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Saudi Aramco plans to issue bond of at least $10 billion, opening books for the first time

Key Points
  • The move would mark the first-ever debt issuance from the world's largest oil firm, shedding light on its financial performance.
  • It's designed to help raise funds for a down payment on the oil giant's $69.1 billion purchase of a majority stake in Saudi petrochemicals firm Sabic.
A Saudi Aramco logo sits on display during the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Nov. 13, 2018.
Christopher Pike | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Saudi Arabia's state-controlled energy giant Aramco plans to tap bond markets for the first time as early as next week, sources within the company told CNBC on Thursday.

While the exact dollar figure has not been confirmed, initial media reports put the Aramco bond issuance amount at $10 billion, which sources have told CNBC is "reasonable as a minimum."

The move is designed to help raise funds for a down payment on the oil giant's $69.1 billion purchase of a majority stake in Saudi petrochemicals firm Sabic.

It would also mark the first-ever debt issuance from the world's largest oil firm, enabling greater visibility into its financial performance.

While the corporate issuance has been in the works for some time, the news comes sooner than expected — Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al Falih said in January that Aramco would likely issue bonds in the second quarter of 2019.

Al-Falih, who also serves as Aramco's chairman, has said the company will release data on its financial health and oil and gas reserves as part of a bond prospectus. The oil giant delayed a highly-anticipated initial public offering originally scheduled for 2018 reportedly over Saudi concerns about public scrutiny over its finances and because of the complexity of its corporate structure.

Aramco declined to comment when contacted by CNBC Thursday morning.

Saudi Arabia is attempting to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on oil revenues under a plan called Vision 2030 directed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

'Increasingly open and transparent'

"The Saudi government is increasingly becoming more open and transparent about its finances and budget updates," Anita Yadav, head of fixed income research at Dubai-based bank Emirates NBD, told CNBC via email.

"This is not surprising given that the country's dependence on international investors has increased in the recent past and more transparency equates to better pricing and lower cost of debt for the government."

Yadav and other analysts contacted by CNBC expect "very high" investor interest in any bond issuance by Aramco.

"Aramco's balance sheet is lowly leveraged and its credit strength is likely to be stronger than that of the Saudi government," Yadav said. "Depending on the structure and tenure offered, I expect substantial over-subscription for its bond."

Saudi Arabia has already seen formidable success in its recent tapping of the bond market: it issued $7.5 billion in sovereign bonds in January which drew an impressive $27 billion in orders. Saudi Arabia has A1 and A+ ratings from agencies Moody's and Fitch, respectively, a sign of reliability and low risk for investors.