Aramco still aims for RM63b deal with India’s Reliance

A deal with Reliance would help the world’s biggest crude exporter join the ranks of top oil refiners and chemical makers

DUBAI • Saudi Arabian Oil Co (Aramco) said it’s still working on a deal to buy a US$15 billion (RM63 billion) stake in Reliance Industries Ltd’s refining and chemicals business, even as lower oil prices forces it to slash investment spending.

Mumbai-based Reliance’s shares fell in mid-July after chairman Mukesh Ambani said a transaction had been delayed “due to unforeseen circumstances in the energy market and the Covid-19 situation”.

A deal with Reliance would help the world’s biggest crude exporter join the ranks of the top oil refiners and chemical makers. State-owned Aramco, which bought chemical firm Saudi Basic Industries Corp (Sabic) for US$70 billion this year, is already a major supplier of crude to India, while Reliance sells petroleum products such as petrol to the kingdom.

“We are still in discussion with Reliance,” Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said on a call with reporters on Sunday. “The work is still on. We will update our shareholders in due course.”

Aramco reported on Sunday that second-quarter (2Q) net income was down almost 75% from a year earlier. The coronavirus pandemic halted travel and business, slashing demand for crude and fuel. After the OPEC+ cut production, Brent prices rebounded from a low of about US$16 a barrel in April to nearly US$45, though they’re still down 32% this year.

Aramco’s downstream unit narrowed its loss in the 2Q. The loss before interest and taxes for the business was US$344 million, compared with US$866 million a year earlier.

Ambani, the world’s fourth-richest person, said last year that Aramco was set to buy a 20% stake in his company’s refining and petrochemicals business, valuing it at US$75 billion.

The Reliance transaction would help Aramco reach its goal of more than doubling refining capacity to between eight million barrels a day (bpd) and 10 million bpd. The Saudi firm had refining capacity of 3.6 million bpd at the end of last year, including wholly-owned plants and stakes in joint ventures. The gross capacity of facilities in which Aramco has stakes was 6.4 million bpd.

Aramco is working to start the 400,000 bpd Jazan refinery on Saudi Arabia’s southern Red Sea coast this year. It also owns the biggest refinery in the US, as well as plants in countries such as South Korea and Japan. It’s planning several Chinese ventures.

Reliance’s need for a cash infusion has eased in recent months. The conglomerate raised some US$30 billion by attracting investments from the likes of Google LLC and Facebook Inc into its digital unit, Jio Platforms Ltd, and by selling shares to existing stakeholders. — Bloomberg