The logo of Saudi Aramco. File photo: REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
The logo of Saudi Aramco. File photo: REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

London — The initial public offering (IPO) of Saudi Aramco will "most likely" happen in 2019, the kingdom’s oil minister said on Friday, confirming a delay for what’s likely to be the world’s largest ever share sale.

"The timing, I think, will depend on the readiness of the market, rather than the readiness of the company or the readiness of Saudi Arabia," Khalid Al-Falih, who’s also the company’s chairman, said at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia on Friday.

"We are ready, the company, essentially, has ticked all the boxes," he said. "We’re simply waiting for a market readiness for the IPO."

For almost two years, Saudi officials said repeatedly the IPO was "on track, on time" for the second half of 2018. But for the first time in March they suggested it could be delayed until 2019, pushing back a central plank of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to modernise the economy.

"Most likely it will be in 2019 but we will not know until the announcement has been made," Al-Falih said. "All I can say is stay tuned."

The Aramco IPO would be a once-in-a-generation event for financial markets. Saudi officials said they hope to raise a record $100bn by selling a 5% stake, valuing the company at more than $2-trillion and dwarfing the $25bn raised by Chinese retailer Alibaba Group in 2014.

Others have poured cold water on the valuation, suggesting a figure much closer to $1-trillion, basing their calculations in part on the first set of company accounts revealed earlier this year by Bloomberg News.