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Saudi Aramco denies it is shelving IPO but some say it could make sense

  • Saudi Aramco denies that it is shelving the idea of an IPO after the Financial Times reported it has been in talks about private placements.
  • The company has been quick to deny problems with the IPO, but industry sources say private placement may be a quick way to raise capital compared to an IPO.
  • One source close to the IPO told CNBC that one thing under review is whether to list on the Saudi market first and then list on an international exchange at a later date.
  • A source said Aramco has been in ongoing talks with Asian sovereign wealth funds.

Saudi Aramco said it remains on track to offer shares to the public, after a newspaper report said the company was considering shelving its IPO.

"A range of options, for the public listing of Saudi Aramco, continue to be held under active review. No decision has been made and the IPO process remains on track," a spokesman said. The comment echoes public statements made in the past week by both Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi energy minister, and Saudi Aramco President Amin Nasser.

But the report in the Financial Times echoed speculation that has been circulating as Saudi Aramco officials debate how and when to issue shares. The report is also the latest in a series to cast doubt on the massive IPO which would be five percent of what would be the world's largest listed oil company.

One source close to the IPO told CNBC that one thing under review is whether to list on the Saudi market first and then list on an international exchange at a later date. The source said the debate is understood to be between a London or New York listing, given the need for substantial capital market to raise such large sums.

The newspaper report quoted five unidentified sources saying that talks about a sale to a foreign government, including China, and other investors have picked up in recent weeks, amid concerns about the feasibility of a foreign listing.

An energy market source said talks with Asian sovereign wealth funds and western institutions have been ongoing since the idea of the IPO was first floated.

"The definition of an IPO could also mean private placement with Asian sovereign wealth funds," the source said. "They've been in discussions with them about the IPO from the beginning."

The source added that the difficulties of a listing , including the transparency requirements are certainly a consideration for Aramco, which is government owned and intertwined with the bureaucracy of the kingdom.

"Saudi Aramco thinks by years, if not decades and financial markets think quarter by quarter," said the source.

Helima Croft, head of global commodities research at RBC, notes that all previous stories about issues or delays with the 2018 IPO have been quickly denied.

"I think it is always worth remembering that a key goal of the Aramco sale was to yield ‎$100 billion for the Public Investment Fund. Private placement may simply be the easier way to get to that goal in 2018," said Croft.

The speculation also swirled just ahead of a conference in Riyadh later this month for global investors on the future investment initiatives by the Public Investment Fund.

There's a lot at stake for bankers on the deal.

Rich Peterson of S&P Global Market Intelligence estimates with a 1 percent figure for underwriters, the shelving of the IPO would result in a $500 million loss for each $50 billion IPO sale.

--CNBC's Patrick Allen contributed to this story.

WATCH: Saudi Aramco weighs private share sale