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Saudi Aramco bond offering attracts massive $100 billion in investor interest

Key Points
  • The first-ever debt issuance from Aramco has sparked massive global interest, with the move offering investors greater visibility into the financial performance of the world's most profitable company.
  • Initially, the six-part deal had been expected to be at least $10 billion in size, but a source familiar with the situation told Reuters that orders have topped $100 billion.
  • The bond sale is set to wrap up later on Tuesday.
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Saudi Aramco's first-ever international bond sale reportedly tops $85 billion

Saudi Aramco has received bids for more than 10 times the $10 billion it was expected to raise in a debut international bond issue, with the world's largest oil producer due to set the price of its bonds later on Tuesday.

Initially, the six-part deal had been expected to be at least $10 billion in size, but a source familiar with the situation said that orders have topped $100 billion.

The first-ever debt issuance from Aramco has sparked massive global interest, with the move offering investors greater visibility into the financial performance of the world's most profitable company. The offering comes ahead of plans to list a portion of Aramco on international stock markets in about two years.

Saudi Arabia's state-controlled energy giant is marketing a landmark U.S. dollar denominated debt issue split into six tranches, with maturities ranging from three to 30 years.

"Everyone knew the size was going to be big but what is worth highlighting is that the quality is impressive — much better than the market had been expecting," Mohieddine Kronfol, chief investment officer of Global Sukuk and MENA Fixed Income at Franklin Templeton Investments, told CNBC via telephone on Tuesday.

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CNBC gets an inside look at Saudi Aramco

It is a "high quality and low-risk offering" which offers market participants a chance to take a serious look at a country which has historically been underweight on investment portfolios, Kronfol said.

Before opening the books on Monday, Aramco's debut international bond sale had already attracted over $30 billion in demand, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said Monday, while speaking at the inaugural Gulf Intelligence Saudi Arabia Energy Forum in Riyadh.

Market participants were thought to be so keen to buy the bonds, they were willing to risk ending up getting a lower return than on Saudi sovereign debt, Reuters reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Aramco is marketing the new bonds at a price in line with Saudi government bonds.

Earlier this month, Aramco received an "A+" rating from Fitch and an "A1″ rating from Moody's in its first ever credit ratings, following 2018 earnings that dwarfed those of international oil majors.

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.

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Helima Croft on Saudi Aramco

The bond issue, announced last week, is also thought to be 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 also comes around six months after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate of Istanbul. Intelligence agencies in the U.S. have since concluded the Saudi crown prince ordered the killing of Khashoggi.

Riyadh denies that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the murder.

Khashoggi's killing sparked concerns that international investors would shun the kingdom, but bond buyers do not appear ready to overlook an investment opportunity in Saudi Arabia — the world's largest oil exporter.

"It gives some impetus or renewed credibility to the reform agenda in Saudi Arabia, especially after a fairly challenging 2018," Kronfol said.

The bond sale also brings the idea of Aramco's initial public offering (IPO) "back on the table," he added.

Aramco has postponed its long-awaited stock market debut several times and now expects to list shares in 2021. The IPO is looking to drum up cash for a government that aims to significantly reduce its budget deficit and underwrite an ambitious plan to diversify its economy beyond oil.

— CNBC's Natasha Turak  and Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.