Saudis scramble to raise cash for Aramco share sale

Riyadh, Nov 5 (AFP/APP): From tapping lenders to selling personal assets, Saudis are scrambling to raise cash to invest in Aramco stocks after the oil giant announced its blockbuster market debut even as it offered few listing details.

After years of delay and false starts, the state-owned company said on Sunday it plans to sell an unspecified number of shares on the Riyadh stock exchange, but no date was set and the firm’s valuation remains shrouded in mystery.

But retail investors in Saudi Arabia still appear to be salivating at the prospect of owning a piece of the world’s most profitable company, seen as the kingdom’s crown jewel, amid calls to make the initial public offering (IPO) a success.

“Some (Saudis) have started to sell other stocks in preparation to buy Aramco (shares),” said Ibrahim Ahmed, a Saudi energy industry analyst who is also considering investing his savings.

Saudi Aramco heads for possible record-setting market debut

“People look at it as a sound investment. (But) I’m aware that it is a long-term investment that is good to have in a portfolio and not some kind of lottery ticket.”

The IPO, billed by the company as a “historic milestone”, forms the lynchpin of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious plan to transform the petro-state by generating much-needed cash to fund mega projects and non-oil industries.

The government has reportedly pressed wealthy Saudi business families and institutions to invest in the IPO, and many nationalists have labelled it a patriotic duty.

Fahad Hashemi, portfolio manager at the Riyadh-based Middle East Financial Investment Co, told AFP his firm had a “strong intention” to participate despite the lack of listing information.

Saudi Arabia has sought to ease lending restrictions for ordinary citizens to buy a stake in the company, a strategy deemed risky by observers.

Eid al-Shamri, chief executive of investment bank Ithraa Capital, said some Saudis were considering selling their homes or borrowing money to purchase shares.

“This is definitely a serious event that will be recorded in the history of Saudi Arabia,” Shamri told Bloomberg News.

“A lot of people are talking about it. But what is the extent of the people’s participation? We are tightening our belts.”

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