Saudi Arabia is reviewing an initial public offering of Saudi Aramco, the world's biggest crude oil producer, Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's deputy crown prince, said in an interview with The Economist.
A decision on the IPO is likely to be taken in the next few months, he said, without giving further details. A sale of shares would serve Saudi Arabia and Aramco's interests, promote transparency and counter corruption.
"Personally I'm enthusiastic about this step," Salman said.
Saudi Aramco's oil production is double it's nearest rival's and accounts for more than 10 percent of the world's output. The slump in crude prices to a 12-year low over the past 18 months has squeezed revenue for oil producers including Saudi Arabia, which has taken steps to curb public spending. Salman said he wants to reduce the country's dependence on oil, comparing his plans to Margaret Thatcher's shakeup of the U.K. economy in the 1980s.
While Salman did not specify whether investors could be offered shares in Aramco's exploration and production division, or its smaller marketing and distribution, the sheer size of the company would make any potential offering a significant event. The Economist said about 5 percent of the company could be offered initially in Riyadh and more shares could be sold later, although the kingdom would retain control.
"This is an epochal change in the oil industry," said Bob McNally, founder of Washington-based consultant The Rapidan Group and a former senior oil White House official. "Saudi Arabia is getting ready to ride the oil-price roller-coaster, not control it."
Despite oil's crash, the Saudi economy is far from a crisis, Salman said, according to a transcript of the interview published on The Economist's website. The country increased its non-oil revenues by 29 percent, he said. Saudi Arabia has the world's biggest oil reserves behind Venezuela.
The price of crude sold by OPEC members slid below $30 a barrel on Wednesday, the lowest level in almost 12 years, as turmoil in Chinese markets deepened the global commodities rout. The group's members lost about $500 billion in revenue last year because of the slump, according to the International Energy Agency.
Aramco pumps all of Saudi Arabia's crude oil, with production at 10.25 million barrels a day in December. Among listed companies, Russia's OAO Rosneft produces more than 5 million barrels a day while Exxon Mobil Corp. pumps out about 4 million barrels.
Exxon, the world's biggest publicly traded oil company, had oil and gas reserves equivalent to about 25 billion barrels at the end of 2014 while Rosneft had almost 40 billion. Saudi Arabia's oil reserves alone totaled 267 billion, according to BP Plc data. Oil companies are typically valued on the reserves they hold.
Opening up Aramco would also advance Saudi Arabia's plan to bring in foreign investors and funds after it opened it's IPO market last year.