Saudi Aramco, a race to the bottom?

It’s a theory at least, courtesy of a new Bernstein long read on the reported listing of 5 per cent of the state owned oil and gas giant by 2018. The final highlighted bit being the point, with the question being “why now?”: Often the simplest explanation is the most likely to be correct. With Saudi running a significant budget deficit, the listing of Aramco is one way to plug a gap in government finances. More broadly the listing of Aramco could be an example to other state owned firms, as Saudi reaches its ‘Thatcher’ moment in seeking to privatize state owned companies to increase efficiency as part of their plan to move beyond oil. The problem for oil markets is that privatized state companies tend to grow more quickly following privatization. Perhaps Aramco’s growth will be focused on refining and natural gas, but it is possible that Saudi have also realized that demand is likely to run out before supply and it makes more sense to deplete their own reserves ahead of others. While this is pure conjecture at this point, it could have bearish implications for oil markets. In the near term however, Saudi will not want to list Aramco at a low oil price. In the run up to 2018, we expect that Saudi will do everything in its power to ensure oil markets remain balanced and prices stable. This could be positive near term for oil equities. If that last theory is correct, it’s a solid end of the oil age gambit that is based in part on an eventual race to produce kicking in.

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