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What should be next for Saudi Aramco

September 10/2019

MOSCOW (MRC) -- The Saudi Arabian monarchy made a major change this week in the leadership of its national oil company, Saudi Aramco. Khalid Al-Falih, the former CEO and current oil minister, was removed  as chairman and replaced by Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the head of Saudi Arabias sovereign wealth fund, as per Bloomberg

With the kingdom readying plans for an Aramco IPO, what should we make of this shift, and is Al-Rumayyan a confidante of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with no experience in oil or energy the best choice to fill the position.

On the one hand, removing Al-Falih from the board of Saudi Arabian Oil Co. will help the company establish itself as distinct from the Saudi government team that creates oil policy at OPEC. This should insulate Aramco from some antitrust allegations. If or when Aramco does go public, the move could help protect the company from investigations by other governments concerning  its connections to the international oil cartel. As Al-Falih himself wrote in a tweet in Arabic, the new leadership of the board is a step toward an IPO:But Al-Rumayyan isnt a choice that should promote confidence in the direction of the company.

For one, his background is in finance: After various jobs in Saudi banking, he was appointed to run the Public Investment Fund, or PIF,  in 2015, and is said to consult very closely with Prince Mohammed. He has used a large portion of the PIF as a venture-capital fund so much so that through the PIF, Saudi Arabia has become one of the single biggest investors in U.S. startups. Al-Rumayyan has also overseen the PIFs position as a power broker in the kingdom, with the fund backing new ideas and even social causes such as a major investment that brought AMC Theaters to Saudi Arabia when cinemas were legalized. None of this points to any expertise in oil.

Al-Falih was an oil company veteran with a successful track record in the business, so it made sense for him to lead the board. In fact, its typical for major international oil companies to be led by energy professionals. At Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp., for example, the chairmen are also the CEOs. Royal Dutch Shell PLCs chairman is Charles Holliday, who once ran the chemicals firm DuPont. BP PLCs chairman is the former CEO of BG Group and Statoil, both energy companies.

The monarchy could have replaced Al-Falih with the current CEO, Amin Nasser; one of several retired top Aramco executives still active in the company community; an outside industry veteran; or even Prince Mohammed's own half-brother, Abdul Aziz, who was a university professor and formerly a top bureaucrat in the oil ministry. Instead, it chose Al-Rumayyan, a yes-man for the monarchy.

More importantly, the shake-up points to the impending transfer of Aramco to the PIF portfolio, as Prince Mohammed has wanted to do for years.  Before he even ascended to his current role, Prince Mohammed argued that Aramco should be just another portfolio company. In 2016, he said Aramco is a company that has a value an investment. You must own it as an investment. It should not be owned as a primary commodity or a major source of income. Thats not inspiring for Saudi Arabia, which still relies on Aramco for most of its revenue. Nor is it inspiring for potential investors who are looking for the supremely profitable company to continue on its prior positive trajectory.
Author:Anna Larionova
Tags:petroleum products, crude oil, Saudi Aramco.
Category:General News
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