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Saudi Arabia aims to sell about 5 percent of Saudi Aramco in an initial public offering next year, and stock exchanges from the U.K. to Japan are vying for what may be the world's richest IPO.

The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, will soon decide where to sell the company's shares after government officials heard a presentation on the listing process last week, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The kingdom plans to list on the Saudi stock exchange in Riyadh and sell shares on at least one stock exchange outside the country. That choice pits the top global financial centers, London and New York, against each other for a sale that could value the largest oil exporter at as much as $2 trillion.

The Saudis and their advisers want to pick a foreign exchange or exchanges with similar listing and regulatory requirements to the Riyadh exchange, to avoid large deviations in pricing between the markets, according to other people familiar with the situation.

Saudi Arabian Oil Co., as the company is formally known is looking at six main contenders for the prize: London, New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore or Toronto.

London improved its chances when regulators overseeing the London Stock Exchange proposed rule changes last month that would make it easier for governments to list their state-backed entities, according to the people with knowledge of the plans to decide soon on Aramco's listing. The changes would allow Aramco's shares to trade on the London Stock Exchange's premium segment, with access to a wider pool of investors than a standard listing.

The proposals would also eliminate a requirement that sovereign-controlled companies list at least 25 percent of their shares to be eligible for the premium segment. That's a big concession to the Saudis, who have said they plan to sell about 5 percent of the company.

However, the Institute of Directors, a leading U.K. business group, opposes the changes as unjustified, saying the proposals mustn't diminish London's reputation for corporate governance. The institute urged the Financial Conduct Authority to reconsider the proposals, its director general said in an emailed statement.

The IPO would burnish London's reputation as a financial center, given the U.K.'s plans to leave the European Union. But for Aramco, the exit could tarnish London's appeal by reducing the number of potential buyers of the company's shares.

New York's appeal to the Saudis as the financial hub of the world's largest economy is enhanced by the relationship Prince Mohammed has cultivated with U.S. President Donald Trump. Aramco has been one of three biggest crude suppliers to the U.S. over the past four decades. The company also owns the largest U.S. refinery, a plant in Port Arthur, Texas, through its wholly owned subsidiary Motiva Enterprises LLC.

One risk to an Aramco listing in New York is a U.S. law allowing victims of terrorism to sue foreign governments linked to attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S. were Saudi citizens, and advisers to the company say that American officials have provided little assurance that Aramco wouldn't be a target of litigation, according to the people with knowledge of the situation.

Aramco is also evaluating a risk of broader litigation in the U.S. that could emerge, for example, with shareholders lawsuits targeting the company over environmental concerns, according to the people familiar with how the Saudis and their advisers are assessing the listing options.

Business on 08/03/2017

Print Headline: Saudis look to sell 5% of oil firm

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