The state energy giant’s vast oil reserves – it can sustain current production levels for the next 50 years – make it more exposed than any other company to a rising tide of environmental activism and shift away from fossil fuels.
In the three years since Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman first proposed a stock market listing, climate change and new green technologies are putting some investors, particularly in Europe and the United States, off the oil and gas sector.
Sustainable investments account for more than a quarter of all assets under management globally, by some estimates.
Aramco, for its part, argues oil and gas will remain at the heart of the energy mix for decades, saying renewables and nuclear cannot meet rising global demand, and that its crude production has lower greenhouse gas emissions than its rivals.
But with the company talking again to banks about an initial public offering (IPO), some investors and lawyers say the window to execute a sale at a juicy price is shrinking and Aramco will need to explain to prospective shareholders how it plans to profit in a lower-carbon world.
“Saudi Aramco is a really interesting test as to whether the market is getting serious about pricing in energy transition risk,” said Natasha Landell-Mills, in charge of integrating environment, social and governance (ESG) considerations into investing at London-based asset manager Sarasin & Partners.
“The longer that (the IPO) gets delayed, the less willing the market will be to price it favourably because gradually investors are going to need to ask questions about how valuable those reserves are in a world that is trying to get down to net zero emissions by 2050.”
Reuters reported on Aug. 8 that Prince Mohammed was insisting on a $2 trillion valuation even though some bankers and company insiders say the kingdom should trim its target to around $1.5 trillion.
A valuation gap could hinder any share sale. The IPO was previously slated for 2017 or 2018 and, when that deadline slipped, to 2020-2021.
Aramco told Reuters it was ready for a listing and the timing would be decided by the government.
The company also said it was investing in research to make cars more efficient, and working on new technologies to use hydrogen in cars, convert more crude to chemicals and capture CO2 which can be injected in its reservoirs to improve extraction of oil.
SELLING THE STORY
Some would argue this is not enough.
A growing number of investors across the world are factoring ESG risk into their decision-making, although the degree to which that would stop them investing in Aramco varies wildly.
Some would exclude the company on principle because of its carbon output, while others would be prepared to buy if the price was cheap enough to outweigh the perceived ESG risk – especially given oil companies often pay healthy dividends.
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At a $1.5 trillion valuation, Aramco would be the world’s largest public company. If it were included in major equity indices it would automatically be bought by passive investment funds that track them, regardless of their ESG credentials.
And as the world’s most profitable company, Aramco shares would be snapped up by many active investors.
Talks about a share sale were revived this year after Aramco attracted huge investor demand for its first international bond issue. In its bond prospectus, it said climate change could potentially have a “material adverse effect” on its business.
When it comes to an IPO, equity investors require more information about potential risks and how companies plan to deal with them, as they are more exposed than bondholders if a business runs into trouble.
“Companies need to lead with the answers in the prospectus, rather than have two or three paragraphs describing potential risks from environmental issues,” said Nick O’Donnell, partner in the corporate department at law firm Baker McKenzie.
“An oil and gas company needs to be thinking about how to explain the story over the next 20 years and bring it out into a separate section rather than hiding it away in the prospectus, it needs to use it as a selling tool. And also, once the IPO is done, every annual report should have a standalone ESG section.”
Unlike other major oil companies, Aramco doesn’t have a separate report laying out how it addresses ESG issues such as labour practices and resource scarcity, while it does not publish the carbon emissions from products it sells. Until this year’s bond issue, it also kept its finances under wraps.
The company does however have an Environmental Protection Department, sponsors sustainability initiatives and is a founding member of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, which is led by 13 top energy companies and aims to cut emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
On Aug. 12 Aramco published information on the intensity of its hydrocarbon mix for the first time. It disclosed the amount of greenhouse gases from each barrel it produces.
Aramco’s senior vice president of finance Khalid al-Dabbagh said during an earnings call this month that its carbon emissions from “upstream” exploration and production were the lowest among its peers.
A study published by Science magazine last year found carbon emissions from Saudi Arabia’s crude production were the world’s second lowest after Denmark, as a result of having a small number of highly productive oilfields.
THE OIL PRICE
Aramco says that, with the global economy forecast to double in size by 2050, oil and gas will remain essential.
“Saudi Aramco is determined to not only meet the world’s growing demand for ample, reliable and affordable energy but to meet the world’s growing demand for much cleaner fuel,” it told Reuters.
“Alternatives are still facing significant technological, economic and infrastructure hurdles, and the history of past energy transitions shows that these developments take time.”
The company has also moved to diversify into gas and chemicals and is using renewable energy in its facilities.
But Aramco still, ultimately, represents a bet on the price of oil.
It generated net income of $111 billion in 2018, over a third more than the combined total of the five “super-majors” ExxonMobil (XOM.N), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.AS), BP (BP.L), Chevron (CVX.N) and Total (TOTF.PA).
In 2016, when the oil price hit 13-year lows, Aramco’s net income was only $13 billion, according to its bond prospectus where it unveiled its finances for the first time, based on current exchange rates. Its earnings fell 12% in the first half of 2019, mainly on lower oil prices.
Concerns about future demand for fossil fuels have weighed on the sector. Since 2016, when Prince Mohammed first flagged an IPO, the 12-months forward price to earnings ratio of five of the world’s top listed oil companies has fallen to 12 from 21 on average, according to Reuters calculations, lagging the FTSE 100 and the STOXX Europe 600 Oil & Gas index averages.
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AN INFLUX OF CAPITAL
Using a broad measure, there was global sustainable investment of $30.1 trillion across the world’s five major markets at the end of 2018, according to the Global Sustainable Investment Review here, more than a quarter of all assets under management globally. That compares with $22.8 trillion in 2016.
For a graphic on More investors commit to ESG investing png, click here
“Given the influx of capital into the ESG space, Aramco’s IPO would have been better off going public 5-10 years ago,” said Joseph di Virgilio, global equities portfolio manager at New York-based Romulus Asset Management, which has $900 million in assets under management.
“An IPO today would still be the largest of its kind, but many asset managers focusing solely on ESG may not participate.”
The world’s top listed oil and gas companies have come under heavy pressure from investors and climate groups in recent years to outline strategies to reduce their carbon footprint.
Shell, BP and others have agreed, together with shareholders, on carbon reduction targets for some of operations and to increase spending on renewable energies. U.S. major ExxonMobil, the world’s top publicly traded oil and gas company, has resisted adopting targets.
Britain’s biggest asset manager LGIM removed Exxon from its 5 billion pounds ($6.3 billion) Future World funds for what it said was a failure to confront threats posed by climate change. LGIM did not respond to a request for comment on whether it would buy shares in Aramco’s potential IPO.
Sarasin & Partners said in July it had sold nearly 20% of its holdings in Shell, saying its spending plans were out of sync with international targets to battle climate change. The rest of the stake is under review.
The asset manager, which has nearly 14 billion pounds in assets under management, didn’t participate in Aramco’s bond offering and Landell-Mills said they would be unlikely to invest in any IPO.
Additional reporting by Ron Bousso in London and Victoria Klesty in Oslo; Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Pravin Char
Lots are happening as far as fossil fuels are concerned, whether in the MENA region or elsewhere. For instance, Aramco Takes a Beating by S. Jack Heffernan, PhD was published on LiveTradingNews of August 12, 2019.
It is yet another piece of information from the trading world ups and downs that seem to demonstrate the ephemeral character of all hydrocarbons related businesses. In effect, Aramco Takes a Beating, as an article clearly shows how traders apart from their daily routines visualise their emotional involvement.
Saudi state-owned energy giant Aramco said Monday its first-half net income for 2019 had slipped to $46.9 billion, a first such disclosure for the secretive company ahead of its debut earnings call.
“The company’s net income was $46.9 billion for the first half (of) 2019, compared to $53.0 billion for the same period last year,” the company said in a statement.
The fall in income, owing to lower oil prices, comes amid renewed speculation the company was preparing for its much-delayed overseas stock listing.
“Despite lower oil prices during the first half of 2019, we continued to deliver solid earnings and strong free cash flow,” Aramco CEO Amin Nasser was quoted as saying in the statement.
It is the first time the company has published half-year financial results and comes after Aramco opened its secretive accounts for the first time in April as it prepares to raise funds from investors.
It made no mention of the planned initial public offering in Monday’s statement.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has previously said the IPO — dubbed as potentially the world’s biggest stock sale — would take place in late 2020 or early 2021.
Saudi Arabia plans to sell up to five per cent of the world’s largest energy firm and hopes to raise up to $100 billion.
The planned IPO forms the cornerstone of a reform programme envisaged by Prince Mohammed to wean the Saudi economy off its reliance on oil.
Saudi Arabia has not announced where the listing will be held, but London, New York and Hong Kong have all vied for a slice of the much-touted IPO.
S. Jack Heffernan Ph.D. Funds Manager at HEFFX holds a Ph.D. in Economics and brings with him over 25 years of trading experience in Asia and hands on experience in Venture Capital, he has been involved in several startups that have seen market capitalization over $500m and 1 that reach a peak market cap of $15b. He has managed and overseen startups in Mining, Shipping, Technology and Financial Services.1
Climate Action in the Middle East North Africa (CAMENA) invests EUR 4 million in the GGF to attract private capital for helping the region fight climate change; together with EUR 5 million EIB investment, the contribution further strengthens GGF’s capacity for financing and promoting green energy measures.
The Green for Growth Fund (GGF), an impact investment fund advised by Finance in Motion, has attracted EUR 4 million in dedicated funding from the initiative Climate Action in the Middle East North Africa (CAMENA). Combined with EUR 5 million in support from the European Investment Bank (EIB) through the Luxembourg-EIB Climate Finance Platform in 2018, the GGF has increased its capacity to leverage further private investments for green lending in the region.
Created with the support of the U.K. Department for International Development, CAMENA is managed by the EIB as an initiative to help countries in the Southern Mediterranean fight climate change by funding targeted climate initiatives and vehicles, like the GGF. The EIB is also supporting the GGF’s efforts to drive climate action by providing additional funding through the Luxembourg-EIB Climate Finance Platform. The investments will be used to strengthen the GGF’s “C-shares”, a special risk-absorbing layer that enables the fund to attract private capital – which is crucial for channelling higher volumes of investment to achieve maximum impact.
The GGF has seen remarkable growth in its MENA investment portfolio, which increased by over 50% in volume in 2018 to cross the EUR 133 million mark. The GGF leverages public and private capital to fund pioneering green energy initiatives such as the Phoenix 50MW sub-project of the Benban Solar Park in Egypt, the largest solar farm in the world.
“Mobilising private finance for climate action projects in the MENA region is a key priority for the EU Bank. That is why I am very pleased that we have finalised this investment in the Green for Growth Fund. We believe this support is an important signal of confidence in the fund’s potential. We expect that our commitment, which is strengthening the special risk absorbing a layer of the fund, will attract additional finance from the private sector to support transformative green energy projects in the region” said Barbara Boos, head of the Infrastructure Funds and Climate Action division of the EIB.
“As a co-initiator of the GGF, EIB has been instrumental in supporting green energy initiatives in the MENA region through their trust funds. We value partners like the EIB, whose contributions absorb market risks so as to attract additional private investments, thus helping to make green finance mainstream,” said GGF Chairman Olaf Zymelka. “These kinds of initiatives enable funds like the GGF to become a testament to the power public capital can wield in engaging private capital,” he added.
Lloyd Stevens, Director at GGF advisor Finance in Motion, added: “The MENA region is highly susceptible to climate change on account of its water scarcity, high dependence on climate-sensitive agriculture, and concentration of population and economic activity in urban coastal zones. Therefore, we consider it crucial for the GGF to have a positive environmental impact in the region by promoting energy and resource efficiency, and the development of renewable energy sources.” Distributed by APO Group on behalf of European Investment Bank (EIB). Media files
According to the world banking institutions, it would require some $5.47 bn in investments for MENA economies’ advancement as elaborated on the ESI of July 23, 2019. There are related Economic and Governance Risks as everybody knows but it remains as solvable as anywhere else in the world.
The World Bank responded to strong demand from the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) during the financial year that ended on 30 June 2019, with $5.47 billion in new commitments to invest in people, expand the private sector, and set a course for digital transformation.
Along with the financial commitments, the Bank delivered a wide range of analytical products in support of development goals of MENA countries.
In addition, there were $67 million in new committed grants for the West Bank and Gaza during the past financial year.
The World Bank’s knowledge services included support for the region’s high-income countries through its Reimbursable Advisory Services. The programme, which reached $56 million during the past financial year, supported efforts to diversify economies and promote private sector development, along with supporting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in anticipation of their upcoming G20 chairmanship.
“While the region has stabilised following the dual economic and social shocks caused by collapsing global commodity prices and a wave of social unrest, many countries have yet to enact the deep structural reforms necessary to achieve economic transformation that yields sustainable, inclusive growth,” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice-President for MENA.
Belhaj added: “These reforms are ever more urgent if the region is to seize the opportunity that its rapidly growing, highly educated and tech savvy young population represents. We have been working with governments to unlock this immense potential, channelling our support towards efforts to transform the region’s economies and embrace digital technology as a path to growth and opportunities.”
New strategy for the MENA region
In March of this year, the World Bank Group launched an enlarged strategy for the MENA region.
It provides a new and positive vision for the future of MENA with a focus on investments in human capital, leveraging the benefits of digital technology, and mobilising private financing for development while remaining committed to addressing the root causes of instability and responding to immediate needs.
All eyes will be on the region as Saudi Arabia takes over the presidency of the G20, Egypt chairs the African Union, and Morocco hosts the Annual Meetings in Marrakech in 2021.
Over the past financial year, the Bank worked with countries in the region to seize this momentum, turn these new priorities into reality, and project the region on to the global development stage, with a set of concrete goals to be achieved by 2021, in time for the Annual Meetings.
These efforts included a number of major financing programmes. In Jordan, a $1.45 billion financing package was launched to support the country’s plans to improve its business and investment environment and improve fiscal sustainability.
In Egypt, a $1 billion programme was launched to help sustain the momentum of Egypt’s reform program and capitalise on improvements to macroeconomic stability.
The programme helped launch the next generation of reforms focused on creating opportunities for Egyptians and raising living standards by promoting the private sector and improving government performance.
In Morocco, a $700 million programme was launched in support of the government’s efforts to leverage digital technologies to transform the country’s economy into a more inclusive and innovative driver of growth.
In Yemen, the Bank launched a new country engagement strategy and committed $540 million during the financial year to maintain the provision of services and support economic opportunities, bringing the Bank’s active portfolio to over $1.7 billion.
The World Bank also continued its support to Syrian refugees and the communities hosting them in Jordan and Lebanon through projects with the Global Concessional Financing Facility, a multi-donor vehicle which has leveraged over $2.5 billion in MDB financing to date.
The Bank also delivered a range of analytical products to support evidence-based policies and hosted regional knowledge-sharing events to promote coordinated approaches to the region’s development challenges.
“In line with the goals of the World Bank Group’s historic capital increase announced last year, our programs have focused on scaling up support to meet the aspirations of people in MENA by focusing on the opportunities that digitisation, entrepreneurship and innovation and greater regional coordination can bring,” said Anna Bjerde, World Bank Director of Strategy and Operations for the Middle East and North Africa.
Economic and Governance Risks came as a no surprise assessment of today’s as well the immediate future of the MENA region. The inefficient state of most countries characterizes all of their public management and related corollaries: i.e., internal violence for some and external dependence for most. Even in the favourable assumption of relatively stable of the latter ones’ authorities, these prove powerless to achieve the objectives they have set themselves, because of the inefficiency of their administration and when these manage to achieve their objectives, it is at a high cost. Here is that Economic and Governance Risks to the MENA Region.
Exogenous factors, such as geo-economic division, climate change and technological threats all pose a particular risk to MENA, but so, too, do hazards that are more regional in nature. According to respondents in the Middle East and North Africa to the World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey, the top two risks across the region for doing business are “energy price shock” and “unemployment or underemployment.” These risks are largely economic in nature and affected by the health of governance in the region. Similarly, the number five risk, (“fiscal crises”), the number seven risk (“unmanageable inflation”) and the number 10 risk (“failure of financial mechanism or institution”) follow the same pattern of being largely economic in nature and potentially governance-driven.
The top risk, “energy price shock”, comes at a time when some countries have taken steps towards diversification, but the region is still largely a hydrocarbon economy, heavily reliant on revenue from this sector. Oil prices increased substantially between 2017 and 2018, from around USD 50 to USD 75. This represents a significant fillip for the fiscal position of the region’s oil producers, with the IMF estimating that each USD 10 increase in oil prices should feed through to an improvement on the fiscal balance of three percentage points of GDP. However, vulnerabilities to swings in oil prices have not disappeared and are particularly pronounced in countries where government spending is rising. This group includes Saudi Arabia, which the IMF estimated in May 2018 had seen its fiscal breakeven price for oil — that is, the price required to balance the national budget — rise to USD 88, 26 percent above the IMF’s October 2017 estimate and also higher than the country’s medium-term oil price target of USD 70 – USD 80.
It is no surprise, then, that Saudi Arabia remains one of five countries in the region that rank “energy price shock” as the top risk to doing business in the survey, along with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar.
The World Economic Forum in partnership with Marsh & McLennan Companies and Zurich Insurance Group released its Middle East and North Africa Risks Landscape Report, which uses data from the Global Risks Report 2019 and the Regional Risks for Doing Business 2018.
Saudi Gazette posted an article dated July 9, 2019, on MENA start-up ecosystem on the rise, explaining that it is all “positive news for the continually growing ecosystem with strong growth through a record number of transactions.”
DUBAI — Total funding across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)-based start-ups was up 66% from H1 2018, MAGNiTT, the region’s most powerful startup platform, said in its H1 2019 MENA Venture Investment Report, which provides an in-depth analysis of start-up funding and venture capital across the Middle East and North Africa.
The report highlights positive news for the continually growing ecosystem with strong growth through a record number of transactions.
Philip Bahoshy, MAGNiTT’s founder, said “the MENA region is hitting its inflection point. The acceleration of funding we saw in the latter half of 2018 has continued into 2019.”
Bahoshy noted that “there are many signs of an ever maturing ecosystem. As start-ups grow, we have seen more start-ups raising larger tickets, more exits and a continued interest from International investors in the region, especially from Asia.”
He also pointed to “UBER’s acquisition of CAREEM is another example of a large international player acquiring a local company after Amazon’s acquisition of Souq. This will further act as a catalyst to spur on the regions entrepreneurial environment.”
The report noted that H1 2019 saw 238 investments in MENA-based start-ups, amounting to $471 million of total funding. This is an excellent indicator, a 66% increase in investment dollars compared to H1 2018, in which $283 million was invested.
The number of deals remained healthy at a record high, up 28% compared to H1 2018, showing continued appetite in start-ups from the region at all stages of investment.
Noor Sweid, General Partner of Global Ventures, said “the growth in the start-up and tech ecosystem in the region is phenomenal, and yet, we are just at the beginning of a trajectory that will see technology-driven companies grow significantly and incredibly quickly over the coming years. These numbers illustrate the momentum and successes that the underlying companies and founders are achieving, and the growth in the investment ecosystem and opportunities alongside them.”
The UAE remains the most active startup ecosystem with 26% of all deals and 66% of total funding. Saudi Arabia was one of the fastest growing ecosystems, up 2% from H1 2018 recording 26 investments in H1 2019.
The UAE has maintained its dominance with 26% of all transactions made in to UAE-headquartered start-ups in H1 2019, while it also accounted for 66% of total funding.
Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation, explains this by highlighting that “With the vision of our leaders, and a strong strategy in place, the UAE has cemented its position as an ideal destination for startups, founders, creative thinkers, and innovators. We have leveraged that vision, through creating dynamic co-working spaces, agile legislation that supports innovation and attractive visa policies for entrepreneurs and business professionals, and we continue our efforts toward positioning Dubai as a global testbed for cutting-edge technologies.”
However, the landscape continues to evolve. Tunisia was the fastest growing ecosystem in H1 2019 – receiving the 5th highest number of deals at 8% of all deals, up 4% from H1 2018. While Saudi Arabia recorded 2% increase in number of deals, up to 11% of all transactions across the MENA region.
FinTech retained its top spot in H1 2019 and accounted for 17% of all deals. Notable investments include the $8 million in Yallacompare, $6 million in Souqalmal and $4 million in Beehive.
E-commerce still remains prevalent accounting for 12% of all deals, followed Delivery & Transport, which was the third most popular industry in terms total deals in H1 2019, accounting for 8%.
The report furthered said 130 institutions invested in MENA-based start-ups in H1 2019, of which 30% were from outside the region.
500 Startups remained the most active venture capital firm, especially at early stage investments, while Flat6Labs was the most active accelerator program.
Moreover, H1 2019 saw the influx trend of foreign investors continue. The entrance of China’s MSA Capital and Germany’s food conglomerate Henkel, among others, highlighted continued international interest in MENA start-ups. In fact, 30% of all entities that invested in MENA-based start-ups were international investors.
Walid Faza, Partner and Chief Operating Officer of MSA Capital, said: “Chinese models are shaping the consumption habits of emerging market tech consumers and MSA’s deep knowledge in both ecosystems positions us to add a lot of value to companies based in MENA.”
EMPG leads the start-up ecosystem with a $100 million fundraise, followed by Yellow Door Energy and Swvl
EMPG receives the highest amount of funding by a single start-up, raising $100 million in February 2019. Yellow Door Energy ($65M) and Swvl ($42 million) complete the top 3.
In total, the top 10 deals in H1 2019 account for 62% of the total investment amount in H1 2019, down 9% from H1 2019. In terms of exits, H1 2019 has seen 15 start-up exits take place across MENA, an increase of 5 compared to H1 2018.
The largest of these was Careem’’ landmark exit to Uber. Magnus Olsson, Co-Founder, Chief Experience Officer noted “Our $3.1 billion deal with Uber was a hugely significant moment, not just for Careem, but also for the Greater Middle East. It was the largest tech deal this part of the world has ever seen and puts our region’s emerging technology ecosystem on the map of both regional and foreign investors.” On the impact the deal will have across the ecosystem, Olsson noted that “Careem views its colleagues as owners of the business and so we introduced an equity scheme that will now see them financially benefit from the transaction. We hope that the deal will act as a catalyst for the next generation of tech startups in our region.”