GLOBAL INVESTING: Why Saudi Aramco's IPO will redefine the kingdom

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Only NYSE can give liquidity to world's largest IPO The $100 billion Saudi Aramco IPO, four-time bigger than the Alibaba offer) is a historic event in world finance and politics.

The choice of its investment banking advisors, underwriters and listing exchange reflects the House of Saud's historic political and economies relationships with American oil supermajors and money centre banks.

The original Aramco consortium - Jersey Standard (now Exxon Mobil), Mobil, Amoco, Socal (Chevron) - were all offspring of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust. For generations, the Rockefeller and Aldrich families, the royal family of oil and gas in the US, were the dominant shareholders in both Citigroup and Chase Manhattan. Chase, where I worked extensively with clients and friends from the kingdom, was a special place for a 20 something deal maker awed by the fascinating culture, princes and economy of Saudi Arabia.

Sheikh Sulaiman Olayan, a legend in the international finance, sat on our board, as did the patriarchs of the Juffali and Jameel clans with Dr Henry Kissinger and Giovanni Agnelli. Our chairmen were routinely granted audiences by successive Saudi kings and crown princes, not just the governors of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (Sama) or members of the Council of Ministers. Citicorp was the joint venture partner of the Saudi American Bank, the largest corporate bank in the kingdom.

Prince Al Walid bin Talal bin Abdel Aziz was Citi's white knight during the banking crisis of 1991 and emerged as its largest shareholder. JPMorgan, Chase and Citi managed the global reserves of Sama and their Swiss subsidiaries managed the offshore wealth of the Arab world's most prominent merchant families.

The House of Morgan was to international banking what the House of Saud is to global oil - and working in JPMorgan Chase in New York, London, Geneva and Bahrain's "Saudi" banker teams was the education of a lifetime for a young kid fresh out of Penn/Wharton! Even now, there is no doubt in my mind that the finest private banker of his generation is the Hon David Gibson Moore, a product of Oxford's dreaming spires and the Anglo-Irish ascendancy, chairman of Banque Chase Manhattan Suisse, once David Rockefeller's ambassador to the kingdom, my dearest friend and mentor for decades. The cognoscenti in Riyadh and Jeddah will unquestionably agree with my call on David.

So it is natural that JPMorgan is the lead underwriter of the Saudi Aramco IPO. The choice of Morgan Stanley is governed by its historic role in the Eurobond market and its armies of private client wealth management advisors, inherited from Jamie Gorman's Smith Barney deal. HSBC also makes strategic sense since it was the joint venture partner of the Saudi British Bank and has built a dominant franchise in trading GCC securities via its own subsidiaries and HSBC Amanah.

Though I heard Saudi officials visited London, Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong to discuss listing options, only the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) can provide the planet's deepest pool of investor liquidity for the world's largest oil and gas IPO. The Saudi Aramco IPO will be a complex international deal, given the colossal size of the kingdom's reserves, output and downstream empires.

The Saudi Aramco IPO is designed to lessen the kingdom's dependence on black gold and kick-start the Saudi capital markets. Saudi Arabia has realised that reliance on bank financing alone is a systemic threat to its economic future since it amplifies local credit boom-bust cycles. The kingdom, like every other GCC state, needs to shift to an "asset securitisation" model to finance its corporate sector. This is the reason I believe the Tadawul will be the venue of the world's most exciting IPO pipeline. The Saudi Aramco IPO is thus a bellwether for the kingdom's new financial renaissance.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's deputy crown prince, estimates Saudi Aramco is worth between $2 trillion and $3 trillion. This makes Saudi Aramco the most valuable company in the history of the world, let alone the Middle East. After all, Saudi Arabia's proven reserves are 260 billion barrels and the kingdom will remain the global powerbroker of energy for our lifetimes - and beyond. I have never remotely valued an oil company that produces 10 million barrels of oil a day - but nor has any other banker alive!

The timetable of the Saudi Aramco IPO dictated the kingdom's decision to resume the role of "swing producer" in Opec. This means Brent will remain above $50 as the kingdom's output cut exceed 486,000 barrels.

The writer is a global equities strategist and fund manager.


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