Moelis wins biggest ever mandate for Saudi Aramco IPO

James Fontanella-Khan, Robin Wigglesworth and Anjli Raval
Ken Moelis, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Moelis & Co., speaks during an interview at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Moelis & Co has won the advisory mandate for the planned initial public offering of Saudi Aramco, according to three people familiar with the process, scoring the New York independent firm the biggest equity advisory mandate in history.

Winning the hotly contested mandate represents a coup for the boutique investment bank, which was founded by Ken Moelis in the midst of the financial crisis in 2007.

Saudi officials hope to turn the state-owned oil group into the world's most valuable publicly traded company, which they believe could carry a valuation of about $2 trillion.

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Those close to the IPO planning have said the sale of a 5 percent stake should happen next year, although the number of shares sold could increase, and the timing could slip.

The IPO proposal is the centrepiece of an ambitious strategy by the hard-charging deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman to overhaul the country's economy, using a broad-based privatisation programme to boost employment and diversify the kingdom away from oil.

Riyadh hopes to use the IPO proceeds for investments in non-oil industries in order to wean the country off its most precious resource. Banks, advisory firms and consultancies have scrambled to secure work on the IPO since Saudi officials announced their intention a year ago.

2018 is the window we're looking at for Saudi Aramco IPO: Al-Falih
2018 is the window we're looking at for Saudi Aramco IPO: Al-Falih

JPMorgan, which has been Saudi Aramco's commercial banker for years, and Michael Klein, a former star Citigroup banker, are working with the Saudi authorities on a broad range of matters including the IPO. Other banks have provided informal advice to the company on the prospective IPO and have made several visits to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to get a slice of the action.

Moelis declined to comment, and Saudi Aramco did not immediately respond to requests for comment

It would be no ordinary listing for advisory firms and banks overseeing the selling of shares in the group that supplies one in every nine barrels of oil produced in the world. The offering would be complicated largely due to how entwined Saudi Aramco, the kingdom's biggest revenue generator, is with the state. Besides managing vast oil reserves, it acts on behalf of the government constructing schools, hospitals and sports stadiums.

In preparation for the IPO, Saudi Aramco has sought advice on matters ranging from which exchange to list on, regulatory exposure, disclosure rules and dividend policy.

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