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Saudi Aramco replaces chairman as oil giant prepares for massive IPO

Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih
Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih. Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

There's new evidence that Saudi Arabia is serious about moving ahead with a mammoth IPO of shares in state oil giant Aramco after years of delays and uncertainty.

Driving the news: Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih will be replaced as chairman of Aramco by Yasir al-Rumayyan, head of the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund.

  • Al-Falih, via Twitter yesterday, called it "an important step to prepare the company for the public offering."
  • Aramco formally (and briefly) announced the move today.

Why it matters: The Aramco IPO is poised to be the biggest in history. Selling a slice of the company is designed to raise tens of billions of dollars to help finance diversification of the kingdom's economy.

  • "I suspect they want to accelerate the IPO timeline," RBC Capital Markets analyst Helima Croft tells Bloomberg.
  • She said the Saudis want to "bring a sense of urgency to the issue as this is a big signature initiative of Crown Prince Mohammed."

Where it stands: Kingdom officials had previously said they're planning a listing in the 2020–2021 timeframe, but hadn't identified an international exchange.

What they're saying: Oil analyst Ellen Wald, author of the book Saudi, Inc., tells me...

"On one hand, the move is good for the upcoming Aramco IPO because it creates plausible separation for legal anti-trust purposes between the company and Saudi Arabia’s OPEC position."
"On the other hand, an oil company needs to be overseen by an oil man or oil woman, not a venture capitalist or financier like Rumayyan, who lacks experience in the energy industry. "

The intrigue: The news hit just 3 days after a royal decree created a new Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources, which removed al-Falih's oversight of those sectors. He remains the country's oil minister.

  • Per the Wall Street Journal, the reductions in al-Falih's role in recent days are a "diminishment of his once-formidable grip on Saudi economic policy."