DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company, on Thursday set a share price for its initial public stock offering — expected to be the biggest ever — that puts the value of the company at $1.7 trillion, more than Apple or Microsoft.
The company said it would sell its shares at 32 riyals ($8.53) each, putting the overall value of the stake being sold at $25.6 billion.
Aramco is floating a 1.5% stake in the company, or 3 billion shares. Trading is expected to happen on the Saudi Tadawul stock exchange as early as December 11.
The company is selling 0.5% to individuals who are Saudi citizens and residents and 1% to institutional investors, which can be sovereign wealth funds, asset managers or government-run pension programs.
The pricing of the shares was at the top of the range Aramco had sought. The company had priced its shares ranging from 30 to 32 riyals each, or $8 to $8.53 a share.
In the announcement Thursday, Aramco said the offering drew heavy demand.
Most orders from Saudis
The company's financial advisers had said earlier that most orders came from Saudi funds or companies, with foreign investors, including from neighboring Persian Gulf Arab states, accounting for 10.5% of the bids. It was not immediately known what the final figures released Thursday represented and how much of that was generated by foreign investment.
The highly anticipated sale of a sliver of the company had generated global buzz since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans for it more than two years ago. That's in part because it would clock in as the world's biggest IPO, surpassing record holder Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., the Chinese conglomerate and e-commerce company, which raised about $25 billion in 2014.
The kingdom's plan to sell part of the company is part of a wider economic overhaul aimed at raising new streams of revenue for the oil-dependent country. It came as oil prices have struggled to reach the $75-$80-per-barrel range that analysts say is needed to balance Saudi Arabia's budget. Brent crude is trading at just over $63 a barrel.
Prince Mohammed has said listing Aramco is one way for the kingdom to raise capital for the country's sovereign wealth fund, which would then use that money to develop new cities and lucrative projects across Saudi Arabia.
Despite the mammoth figures involved in the IPO, they are not quite what the prince had envisioned based on his remarks over the past two years. He'd previously talked about a valuation for Aramco of $2 trillion and a flotation of 5% of the company involving a listing on a foreign stock exchange. There are no immediate plans for an international listing.
Aramco said Thursday that it would retain the option of an even bigger offering of a 3.45 billion-share sale, representing $29.4 billion.
Despite Aramco's profitability, the state's control of the company carries risks for investors. Two key Aramco processing sites were targeted by drones and missiles in September, an attack that was claimed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen but that the U.S. blamed on Iran. Iran denies the allegation.
The Saudi government also stipulates oil production levels, which directly affects Aramco's output.
On Thursday, the countries that make up the OPEC oil-producing cartel, led by Saudi Arabia, were meeting in Vienna to decide whether to cut production and push up prices of fuel and energy around the world.