Will Saudi Aramco Deliver World Record Profit For Next Year's IPO?

Will Saudi Aramco Deliver World Record Profit For Next Year's IPO?
When Saudi Aramco discloses its financials for the first time next year, it must either surprise investors with world record profits or reduce its aspirations for a $2T valuation in its IPO.

Reuters

LONDON, Sept 8 (Reuters) - When oil giant Saudi Aramco discloses its financials for the first time next year, it must either surprise investors with world record profits or reduce its aspirations for a $2 trillion valuation in its initial public offering (IPO).

Investors have long debated whether Aramco could be valued anywhere close to $2 trillion, the figure suggested by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who wants to raise cash through the IPO to finance investments aimed at helping wean the world's biggest oil exporting nation off dependency on crude.

Based on Aramco's oil reserves of 261 billion barrels and a valuation of $7 to $8 per barrel in line with recent industry acquisitions - such as Total's purchase of Maersk's oil assets - Aramco warrants close to the $2 trillion valuation.

But that is not the only metric for an energy firm's worth. By other measures, Aramco's target valuation may be challenging.

Most other metrics for the world’s largest oil producing company are simply not known and will not be disclosed until Aramco publishes financial results before the planned IPO in 2018.

Yet a simple calculation using globally accepted ratios for Aramco’s peers - enterprise value versus core earnings (EV/EBITDA) - shows the Saudi firm has to report EBITDA in the region of $130 billion to achieve a $2 trillion valuation.

Such an EBITDA figure would be a global first. No firm in any industry has reported earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) above $100 billion.

By comparison, Apple, the technology giant and the world’s most valuable listed firm that is worth more than $830 billion, reported EBITDA of $82 billion in 2015, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon data.

Awaiting Book-Building

Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest listed energy firm with a market capitalisation of $365 billion in 2016, reported EBITDA of $23 billion last year, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon data. In 2012, it reported EBITDA of $65 billion - but that was when oil traded well above $100 a barrel. Benchmark Brent crude is now around $54.

Last year, Exxon traded at EV/EBITDA of more than 15 times, which is high by energy industry standards. If Aramco matched that same high ratio, its core earnings would need to be around $130 billion to achieve its target valuation.

Aramco would not be drawn when asked to comment on how it would achieve the $2 trillion figure.

"This is highly speculative. We do not comment on speculation or rumour," the company told Reuters in a statement.

A Saudi Arabia-based industry source said Aramco's value could not be calculated until the completion of book-building to assess investor appetite.

The source said it was misleading to compare Aramco with Exxon, which has less than half the Saudi firm's oil output and not even a 10th of its reserves. EBITDA should not be the only measure, the source added.


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