DUBAI — One of Saudi Arabia's largest initial public offerings (IPO) in five years has slipped below expectations as it debuted on the Tadawul, the country's stock exchange, Wednesday morning.
Shares of Saudi shopping mall operator Arabian Centres were trading at 24.34 riyals ($6.49) in early deals in Riyadh, after initially debuting at 26.1 riyals just after the bourse opened.
The price fell below the retail giant's initial pricing at 26 riyals per share, which was at the bottom of its indicative range, compared with a price range of 26 to 33 riyals per share for 95 million shares being sold. The company had been aiming to raise 2.8 billion riyals ($747 million).
Arabian Centres' share sale was the kingdom's third biggest since Saudi bank National Commercial raised $6 billion in 2014, according to Refinitiv data. But before the launch it was being talked up as possibly the largest IPO in the country in five years.
Saudi billionaire Fawaz Alhokair, chairman of Arabian Centres, called the IPO a "major milestone" for both the company and the kingdom, as it marks "the first IPO in Saudi Arabia offered to qualified institutional buyers in the U.S. under Regulation 144A," a rule providing exemption from the Security and Exchange Commission's registration requirements for securities.
Arabian Centres CEO Olivier Nougarou said in a statement that the IPO "will enable us to embark on our strategy for future growth, specifically our ambitious expansion plans to develop eight assets and two expansions within the next five years."
"We believe that we are well-positioned for the future considering Saudi Arabia's ongoing economic reforms," Nougarou added, citing what he called the country's "robust and under-penetrated retail sector" with reported sales of 400 billion riyals ($106 billion).
Arabian Centres Company — which operates, develops and owns 19 malls across 10 cities in Saudi Arabia — is owned by Fawaz Alhokair Group, whose majority shareholder is Fawaz Alhokair.
The 17-year-old shopping mall operator had a revenue of $576 million in 2018, up from $511 million in 2016. Its future plans include the opening of four more malls and one extension in the coming 12 months, according to the company.
Omar Al Mohammedy, CEO of Fawaz Alhokair Group, spoke to CNBC about the IPO the week prior and emphasized the importance of Saudi Arabia's social and economic liberalization plans to the expansion of his business.
"Vision 2030 presents a tremendous opportunity for us," he told CNBC's Dan Murphy in Abu Dhabi, referencing the economic diversification plan spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to reduce Saudi Arabia's reliance on oil revenue.
"One of the vision policy objectives is to improve the quality of life for Saudi citizens and Saudi residents. This includes many entertainment initiatives. One example that directly helps our business is cinemas."
Saudi Arabia legalized movie theaters in late 2017 for the first time in more than 35 years as part of a drive to open up notoriously conservative social norms in the Islamic monarchy.
"We're launching 15 cinemas across our existing 19 assets and we'll have more cinemas in our growth assets," the CEO continued. "Many of these policy objectives allow us to add concepts that in the past we could not add, whether it's across entertainment, or fine dining, so we're excited that there is significant room for us to give a hungry Saudi consumer the product that they demand."
—Reuters contributed to this story