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Saudi Aramco's profit plunges, sees signs of oil market recovery

The group attributes the 73% drop in profit to globally lowered oil consumption due to the Covid-19 outbreak

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Aramco figures are healthy compared to other global peers, analysts say. The group is currently the world's second most valuable publicly traded company after Apple.

Dubai

SAUDI state oil group Aramco's profit plunged 73 per cent in the second quarter of the year, as a slump in energy demand and prices due to the novel coronavirus crisis hit sales for the world's biggest oil exporter.

All major oil companies have taken a hit in the second quarter as lockdowns to contain Covid-19 limited travel, which reduced oil consumption and sent prices tumbling to levels not seen in nearly two decades.

Aramco, which listed in Riyadh last year in a record US$29.4 billion flotation, said the rapid spread of Covid-19 globally had significantly reduced demand for crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products.

"The Covid-19 crisis is unlike anything the world has experienced in recent history, and we are adapting to a highly complex and rapidly changing business environment," chief executive officer Amin Nasser said in a statement on Sunday.

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"We are seeing a partial recovery in the energy market as countries around the world take steps to ease restrictions and reboot their economies," he said.

Aramco reported a 73.4 per cent fall in Q2 net profit - a steeper drop than analysts had forecast - and said it expected capital expenditure for 2020 to be at the lower end of a US$25 billion to US$30 billion range.

Net profit fell to 24.6 billion riyals (S$9 billion) for the quarter to June 30, from 92.6 billion riyals a year earlier.

Analysts had expected a net profit of 31.3 billion riyals in the second quarter, the mean estimate from three analysts provided by Refinitiv showed.

"Aramco figures are healthy compared to other global peers," said Mazen al-Sudairi, head of research at Al Rajhi Capital.

"This was the worst quarter in the modern history of oil industry, and surviving it with healthy figures points to a very positive outlook."

Aramco shares were up 0.4 per cent in early trade. The group is currently the world's second most valuable publicly traded company after Apple, which overtook the oil group to take the number one slot in terms of market value earlier this month.

Aramco said it would distribute a dividend of US$18.75 billion for the second quarter of this year, in line with its plan to pay a base dividend of US$75 billion for 2020.

The group's dividends play a critical role in helping the Saudi government to manage its fiscal deficit.

BP earlier this month cut its dividend for the first time in a decade after a record US$6.7 billion second-quarter loss, while Royal Dutch Shell in April cut its dividend for the first time since World War II.

Aramco's free cash flow stood at US$6.1 billion in the second quarter and US$21.1 billion for the first half of 2020 respectively, compared to US$20.6 billion and US$38.0 billion for the same periods in 2019.

Aramco's gearing ratio was 20.1 per cent at the end of June - mainly reflecting the deferred consideration for the acquisition of Saudi Basic Industries Corp (Sabic) and the consolidation of Sabic's net debt on to Aramco's balance sheet. REUTERS

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