Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil giant may go public

Amid a global oil supply glut, Saudi Arabia is thinking about listing shares in its state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco. One of the biggest companies in the world, Aramco is also the world's biggest oil producer and is worth "trillions of dollars," according to Saudi officials.

A gas flame is seen in the desert near the Khurais oilfield operated state oil giant Saudi Aramco, about 160 km (99 miles) from Riyadh.
Ali Jarekji | Reuters
A gas flame is seen in the desert near the Khurais oilfield operated state oil giant Saudi Aramco, about 160 km (99 miles) from Riyadh.

On Friday Saudi Aramco confirmed in a statement that it had been studying various options to list a percentage of its shares in the capital markets.

"Once the study of these various options is complete, the findings will be presented to the Company's Board of Directors which will make its recommendations to the Saudi Aramco Supreme Council," the company said on its website.

"This proposal is consistent with the broad and progressive direction pursued by the Kingdom for reforms, including privatization in various sectors of the Saudi economy and deregulation of markets, which the Company strongly supports."

The plan to list the company is a possible step to balance Saudi Arabia's budget and deal with the oil-price collapse to below $35 a barrel. While the company already has significant sway over prices, if a small part of its shares were placed on the Saudi stock exchange, this influence could grow even greater.

The possible listing was first reported by The Economist. The deputy crown price of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Salman, told the magazine, in his first on-the-record interview, that a decision about a potential listing would most likely take place in the next few months.

"Personally I'm enthusiastic about this step," Prince Muhammad said in the interview with The Economist. "I believe it is in the interest of the Saudi market, and it is in the interest of Aramco."

He added that the listing would also help make Aramco more transparent by preventing any "counter corruption, if any." Another goal would be to promote greater shareholder involvement in Saudi Arabia.

Though this figure could rise, the first float would include about 5 percent of the company in Riyadh, which would allow the kingdom to continue to exercise control over the company.

— CNBC's Katy Barnato contributed to this article.