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Saudi Aramco restarting preparations for mega IPO: sources

It recently held talks with select group of investment banks to discuss potential roles on offering, they add

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is keen to list Aramco in New York, but advisers are wary of opening up the company to the risks of US litigation.

Riyadh

SAUDI Arabia is restarting preparations for a potential initial public offering (IPO) of oil giant Aramco, months after putting the planned listing on hold, people familiar with the matter said.

Aramco, the world's most profitable company, recently held talks with a select group of investment banks to discuss potential roles on the offering, according to the people.

Detailed work on the IPO may pick up speed later this year or early next year, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

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The revived IPO plan will still face significant hurdles, including the ability of the kingdom to achieve the US$2 trillion valuation it's been seeking for the company.

Demand for the share sale would also likely be affected by lower oil prices as well as growing concerns among top institutional investors about pouring money into fossil-fuel companies that contribute to climate change.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is also keen to list Aramco in New York, but advisers are wary of opening up the company to the risks of US litigation. Prince Mohammed has insisted that the IPO will still take place in 2020 or 2021.

After working with banks for more than two years, Aramco formally put the IPO plans on hold last year and instead decided to buy a US$69 billion stake in local chemical giant Saudi Basic Industries Corp. Aramco is planning to wait until the Sabic acquisition is completed before conducting the IPO, one of the people said.

Aramco was originally working with Evercore Inc, Moelis & Co, HSBC Holdings plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Morgan Stanley on the planned share sale. It wasn't immediately clear if all the banks had been approached again or if some new firms are also being considered.

No final decisions have been made, and the timeline for the share sale could still change, the people said. Aramco, officially known as Saudi Arabian Oil Co, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The IPO project was first announced in 2016 as the cornerstone of the Vision 2030 plan to modernise the Saudi economy, with a target of listing in the second half of 2018.

The kingdom wants to raise a record US$100 billion from selling a 5 per cent stake in Aramco, which would make it the biggest IPO in history and a windfall for any banks that win a role.

In April, Aramco sold US$12 billion in bonds, which was one of the most oversubscribed debt offerings in history and the energy giant's first major step onto the global financial stage. The strong demand for Aramco's debut bond offering was so robust it allowed the energy giant to borrow at a lower yield than its sovereign parent.

The debut also forced Aramco to share financial data and operational secrets with investors - information that had been held closely since the company's nationalisation in the late 1970s.

The success of the deal was a contrast to the unease bankers showed toward the kingdom last year in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a former Saudi insider-turned-critic who had moved to the US.

The political fallout from the assassination had led to a number of bankers, including JPMorgan chief executive officer Jamie Dimon to skip a high-profile summit in Riyadh in 2018. Less than six months later, Mr Dimon himself touted the bond deal at a lunch in New York. BLOOMBERG