What America thinks of Saudi Aramco

What America thinks of Saudi Aramco
Updated 13 October 2017

What America thinks of Saudi Aramco

What America thinks of Saudi Aramco

DUBAI: As Saudi Aramco ponders the venue for what will be the biggest share offering in history — the planned $100 billion of equity due to be listed in a $2 trillion valued company — it has had no shortage of offers.
At least five leading stock exchanges around the world, from Toronto to Hong Kong and Singapore, have shown an interest in being Aramco’s host, alongside the Tadawul in Riyadh.
The leading two contenders are thought to be the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), and the London Stock Exchange (LSE).
New York, by virtue of its size, prestige and closer ties between Saudi Arabia and the US under President Trump, is generally reckoned to be in pole position. But there have been suggestions that some advisers to Aramco have warned against an NYSE listing, mainly on grounds of risk to Saudi assets in the highly-litigious New York legal community.
In the course of a recent US visit, Arab News tested the nature of informed American opinion regarding Aramco with three of the most prominent thought leaders in the area of US-Saudi business relations.
The idea was to gauge how Aramco is viewed by the key constituencies it will have to deal with in the course of an NYSE listing: The American political establishment; its peer groups and partners in the global oil industry; and the professional investing community on Wall Street.
The overall lesson is that, while there may be some regulatory and legal risks to a New York listing, Americans at virtually every level would welcome the Saudi oil giant to the NYSE and would look forward to closer business ties with the Kingdom.
Ellen Wald is an historian and journalist who specializes in Middle East energy policy. She teaches at the Jacksonville University in Florida and her forthcoming book “Saudi, Inc.” will be published next year.
On official policymakers’ attitude to Aramco, she said: “Aramco has long had interests in the United States, including ownership of the largest refinery, and no policymakers have made an issue of it. The most significant time that Aramco drew the ire of US policymakers was in the 1970s, when it was still a predominantly American company and legislators called US executives to Washington DC to answer for the oil shocks.”
Wald does however warn of the possibility of lawsuits under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act passed under the Obama administration. “It’s still an open question of whether an NYSE listing would expose Aramco to liability under JASTA. In a more long-term stance, policymakers may take an interest in Aramco after it goes pubic, if it lists on the NYSE,” she said.
Washington-based Jean Francois Seznec is a political scientist specializing in business and finance in the Middle East, and an adjunct professor at three prestigious East Coast universities.
“I think the relationship with the American political community is good. People with long memories in America recall that when Aramco was nationalized by the Saudi government the shareholders were paid compensation, unlike in some other parts of the world. The Democrats see Aramco as a force toward modernization and progress in Saudi Arabia; the Republicans see it as a good commercial partner,” he said.
Jim Krane, an award winning journalist and author, currently fellow for energy studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute in Houston, Texas, said Aramco currently keeps a “low profile” in the US.
“Aramco’s Motiva affiliate is one of the biggest US refiners and suppliers of gasoline. Motiva owns the biggest refinery in the country, in Port Arthur, Texas, but most Americans have never heard of it. When Americans fill up with Motiva gasoline, they buy it at their local Shell station.
Very few Americans realize that Shell gasoline — at least in some states — is refined by a Saudi company largely from Saudi crude oil,” he said.
On Aramco’s standing with its peers in the oil business, Seznec said Aramco was regarded as “respected competition.”
He added: “It’s regarded as a well-managed company that can handle its own market, and certainly not seen as a pushover. Oil services companies like Halliburton and Schlumberger are extremely happy with Aramco because they get a lot of business from them. Companies like Exxon might say they’re not as good or as efficient as we are, but they have to respect them, not least because they are so big and want to be bigger.”
On how American energy companies would see an Aramco IPO on the NYSE, Wald said: “It’s an interesting event for them because for the first time they will be able to see the financials of this major competitor. It’s also important to remember that Aramco is positioned differently from the independent oil companies (IOCs) — Aramco has proven oil reserves that vastly outnumber any of the IOCs by several orders of magnitude.”
Krane agreed. “Aramco is a respected name in oil and gas — period. Our research puts it at the top of the list of state-owned oil companies in terms of revenue efficiency. Peer companies understand the sophisticated engineering and strategy research that Aramco brings.
“They know Aramco is unlike most other national oil companies (NOCs), which find their host government undermining their business models. Instead, the Saudi government has ring-fenced Aramco from most government interference,” he added.
Political clout and peer-group respect are essential, but if and when the bell rings on an Aramco IPO on the NYSE it will be the reaction of professional investors that will decide its fate.
Krane said: “Many investors seem to be excited, though some are quite skeptical because they tend to not know much about Saudi Arabia or Aramco, until now a private company. For exchange-traded funds and mutual funds, Aramco will be a necessary purchase because it can be a bell-wether for the oil industry and the movements of OPEC.
“Also, in as far as Aramco will be included in developing country funds, its size will automatically make it an important component. There is a segment of Wall Street that will be uninterested in Aramco, particularly activist investors who will have no real say in the company because the Saudi government will still own 95 percent,” he added.
Seznec agreed that the appeal would vary according to the type of investor. “The big US pension funds will like it. They see it as a traditional oil company but also one which is diversifying into other areas.
“The hedge funds will probably like it less. It will not be a stock where they can make millions just trading in and out of it, it will be less volatile. So the big NY financiers may not be as happy as the more staid pension fund managers,” he added.
Wald said there was another reason for US interest in the IPO. “Wall Street is intrigued, but I’m not sure whether investors are more excited by the prospect of owning a piece of the world’s biggest company, or by the forthcoming trove of data on Saudi reserves. Probably both,” she said.
The three experts agreed, however, that the JASTA legislation was a potential negative that had to be factored into any calculations on an NYSE listing.
“I’m not sure JASTA is an enormous risk. Aramco and other Saudis already have large investments in the US and they have not been targeted. But it is still there as a risk,” Seznec said.


Stocks fall as tech shares weigh, gold climbs

Stocks fall as tech shares weigh, gold climbs
Updated 18 May 2021

Stocks fall as tech shares weigh, gold climbs

Stocks fall as tech shares weigh, gold climbs
  • Amid a flight to safety, the precious metal is seen as a hedge against rising inflation

NEW YORK: Stock indexes were lower globally on Monday with technology shares on Wall Street falling, while US Treasury yields traded little changed even after a report showing the highest prices ever paid in a May manufacturing survey for New York state.

Concerns over inflationary pressure helped to lift gold prices to their highest in more than three months, however.

The Empire State Manufacturing Survey, produced by the New York Fed, showed the prices paid index rose to a record 83.5, the highest since the data series began in 2001, said Tom Simons, money market economist at Jefferies & Co.

Wall Street’s declines follow the S&P 500’s biggest one-day jump in more than a month on Friday.

While the week is expected to be relatively quiet for economic data, investors will be anxious to see minutes on Wednesday from the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting last month which could shed more light on the policymakers’ outlook of an economic rebound.

“The volatility has picked up because a lot of the good news has been priced in, and last week we finally saw fears of inflation,” said Greg Marcus, managing director, UBS Private Wealth Management.

The spread of the coronavirus was also a drag in some markets, with Singapore reporting the highest number of local infections in months and Taiwan seeing a spike in cases.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 120.02 points, or 0.35 percent, to 34,262.11, the S&P 500 lost 20.43 points, or 0.49 percent, to 4,153.42 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 121.39 points, or 0.9 percent, to 13,308.58.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 0.05 percent and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 0.26 percent.

In the Treasury market, the yield on benchmark 10-year US Treasury notes was up 1 basis point at 1.645 percent, below a spike to 1.77 percent in late March.

The dollar was steady near recent lows as new restrictions in Asia to contain COVID-19 supported safe-haven currencies, while bitcoin extended its slide.

The dollar index fell 0.116 percent, with the euro up 0.12 percent at $1.2154.

Bitcoin dropped to a three-month low after Tesla Inc. boss Elon Musk suggested over the weekend that the electric automaker may have already sold some of its holdings in the digital currency.

Oil prices edged higher. Brent crude rose 56 cents, or 0.8 percent, to $69.27 a barrel, and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was up 63 cents, or 1 percent, at $66.

In China, meanwhile, retail sales rose 17.7 percent in April from a year earlier, although they fell short of forecasts for a jump of 24.9 percent, while industrial output matched expectations with a rise of 9.8 percent.

Gold prices climbed to their highest in more than three months on Monday. Spot gold jumped 1.3 percent to $1,866.45 per ounce, after hitting its highest since Feb. 1 at $1,867.15. US gold futures gained 1.5 percent to $1,866.40.

“There’s a flight to safety out of the equity markets ... and anticipation that we’re going to continue to see inflation numbers trend much stronger going forward,” said Jeffrey Sica, founder of Circle Squared Alternative Investments.

“The Fed is going to continue to hold on to the notion that the increase in inflation has to do more with the reopening of the economies than to do with any real inflation,” Sica said.

Gold is seen as a hedge against rising inflation. On a technical note, the gold market has breached the 200-day moving average and that’s supporting prices further, said Eli Tesfaye, senior market strategist at RJO Futures.

Elsewhere, platinum rose 0.7 percent to $1,234 per ounce.


World Economic Forum cancels 2021 annual meeting in Singapore

WEF had already pushed back its special meeting in Singapore, initially scheduled for mid-May, following the announcement last year it was moving from its usual home in the Swiss Alps due to the pandemic situation in Europe. (AFP)
WEF had already pushed back its special meeting in Singapore, initially scheduled for mid-May, following the announcement last year it was moving from its usual home in the Swiss Alps due to the pandemic situation in Europe. (AFP)
Updated 18 May 2021

World Economic Forum cancels 2021 annual meeting in Singapore

WEF had already pushed back its special meeting in Singapore, initially scheduled for mid-May, following the announcement last year it was moving from its usual home in the Swiss Alps due to the pandemic situation in Europe. (AFP)
  • The WEF's next annual meeting will instead take place in the first half of 2022

ZURICH: The World Economic Forum cancelled its 2021 annual meeting scheduled for Singapore in three months' time on Monday, saying it was not possible to hold such a large, global event due to the COVID-19 situation.

“Regretfully, the tragic circumstances unfolding across geographies, an uncertain travel outlook, differing speeds of vaccination rollout and the uncertainty around new variants combine to make it impossible to realise a global meeting with business, government and civil society leaders from all over the world at the scale which was planned,” it said in a statement.

WEF had already pushed back its special meeting in Singapore, initially scheduled for mid-May, following the announcement last year it was moving from its usual home in the Swiss Alps due to the pandemic situation in Europe.

The city-state has in recent days imposed some of the tightest restrictions since it exited a lockdown last year to combat a spike in local COVID-19 infections.

Acknowledging WEF's decision to cancel the event, the Singapore trade ministry said on Monday that it “fully appreciates the challenges caused by the ongoing global pandemic, particularly for a large meeting with a broad span of international participants.”

The WEF's next annual meeting will instead take place in the first half of 2022. Its location and date will be determined based on an assessment of the situation later this summer, it added in a statement.


Egypt finalizes plans to launch African Economic Integration Initiative

Egypt finalizes plans to launch African Economic Integration Initiative
Updated 18 May 2021

Egypt finalizes plans to launch African Economic Integration Initiative

Egypt finalizes plans to launch African Economic Integration Initiative
  • Al-Arabi explained that the volume of global African imports amounted to $564 billion from 231 countries

CAIRO: Ibrahim Al-Arabi, president of the General Federation of Chambers of Commerce and president of the Federation of African Chambers of Commerce and Industry, announced the completion of the executive framework for launching the African Economic Integration Initiative.

In an official statement, Al-Arabi said that the first phase of implementing the initiative will begin by launching a new website for the union, which will display investment opportunities.

Al-Arabi explained that the volume of global African imports amounted to $564 billion from 231 countries, while the volume of African exports to 223 countries is estimated at $452 billion. He said the value of intra-continental trade is about $70 billion annually.

He stressed that the optimal utilization of African resources will give the continent sovereignty over international markets, as reports indicate that it possesses 30 percent of the world’s mineral wealth, 12 percent of oil reserves, 43 percent of gold sources, 50 percent of diamond resources and 67 percent of untapped agricultural land.

“We have developed a realistic strategy for multilateral regional cooperation in light of the needs of African countries, their resources and opportunities to create integrated activities for joint industrialization and to replace African imports from outside the continent with alternatives available in Africa,” Al-Arabi said, adding that he was also looking at opportunities with Arab partners.


Kuwait Mezzan to increase prices, says CFO

The Mezzan Group will develop its manufacturing capabilities to keep pace with international standards. (Mezzan Group)
The Mezzan Group will develop its manufacturing capabilities to keep pace with international standards. (Mezzan Group)
Updated 17 May 2021

Kuwait Mezzan to increase prices, says CFO

The Mezzan Group will develop its manufacturing capabilities to keep pace with international standards. (Mezzan Group)
  • The company's strategy is to maintain purchasing power inside and outside Kuwait

RIYADH: Kuwait Mezzan Holding KSC may increase prices of its products in the coming period due to disruptions related to production chains, which led to an increase in the prices of production inputs, said CFO Nabil Bin Ayed.

The company's strategy is to maintain purchasing power inside and outside Kuwait, and to control the cost of production by finding internal solutions, he added.

Mezzan's Kuwait Saudi Pharmaceuticals Industries Co. KSPICO signed a joint manufacturing agreement with Abbott Laboratories, which specializes in medical and healthcare devices, to localize the industry of 26 pharmaceutical products in Kuwait.

Bin Ayed said that this agreement will help the company transfer technology to the local market and contribute to the development and production of medicines in Kuwait, Al Arabiya reported.

The priority will be for the local market, he said.

The Group will develop its manufacturing capabilities to keep pace with international standards, he explained.

Mezzan Holding is one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of food, beverage, FMCG and healthcare products in the Gulf.


Preservation is as important as development, say chiefs of top Saudi megaprojects

Preservation is as important as development, say chiefs of top Saudi megaprojects
Updated 17 May 2021

Preservation is as important as development, say chiefs of top Saudi megaprojects

Preservation is as important as development, say chiefs of top Saudi megaprojects
  • The Red Sea Development Co. is expecting its first influx of tourists in 2023

DUBAI: Top officials from Saudi Arabia’s various megaprojects highlighted the importance of preserving the environment while achieving ambitious development goals in the Kingdom’s previously untouched sites.

John Pagano, chief executive of the Red Sea Development Co., said the biggest challenge they have is not “messing up the place” and avoiding “over tourism” that has traditionally compromised nature-based tourist sites.

“At the end of the day, our environment is our most valuable asset. It’s making sure that we balance the desire to build, and build it in a timely fashion, but never to the extent where we put at risk the very thing that will make this place so special,” he said.

The Red Sea Development Co. is expecting its first influx of tourists in 2023, Pagano mentioned, saying they will put a cap on the number of visitors in the area.

AlUla’s Melanie de Souza echoed Pagano’s sentiments on preserving the “pristine” characteristics of Saudi heritage sites, saying it is an important element in their plan.

“I think there is a job to be done to continue to educate our communities, and to indulge in best practices in developing infrastructure,” de Souza, the executive director of tourism and destination marketing at the Royal Commission of AlUla, said.

The same goes with the NEOM project in the Tabuk province of Saudi Arabia, where the major concern lies in regenerating “these places for future generations.”

In March the Kingdom solidified its dedication to sustainability with the launch of the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives, which call for regional cooperation to tackle the environmental challenges facing Saudi Arabia and the wider region.

Unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the initiatives include a number of ambitious projects designed to reduce carbon emissions in the region by 60 percent. This will be achieved mainly through the use of clean hydrocarbon technologies and the planting of 50 billion trees, including 10 billion in the Kingdom. 

In addition, the initiatives aim to preserve marine and coastal environments, increase the proportion of natural reserves and protected land, improve the regulation of oil production, accelerate the transition to clean energy and boost the amount of energy generated by renewables.

The panelists, who were speaking at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, predicted a strong recovery in the tourism sector, especially as the Kingdom sets its goal to attract 100 million tourists by 2030.

Pagano was particularly hopeful because of developments in vaccine rollouts across the world, specifically in their source markets.

“By the time that we open up our resorts at the end of next year, most of these places will be beyond herd immunity,” he predicted.

“I think the traveling public is going to come and (is) predominantly going to be vaccinated. In fact, I suspect maybe that’s going to be one of the key criteria to allow people to come in,” Pagano added.