Saudi Aramco plans debt market comeback with multi-tranche bond deal

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FILE PHOTO: A view shows branded oil tanks at the Saudi Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq

By Davide Barbuscia and Yousef Saba

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Aramco said on Monday it had hired banks for a multi-tranche U.S. dollar-denominated bond issuance, as the world’s largest oil company seeks cash amid lower oil prices.

Gulf issuers show no sign of slowing this year’s blitz of issues on international debt markets as they work to plug finances hit by weaker oil prices and the coronavirus crisis.

Issuances from the region so far this year have already shot through 2019’s record, again surpassing $100 billion.

Goldman Sachs, Citi, HSBC, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley and NCB Capital were hired to arrange investor calls starting on Monday before the planned transaction, Aramco said in a bourse filing.

Other banks involved in the deal include BNP Paribas, BOC International, BofA Securities, Credit Agricole, First Abu Dhabi Bank, Mizuho, MUFG, SMBC Nikko and Societe Generale, a document issued by one of the banks on the deal showed.

The oil giant, which made its debut in the international debt markets last year by raising $12 billion after receiving more than $100 billion in orders, did not detail the size of the latest proposed issuance.

It planned a benchmark multi-tranche offering consisting of tranches for three, five, 10, 30 and/or 50 years, subject to market conditions, the document said. Benchmark bonds are generally at least $500 million per tranche.

“The backdrop is supportive,” said a debt banker on the deal, citing a $1 billion Islamic bond issuance last week from Dubai Islamic Bank, which achieved record low yields.

Aramco needs cash to pay $37.5 billion in dividends for the second half of 2020 and to fund its $69.1 billion acquisition of 70% of Saudi Basic Industries (SABIC), paid by installments until 2028. It raised a $10 billion loan this year.

“Any potential bond offering would be part of the company’s overall funding strategy within its normal course of business and subject to market conditions,” Aramco told Reuters in an emailed statement when asked for details about the issue.

SAUDI RISK

Hasnain Malik, head of equity strategy at Tellimer, said: “In a world searching for yield there should be no shortage of demand. But persistent low oil prices and the threat that poses to long-term cash generation should be reflected in pricing.”

Ratings agency Fitch revised its outlook last week on Aramco to negative from stable, a day after similar action on the sovereign of Saudi Arabia, which holds a controlling stake in the oil giant. The government’s finances are heavily reliant on the hydrocarbon industry.

“This reflects the influence the state exerts on the company through strategic direction, taxation and dividends, as well as regulating the level of production in line with OPEC commitments,” Fitch said.

Aramco’s outstanding U.S. dollar-denominated bonds due in 2029 were trading at 2.05% on Monday, a slightly higher yield than Saudi government paper with a similar maturity, Refinitiv data showed.

A bond prospectus, seen by Reuters, detailed risks for investors, including the COVID-19 virus and the Saudi government’s decisions on oil production and spare capacity.

“Saudi Aramco’s costs of complying with such decisions, may not maximise returns for Saudi Aramco,” the prospectus said, citing possible restrictions on its oil output.

Aramco reported a 44.6% drop in third-quarter net profit this month as the pandemic continued to choke demand and weigh on crude prices.

(Reporting by Yousef Saba and Davide Barbuscia; Editing by Richard Pullin and Edmund Blair)

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