Saudi Aramco's boardroom shake-up brings an IPO one step closer

Saudi Arabia has taken an important step forward with its long delayed listing of oil giant Aramco, replacing the company's chairman with someone seen as more sympathetic to Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman's IPO ambitions.

Saudi Arabia has taken an important step forward with its long delayed listing of oil giant Aramco, replacing the company's chairman with someone seen as more sympathetic to Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman's IPO ambitions.

Energy minister Khalid-Al Falih was succeeded as chairman of the state-owned oil company by Yasir Al Rumayyan, head of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, Aramco said in a statement Tuesday. The huge sovereign wealth fund is central to Bin Salman's Vision 2030 to diversify Saudi Arabia's economy.

The leadership change is the latest in a string of developments to prepare Aramco to go public in what could be the world's biggest IPO. Aramco attracted huge interest with its debut international bond sale in April. It commissioned an independent audit of the kingdom's oil reserves and has started publishing earnings.

Leadership changes at Aramco were a "necessary step" towards the IPO, said Olivier Jakob, managing director at consultant Petromatrix.

Al-Falih had "never been enthusiastic about an IPO for Aramco," a senior Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) source told CNN Business.

The minister's wings were clipped last week when he was stripped of responsibility for mineral resources and industry. But Al-Falih took to Twitter to congratulate Al Rumayyan, saying his appointment came "as an important step to prepare the company for the public offering."

Bin Salman first announced the partial IPO of Aramco in 2016. It was originally planned for 2018 but never materialized because of concerns about potential litigation in the United States and skepticism among investors over the Crown Prince's ambitions for a deal that valued Aramco at $2 trillion.

But the plans for a public listing as early as next year were revived following positive investor reaction to the bond sale in April, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

Bringing the deal to market is still fraught with risk, however, particularly if global oil prices remain weak, said Jakob. In the current market, it would be difficult to achieve prices of $70 to $80 a barrel, which Saudi Arabia seemed to be targeting, he added.

Saudi Aramco reported last month that its profit dropped 12% in the first half of its financial year to $46.9 billion due to weaker global oil prices. Despite the drop, it is still the world's most profitable company.

John Defterios contributed to this article.