How Aramco IPO Will Change Oil Dynamics

At a Glance

  • As Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company prepares for an IPO, the country could move away from managing oil supply
  • The U.S. has taken the role of world’s top oil producer

The coming Initial Public Offering (IPO) for ARAMCO, the Saudi Arabian oil company, has captured the attention of Wall Street regarding just how much the company is worth.  On the valuation question, well, we will leave that to the collective wisdom of the marketplace.

We are interested in how ARAMCO will function as a public company and the implications for oil market volatility.

OPEC Influencer

In the past, Saudi Arabia has served as the swing producer for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).  That strategy worked exceptionally well in the 1970s when OPEC burst on to the scene and pushed prices four-fold higher.  Supply economics took over in the 1980s and OPEC was a non-factor.  OPEC’s influence revived in recent decades, until the U.S. shale oil boom. 

The story unfolded in November 2014.  OPEC decided not to cut production even as oil prices were falling.  The idea was to break the profitability of U.S. shale producers.  The price of oil hit a low of $27 per barrel in February 2015 and many shale producers were in big financial trouble.  Then, the price recovered, as did U.S. shale producers, and now the U.S. is the largest oil producer in the world, standing slightly higher than Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Managing Shares, Not Crude

With the writing on the wall regarding the ability of Saudi Arabia to serve as a swing producer and buffer to oil price volatility, the Saudi’s are switching gears.  As my former professor John Rutledge, the chief investment officer of Safanad, has observed, instead of managing oil production, the Kingdom will manage its holdings of ARAMCO shares.

That is, over time, the Kingdom will exert less and less influence over oil production decisions – the age of the Saudi’s as swing producers, not to mention OPEC,  may be ending soon.  When the Kingdom needs more money to fund its economic revitalization plans, it will simply sell more shares in ARAMCO.  We are in a new world of less OPEC influence, and potentially more oil price volatility as Saudi Arabia cedes the role of swing producer to the market-price influenced U.S. shale producers.

Bluford (Blu) Putnam has served as Managing Director and Chief Economist of CME Group since May 2011. He is responsible for leading economic analysis on global financial markets by identifying emerging trends, evaluating economic factors and forecasting their impact. Prior to joining CME Group, Putnam gained more than 35 years of experience in the financial services industry with concentrations in central banking, investment research and portfolio management. He has authored five books on international finance.

Additional Recent Articles in Commodities