Oil and Gas

Saudi Aramco's first-quarter profit slides 25% as the collapse in oil prices bites

Key Points
  • Saudi Aramco reported a 25% fall in net income for the first quarter on Tuesday as the state-owned oil giant battles with a dramatic slide in crude prices and cratering global demand.
  • Aramco upheld its dividend commitment, saying it would pay a dividend of $18.75 billion in the first quarter, despite the fall in profit.
  • The company said net income slid to 62.5 billion riyals ($16.6 billion) in the first three months of the year, down from 83.3 billion riyals over the same period in 2019.
VIDEO3:3203:32
Saudi Aramco will continue to be under pressure in coming quarters: strategist

Saudi Aramco reported a 25% fall in net income for the first quarter on Tuesday, as the state-owned oil giant battles with a dramatic slide in crude prices and cratering global demand.

In a release published Tuesday, the company said net income slid to 62.5 billion riyals ($16.6 billion) in the first three months of the year, down from 83.3 billion riyals over the same period in 2019. This was "primarily reflecting lower crude oil prices, as well as declining refining and chemicals margins and inventory re-measurement losses," the company said in a statement.

Aramco said it would pay a dividend of $18.75 billion in the first quarter, despite the fall in profit. The company had pledged to issue a $75 billion dividend annually for five years as part of its pitch to investors before going public, and it does not appear to be rolling that back yet despite cuts to capital spending.

The company said free cash flow in the first quarter was 56.3 billion riyals, down from 65.1 billion riyals over the same period last year. 

"The Covid-19 crisis is unlike anything the world has experienced in recent history and we are adapting to a highly complex and rapidly changing business environment," Aramco President and CEO Amin Nasser said in the release. 

"Aramco has demonstrated resilience during economic cycles and has an unparalleled position due to a strong balance sheet and low-cost structure."

The second quarter (is) where we’re going to start to see the full effects of the demand crisis and the demand shock on Aramco.
Ellen Wald
President, Transversal Consulting

The announcement comes amid an unprecedented global demand plunge as the world's economy is hammered by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. International benchmark Brent crude is down more than 50% year-to-date, trading at just under $30 per barrel Monday morning London time — less than half of the price Saudi Arabia needs to balance its budget. 

Fresh oil production cuts amid demand crash

The earnings from the Saudi Arabian oil company come after the country on Monday announced a further output cut of one million barrels per day (bpd) in June — equivalent to 1% of global output — to shore up markets. That's in addition to historic cuts agreed to in April by OPEC and non-OPEC producers totaling 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd).

The April deal came after oil prices plunged amid the pandemic-led demand drop and a temporary oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that began in early March after the two couldn't agree on cuts to boost prices. That dispute saw Saudi Arabia increase production and exports, as well as slash its selling prices to buyers to increase its market share.

The cut announced Monday means that Saudi Arabia will be producing 4.8 million bpd less than its April level — 7.492 million bpd, according to the Saudi energy ministry, its lowest in 20 years. The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait also announced further cuts, following the kingdom's example. 

Aramco's IPO: a different world

Aramco launched its initial public offering, the largest in history, in December, temporarily peaking at a market cap of $2 trillion on its second day of trading. But it might as well have been a different world — oil prices at that time were trading at more than $64 a barrel.

While the massive valuation was seen as a win for the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who spearheaded the IPO, it lacked the international interest the kingdom had hoped for, relying instead on local investors after the company canceled overseas roadshows in London and New York. The local listing on the Saudi Tadawul comprised 1.5% of the company. 

VIDEO3:0903:09
Saudi Arabia's oil cuts were 'not expected,' says strategist

Ellen Wald, president of Transversal Consulting and author of the book Saudi Inc., pointed out that earnings for the first quarter of the year only include the first few weeks of the crisis that hit oil markets in early March.

"Now we have to remember that Q1 financials really only include about three weeks of this current oil crisis. So it doesn't include the month of April where Aramco overproduced in order to try to shore up revenue," Wald told CNBC's Capital Connection on Tuesday ahead of company's earnings announcement.

Second-quarter earnings will be when the full force of the crisis in oil markets and the global demand crash manifests itself, she said.

"Based on what we've seen from other oil majors like Exxon in previous weeks, we can expect a big drop ... That will be indicative of what's to come in the second quarter where we're going to start to see the full effects of the demand crisis and the demand shock on Aramco."