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Saudi oil giant Aramco may be more profitable than Apple, according to disputed financial leak

  • A leak of financial information potentially reveals one of the most closely guarded secrets in the energy industry: key metrics for Saudi oil giant Aramco.
  • According to information viewed by Bloomberg News, Aramco earned $33.8 billion in the second quarter of 2017, topping Apple's income in the same period.
  • Saudi Aramco is disputing the report, saying the information is "inaccurate."
Workers drill at the Saudi Aramco oil field complex facilities at Shaybah, Saudi Arabia.
Reza | Getty Images
Workers drill at the Saudi Aramco oil field complex facilities at Shaybah, Saudi Arabia.

Leaked financial information for the world's largest oil company, Saudi Aramco, reveals one of the most closely held secrets in the energy industry, if the figures are accurate.

Saudi Arabia's national oil company earned $33.8 billion in the first half of 2017, according to financial information obtained by Bloomberg News and disputed by the company.

For comparison, Apple, the world's most valuable publicly traded company, earned $28.9 billion in the same period. Aramco's first-half earnings for 2017 are more than four times the $7.4 billion earned by Exxon Mobil, the largest energy company by market capitalization.

The documents viewed by Bloomberg also lay out other key financial metrics and details of Aramco's royalty structure .

The information potentially offers investors the most comprehensive overview of Aramco's finances yet. The leak comes as Saudi Aramco continues to weigh the right time to launch a public share offering that will almost certainly mark the largest stock market debut ever.

However, Aramco is disputing the report, telling Bloomberg, "This is inaccurate, Saudi Aramco does not comment on speculation regarding its financial performance and fiscal regime."

Aramco did not immediately return CNBC's request to explain which aspects of the financial report and tax information it considers inaccurate.

The information viewed by Bloomberg also says Aramco generated $52.1 billion in cash from its operations, one of the most important metrics in the oil and gas industry. Exxon's cash flow from operations was $15.2 billion during the same period, or $16 billion including asset sales.

A Bloomberg analysis of the data found that Aramco's cost of extracting oil was less than $4 a barrel, significantly lower than its big oil peers.

Several people who are knowledgeable about Aramco's operations told CNBC that figure is likely too low, though the cost is almost certainly in the single digits. Saudi Arabia is often said to break even on new oil production at roughly $5 a barrel.

Aramco paid a $13 billion dividend to its sole shareholder, the Saudi government, Bloomberg reports.

Saudi Arabia cut Aramco's tax rate from 85 percent of its income to 50 percent. The information obtained by Bloomberg lays out a new royalty structure that was also implemented in early 2017.

The royalty is pegged at 20 percent when oil fetches up to $70 a barrel and rises to 50 percent when crude prices break above $100 a barrel. The fee applies to all of Aramco's liquids production, a change from the previous structure, which applied a 20 percent royalty only to exports of crude oil and refined products.

An initial public offering for Aramco on a major international exchange was planned for this year, but is now widely expected to occur in 2019, following a listing on the domestic Tadawul exchange.

Aramco CEO Amin Nasser says his company is ready to go public, but is waiting for the government to decide where to list shares.

Saudi Arabia aims to raise about $100 billion and attract a valuation of $2 trillion in the offering, though other analysis suggests a $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion valuation is more likely.

The IPO is the cornerstone of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious effort to diversify Saudi Arabia's oil-dependent economy.

The king-in-waiting recently wrapped up a cross-country trip to the United States to shore up relations with Washington, promote foreign investment in the kingdom, and mint partnerships with U.S. firms and universities to develop new business sectors.

— CNBC's Patti Domm contributed reporting to this story.

Correction: Aramco's first-half earnings for 2017 are more than four times the $7.4 billion earned by Exxon Mobil. An earlier version misstated the time period.