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Saudi Aramco to pay US$1.6b for 19.9% stake in Hyundai Oilbank

Analyst says company seems to be boosting investments in downstream projects ahead of IPO

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Saudi Aramco, the world's largest crude producer, plans to increase investment in refining and petrochemicals in a bid to cut its reliance on crude as demand for oil slows.

Seoul

STATE-OWNED Saudi Aramco plans to invest up to US$1.6 billion for a nearly 20 per cent stake in South Korean refiner Hyundai Oilbank, expanding its foothold in one of its biggest Asian buyers of crude oil.

Saudi Aramco is already the biggest shareholder in South Korea's No.3 refiner, S-Oil Corp, with a 63.41 per cent stake, and the latest deal should help Aramco boost crude oil sales to Hyundai Oilbank, the country's smallest refiner by capacity.

Saudi Aramco's chief executive told Reuters in November 2018 that it planned to expand its market share in Asia - including China, India, Malaysia and Indonesia - and Africa.

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Saudi Aramco plans to pay 1.8 trillion won (S$2.17 billion) for a stake of up to 19.9 per cent of Hyundai Oilbank from Hyundai Heavy Industries Holdings, which now owns 91.13 per cent of Hyundai Oilbank.

"Saudi Aramco seems to be boosting investments in downstream projects ahead of an initial public offering," said Lee Dong-wook, an analyst at Kiwoom Securities.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in early January that the state oil giant will be listed by 2021.

Saudi Arabia is the top crude oil supplier to South Korea, the world's fifth-biggest importer.

In 2018, South Korea imported 323.17 million barrels of crude from the kingdom, or 885,408 barrels per day (bpd), according to data from Korea National Oil Corp.

Saudi Aramco, the world's largest crude producer, plans to increase investment in refining and petrochemicals in a bid to cut its reliance on crude as demand for oil slows.

Hyundai Oilbank has a total of 650,000bpd of refining capacity in the south-western city of Daesan and also aims to expand its petrochemical business. In May 2018, it announced plans to build a 2.7 trillion won petrochemical plant with South Korea's Lotte Chemical.

The firm's holding company, which also includes shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries, said it would use the funds from the Oilbank deal to invest in new businesses and improve its financial structure, including cutting its debt-to-equity ratio.

Saudi Aramco plans to value Hyundai Oilbank at 10 trillion won, or 36,000 won per share, Hyundai Heavy Industries Holdings said in a statement.

A person familiar with the matter said the company plans to offer a discount of 10 per cent to Saudi Aramco in a block deal that will require board approval from both firms next month.

Shares of the parent company ended up 3.8 per cent after rising as much 6.6 per cent. Shares of the country's shipbuilders rallied across the board after Qatar said it plans to order 60 new LNG carriers from unidentified firms, speaking at a summit with South Korea.

Hyundai Heavy Industries Holdings said it planned to "reconsider" the stock market listing of the refinery arm after completing the stake sale, possibly this year.

Hyundai Oilbank, which had aimed to list on South Korea's stock exchange in 2018, delayed the plan until this year due to regulatory scrutiny of its balance sheet.

The company said on Monday that its operating profit skidded 42 per cent to 661 billion won last year, hurt by falling refining margins. S-Oil also saw its operating profit halve to 680 billion won in 2018.

Hyundai Heavy is part of a joint venture with Saudi Aramco and others to build a shipyard on Saudi Arabia's eastern coast. REUTERS

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