The Business Times

Aramco in US$12.4b oil pipeline deal with EIG-led group

Announcement comes as Aramco faces pressure to maintain hefty dividend payments to Saudi government

Published Mon, Apr 12, 2021 · 05:50 AM


ENERGY giant Saudi Aramco said it has struck a US$12.4 billion deal to sell a minority stake in a newly formed oil pipeline business to a consortium led by US-based EIG Global Energy Partners.

The deal underscores how Aramco - the kingdom's cash cow - seeks to monetise its once-untouchable assets to generate revenue for the Saudi government as it accelerates efforts to diversify the oil-reliant economy.

"Upon closing, Aramco will receive upfront proceeds of around US$12.4 billion, further strengthening its balance sheet through one of the largest energy infrastructure deals globally," the company said in a statement late last Friday.

"As part of the transaction, a newly-formed Aramco subsidiary, Aramco Oil Pipelines Company, will lease usage rights in Aramco's stabilised crude oil pipelines network for a 25-year period."

The EIG-led consortium will hold a 49 per cent stake in the subsidiary, Aramco said, adding that it will retain "full ownership and operational control".


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In a separate statement, EIG, a Washington-based energy investment firm, said the new venture is valued at approximately US$25.3 billion.

The deal covers all of Aramco's "existing and future stabilised crude pipelines" in the kingdom, an elaborate network that connects oil fields to downstream facilities, EIG said.

Neither company said which other firms were part of the consortium.

The announcement comes as Aramco faces pressure to maintain hefty dividend payments to the Saudi government, its biggest shareholder, despite posting consecutive falls in profits since it began disclosing earnings in 2019.

Last month, Aramco posted a 44.4 per cent slump in 2020 net profit due to lower crude prices, piling pressure on government finances as Riyadh pursues multi-billion dollar projects to diversify the economy.

The company's debt has climbed as Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest crude exporter, was hammered last year by the double whammy of low prices and sharp cuts in production triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Even so, Aramco said it stuck by its commitment to pay shareholders dividends worth US$75 billion in 2020 - an amount that exceeds the declared profit and available cash flow.

"The (EIG) deal marks an innovative step for Aramco as it seeks to monetise assets to pay down debt, maintain its dividend payments and fund planned investments," the Energy Intelligence group said.

Long seen as the kingdom's "crown jewel", Aramco and its assets were once tightly under government control and considered off-limits to outside investment.

But with the rise of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is pushing to implement his "Vision 2030" reform programme, the kingdom has shown readiness to cede some control.

Aramco sold a sliver of its shares on the Saudi bourse in December 2019, generating US$29.4 billion in the world's biggest initial public offering.

In January, Prince Mohammed said the kingdom would sell more Aramco shares in the coming years.

He said future share offerings would be a key way to boost the Public Investment Fund, the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund which is the main engine of its diversification efforts.

In a major new diversification push late last month, Saudi Arabia announced plans to pump investments worth US$3.2 trillion into the national economy by 2030, roping in the kingdom's biggest companies including Aramco.

Under a programme named "Shareek", or partner, Aramco and other top Saudi companies will lead the investment drive by contributing five trillion riyals (S$1.8 trillion) over the next decade, Prince Mohammed said. AFP

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