Aramco investors should consider Saudi Arabia's 'control' and 'influence,' analysts say

Key Points
  • Saudi Aramco, the world's biggest oil company, announced Saturday that up to 0.5% of the firm's shares will be allocated to individual investors in its initial public offering.
Saudi Aramco IPO prospectus released but key details absent

The public listing of Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company has been highly anticipated by the market, but analysts say investors should consider the influence the kingdom has over the company.

"The biggest issue with Aramco is that everything about this company is controlled by the Saudi royal family — shareholder opinions, your board votes, none of that makes any difference," said Pavel Molchanov, director and energy analyst at Raymond James.

Responding to CNBC's queries about such concerns, Saudi Aramco referred to its prospectus which outlined its corporate governance policies, as well as the relationship between the oil company and Saudi Arabia. On its website, Aramco also said it has a "rule-based relationship with the government" and a history of "operating independently."

Saudi Aramco, the world's largest oil company, announced Saturday that up to 0.5% of its shares will be allocated for individual investors in its initial public offering. The IPO is set for December on Saudi Arabia's Tadawul exchange.

The 658-page preliminary prospectus divulged operational information about Saudi Aramco, but didn't list a possible price range for the shares or give a definite idea how many shares will be offered.

Analysts' valuations of the company range widely, between $1.2 trillion to $2.3 trillion. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman put a $2 trillion valuation on the oil firm when he first touted the idea of a listing in 2016.

$2 trillion market cap is 'on the ambitious side' for Aramco

Even within the lower range of that valuation, Aramco could become the largest stock listing in history, surpassing Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's $25 billion flotation in 2014, which still stands as the biggest IPO ever.

But according to Molchanov, the IPO "may be too small to really be interesting" for many asset managers.

"The government will do whatever it wants, whether it's raising production, curtailing production, investing in one geography versus another," he told CNBC on Monday. "They simply will not care what their private shareholders will wish to see."

Investors will have to consider the "political influence" of the kingdom, said Daniel Gerard, senior global multi-asset strategist at State Street.

"There's a lot to think about when buying Aramco," he told CNBC last week, adding that an important issue is "how much political influence would there be over the investment decisions."

"Saudi Arabia is still probably the largest party who is able to influence the oil markets as a single entity," said Gerard.

"Even if the U.S. with shale oil is a larger producer, it's not one entity that makes one decision," he added.

— This story has been updated to reflect Saudi Aramco's response to CNBC's queries about governance concerns.