Complicating The ARAMCO IPO

Complicating The ARAMCO IPO

The Saudi ARAMCO IPO is happening on the Saudi exchange just for Saudi citizens, where apparently there is a not-so-subtle campaign on well off and connected citizens (who wish to remain that way) to buy into the IPO.  But there continues to be delays in opening it up to the rest of the world, with this partly reflecting fears of demands that might be made for more openness, and all that, with various Saudis not keen on that, especially apparently at ARAMCO itself.

However there are now reports of another development that might encourage domestic purchases but may further put off foreigners.  This is a nw round of arrests of alleged dissidents, up to at least nine in the last week.  These are all fairly prominents leading citizens, a philosopher, journalists, businessmen.  What is curious and disturbing about this round is that badically all of these have reportedly been supportive of the regime and of the recent initiatives, at least the economic ones, by MbS, the Crown Prince.  But they are being swept up?  Why?  Apparently the only thing that at least some of them have in common is that back in 2011 many of them (not clear all of them) made public statements sympathetic to the initial Araab Spring uprisings, a position never shared by the Saudi government.  The theory is that thanks to Trump’s support and the apparent end of the mild disapproval  by many foreigners after the murder of WaPo columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, MbS feels he can get away with clearing out even potential critics.

But then this new round of such conduct may further sour the prospects for obtaining outside investors in the ARAMCO IPO.  The company may currently have the world’s highest net income, well ahead of Apple, at $110 billion.  But there are worries about the future of the oil industry, not to mention the stability of the Saudi royal family.  Of course part of the high net income is that KSA continues to be one of the lowest cost locations in the world to pump oil, with ARAMCO officials claiming that if indeed oil disappears from the world economy, the last to be pumped will be out of Saudi Arabia.

Of course, given worries about the foreigners not rushing in, it may be that this outburst of arrests may be to encourage more domestic purchases.  So it may be a contest: do the arrests encourage more domestic purchases than it discourages by the foreigners.  Or maybe MbS is not thinking, which he seesms to have done previous, e.g. the Khashoggi murder.

Barkley Rosser

 

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