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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Saudi Aramco's troubled IPO plan is increasingly looking dead, or at least in a deep freeze, but the Saudis pushed back against those reports late last night.

Driving the news: Reuters, citing "four senior industry sources," reported yesterday that Saudi Arabia had called off the plan to sell about 5% of the company. And a source familiar with the company's work with outside advisers and banks told me roughly the same thing after their story hit.

Why it matters: The kingdom had hoped to raise tens of billions of dollars through the IPO to help fund initiatives to diversify its oil-dependent economy away from crude oil sales.

But the plan to sell about 5% of the company has been beset with delays, indecision about an international listing venue, and related questions about the Saudis' appetite for the transparency that comes with going public.

  • Plus, multiple analysts believe the company would not achieve the kingdom's hoped-for $2 trillion valuation.

Yes, but: Khalid Al-Falih, the Saudi energy minister, pushed back againstyesterday's obits for the plan. "The Government remains committed to the IPO of Saudi Aramco at a time of its own choosing when conditions are optimum," he said.

  • Reality check: Absent from his lengthy statement is even a rough timeframe for the IPO.

One big question, via Axios' Dan Primack: The IPO's seeming demise, or at least deep freeze, could be good or bad news for the prospect of the Saudis bankrolling CEO Elon Musk's plan to take Tesla private.

  • The bullish case for Tesla: The Saudis think they can diversify their economy without the IPO, and Tesla could be one avenue.
  • The bearish case for Tesla: Without cash from the IPO, there's less money to spread around.

The intrigue: The fate of the IPO appears to be bound up in a separate transaction — Aramco's potential purchase of a controlling stake in the petrochemical firm Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) from the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund.

  • Al-Falih's statement obliquely references this, noting the IPO timing will be affected by a "downstream acquisition which the Company will pursue in the next few months."
  • Bloomberg writes that could be a roughly $70 billion deal. "That will replace at least some of the money the Public Investment Fund had been expected to receive from the Aramco IPO," they report.

What they're saying:

  • Randy Bell, director of the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Center, tells Axios that the delay is a good development: "A delay suggests that Saudi leadership recognizes the challenge and is going to wait until they get it right to proceed. That should give the investor community more confidence in the country over the long run."
  • Jim Krane of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy says that while the rationale behind the IPO — raising money to diversify the economy — remains sound, the plan itself turned out to be "flawed": "Aramco executives worried that the company's vaunted autonomy and long-term planning would be sacrificed to meet short-term demands of shareholders."

Go deeper: I wrote about the rationale for pouring resources into SABIC here.

Go deeper

Trump can't quit mainstream media

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa are interviewed by Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press" in September. Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC via Getty Images

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa issued a rebuttal on Friday to a statement by former President Donald Trump that misrepresented their reporting — and once again showed the 45th president's thin skin about mainstream media.

Driving the news: "Former President Trump said ... our book, 'Peril,' implied that he was planning to go to war with China," the statement begins. "[W]e report that Chairman of Joint Chiefs Mark Milley 'believed that Trump did not want a war' before or after the 2020 election."

NY declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron COVID variant

Governor Kathy Hochul makes an announcement about a new plan transforming Penn Station on Nov. 3, 2021. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday declared a state of emergency amid rising COVID-19 cases and the newly-identified Omicron variant of the virus.

Driving the news: The declaration enables the state to acquire supplies to fight a potential surge in cases, increase hospital capacity and combat potential staff shortages, NBC's local affiliate reports.

4 hours ago - Health

First cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant discovered in U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Two cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant were detected in the United Kingdom overnight, the U.K. Health Security Agency announced Saturday.

Why it matters: The discovery comes as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.