Stock Saudi Aramco
A $19 billion windfall from a 1% sale could come in real handy for Saudi Arabia as it continues an ambitious diversification programme. Those proceeds will also help trim budget deficits. Image Credit: AFP

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince said the kingdom is in talks to sell off a 1 per cent stake in oil giant Saudi Aramco to a "leading global energy company" as he forecast a rebounding economy in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The kingdom is looking at the potential sale - which could be worth about $19 billion - as a way to lock in customer demand for the country's crude, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said in an interview on a Saudi television channel. He said the sale could take place in the next two years.

"I don't want to give any promises about deals finalizing, but there are discussions happening right now about a 1 per cent acquisition by one of the leading energy companies in the world," Prince Mohammed said. "This deal could be very important in strengthening Aramco's sales in the country where this company resides."

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Funding source

Prince Mohammed is increasingly leaning on Aramco, the world's biggest oil exporter, to help finance his plan to transform and diversify the Saudi economy. A 2019 initial public offering in Aramco raised almost $30 billion that was transferred to the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund. The revenue was meant to support investments to help shift the biggest Arab economy away from a reliance on oil sales.

Since then, Aramco has also taken on debt and started selling off some of its non-core assets in order to raise money to fund a $75 billion dividend, most of which goes to the state.

Shrink the deficit

Battered by the pandemic, the kingdom last year saw its economy shrink the most in more than three decades, according to estimates from the International Monetary Fund. But the outlook has since improved. The country's budget shortfall is projected to be 4 per cent of gross domestic product by the end of this year, narrower than last year's 12 per cent gap.

Speaking on the fifth anniversary of the launch of Vision 2030, Prince Mohammed said the nation's unemployment rate will fall below 11 per cent this year as the economy goes through a "V-shaped" recovery. "Unemployment will fall to less than 11 per cent this year, then it will reach around 10 per cent, then 7 per cent in 2030," he said in the interview on the Rotana Khalejia television station.

Unemployment among Saudi nationals fell to 12.6 per cent at the end of last year, after peaking at 14.9 per cent in the quarter ending in September.