation of the company, which has also been a matter of debate. Some observers have suggested Aramco might struggle to make the $2 trillion estimate put on it when the IPO plans were announced two years ago.


War-ridden Yemen’s other frontline — the central bank

Updated 12 min 51 sec ago
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War-ridden Yemen’s other frontline — the central bank

ADEN: Cashiers sort through large stacks of money inside a ragged building that is Yemen’s central bank, another frontline in a ruinous conflict as it fights to stave off economic collapse.
The Arab world’s poorest country is crippled by a humanitarian crisis, with images of skeletal children in famine-like conditions grabbing global attention, but economic dysfunction appears to be at the heart of the problem.
Yemen is afflicted by what diplomats call a famine of jobs and salaries, with the central bank — headquartered in the government’s de facto capital Aden.
Running the economy from a building pocked with bullet holes in the southern port city, the bank is scrambling to revive a currency that has lost two-thirds of its value since 2015, exacerbating joblessness and leaving millions unable to afford basic food staples.
The central bank expects a $3 billion cash injection from Gulf donors Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to prop up its sagging currency amid soaring inflation, its deputy chief Shokeib Hobeishy said in an interview last week, without giving a timeline.
The potential lifeline, if confirmed, would follow a $2.2 billion infusion by Saudi Arabia to the depleted reserves of a bank that appears ever more dependent on international handouts.


Hobeishy acknowledged that the bank was struggling to assert authority over its branches outside government control, including in Sanaa, which was seized by Iran-aligned Houthi militia in September 2014.
The government moved the bank’s headquarters from the capital in 2016 following suspicion that the Houthis were plundering its reserves to finance their war effort.
The relocation practically left the country with two parallel centers of fiscal policy dealing in one currency.
Yemen’s rivals reached a truce accord last week, but conspicuously absent was an agreement on economic cooperation as the Houthis rejected government calls for the Aden central bank to handle public sector salary payments on both sides, a diplomat who attended the talks told AFP.
The central bank is now “arguably the most dangerous frontline in the Yemen war,” said Wesam Qaid, executive director at Yemen’s Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Service.
“The death toll as a result of bombings or land mines and military operations stands in the thousands,” Qaid told AFP.
“Many more have died as a result of poverty, starvation, poor health care as the central bank is caught up in the conflict.”


Yemen’s economy has contracted by 50 percent since the escalation of conflict in 2015 and inflation is projected at over 40 percent this year, according to the World Bank.
A weakened currency has diminished the purchasing power of millions and the private sector is haemorrhaging with businesses shutting down or making layoffs.
New Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, appointed in October, said he was seeking to revive oil exports that once contributed about three-quarters of state revenue.
But such are the fears of insolvency that many Yemenis are afraid of putting their money in local banks.
“Banks often say: ‘We don’t have money. Come tomorrow, come next week’,” said a 54-year-old school employee in Aden.
Businesses also criticize the central bank over cumbersome processes to obtain letters of credit for vital imports — in a country that depends almost entirely on food from abroad.
In a letter sent in November to the prime minister and central bank chief, Aden’s chamber of commerce voiced concern that traders in areas outside government control were struggling to import essential goods. A central bank order requires payment in cash only.
The letter, seen by AFP, said the policy had caused a sharp decline in imports in those densely populated areas, making them prone to famine.
On the other side, businesses say the rebels are obstructing traders and banks in their areas from opening credit lines to Aden.
Central bank chief Mohammed Zemam said this month five Sanaa-based central bank employees had fled to Aden over safety fears and were immediately blacklisted by the Houthis.
“We are asking the Houthis to leave the banking sector alone,” he said in a separate interview in Riyadh.
“This is the only way to feed the people.”