By Rory Jones and Summer Said
DUBAI -- Saudi Aramco said Monday it aims to issue a U.S. dollar-denominated bond, as the cash-strapped oil giant cuts jobs, considers asset sales and reviews its expansion plans.
Saudi Arabian Oil Co., as the company is officially called, is selling debt even as low oil prices hurt its ability to generate cash for its biggest shareholder, the Saudi government. It is seeking to meet a pledge made last year to pay $75 billion in annual dividends.
Aramco in a statement said it hired Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley, among others, to arrange investor calls on Monday ahead of a debt sale. The oil company, which didn't disclose pricing or how much it will raise, said it plans a multi-tranche bond offering with potential maturities of three, five, 10, 30 and 50 years. The bond issue is likely to raise billions of dollars, and the pricing and size would depend on market conditions, Aramco added.
It could be well timed. Investors are hopeful of a global economic recovery after Pfizer Inc. last week said its coronavirus vaccine was 90% effective in trials. Oil prices have rallied since then.
Aramco made its debut in the bond markets last year, raising $12 billion and giving global investors access to the world's biggest oil company for the first time. The sale prospectus also opened the books on Aramco's once-secretive financials, showing it was then the world's most profitable company and whetting the appetite for equity investors ahead of last December's share offering.
The company announced the dividend commitment in a bid to lure investors to the initial public offering. But the pledge, combined with low oil prices caused by the pandemic, has forced a restructuring at Aramco and a scramble to raise cash. The IPO also failed to attract international buyers, many of whom were discouraged by what they perceived to be an expensive valuation.
On top of raising debt, Aramco is now cutting jobs and reviewing plans to expand at home and abroad, The Wall Street Journal has reported. The company is also considering a sale-and-lease-back agreement for some of its pipeline assets in a deal that could also raise billions of dollars, according to people familiar with the deal. The plan, dubbed "Project Seek," could involve Aramco selling a stake in its infrastructure to investors who would receive a regular payout from the company as it leases the asset, these people said.
Aramco didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the project.
Earlier this month, the company posted a 45% fall in net income for the third quarter, generating free cash flow of only $12.4 billion, compared with the roughly $18.75 billion it requires each three months to meet its dividend pledge.
Aramco isn't the only major oil company battling to keep its dividend. Exxon Mobil Corp. has also held the line on dividends, instead trimming jobs and capital spending. Other big oil companies such as Royal Dutch Shell PLC and BP PLC have cut payouts to preserve cash amid falling oil demand as a result of the coronavirus.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Aramco's dividend payout has become even more crucial to the Saudi government, which has had to contend with higher costs related to a national lockdown and a stimulus effort to boost the economy. The government owns roughly 98% of the oil company's shares.
Ratings agency Fitch revised its outlook last week on Aramco to negative from stable, after making a similar change for the Saudi government
Write to Rory Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org and Summer Said at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires