OP-ED:  Aramco Losers: Sue Western Media!

OP-ED: Aramco Losers: Sue Western Media!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

It seems like the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal are not ready to admit that they were dead-wrong about Aramco. The Big Name papers are not brave enough to explain how and why they took their sharpest shots against the Saudi giant and missed.

Just before the sale of 1.5 percent of the company in its Initial Public Offering, the FT and WSJ led a coordinated negative campaign with some US and European investment firms. They claimed that the company at 1.7 – 1.8 trillion dollars was overpriced. The right value, they argued, was 1.2-1.3 trillion. They also warned that the Saudi stock market, Tadawul, was too small and vulnerable to accommodate the IPO.

Even though Aramco was, by far, the most profitable company in the world, much higher than Shell or British Petroleum, had the largest reserves, and its profit of at least 5 percent a share was guaranteed by the state for five years, they still cried about risks. Iran’s attack on Aramco’s facilities last June was their evidence of regional instability and future security threats.

They did acknowledge that the company managed to control the damage in a matter of weeks, during which supplies were provided from its floating reserves. Still, the Western media and bankers used such a lame excuse to downgrade the share estimate by around 25 percent.

The decision to fire international advisers, ignore doomsayers and go ahead with the sale must have been tough on FT and company. That might explain the ugly charge against the country, the Crown Prince and the company in the weeks leading to the IPO.

They may have managed to scare off many potential Western investors, but that was not enough. To guarantee failure, they kept the high pressure on during the weeks of the sale. Negative coverage and advisory notes were abundant and intensive in the hope of frightening off interested local and regional, as well as, Russian and Asian investors.

To their ultimate shock and dismay, they failed -miserably. Making it a vote on the future and credibility of the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia and oil resulted in a positive verdict on all of the above. Not just Saudis and residents, but citizens of Gulf states and international investors made bids on more than 4.5 times the shares on sale.

In the first two days of trade, the price went up 20 percent (limited by a 10 percent a day change) with much more demand than supply. Those who listened to FT and company now blame them for missing a great opportunity.

The big shot financial advisers who sought to cheat us are looking now at an over 2 trillion evaluation (almost double their estimation) with regret and disappointment. They now must wait at least a year for the next sale, and expect to pay more than double the sweet price they missed.

A professional, unbiased media with less colonial arrogance and White Supremacy complex would have apologized to their audience and tried to explain their miscalculations. Fake News, however, chose to blame it on Saudis who bought their own stock, and Gulf states who backed their ally, and authoritarian regimes like Russia and China who probably bought to prove the West wrong! They even dared to claim that the project had failed because the goal was to get international investments not local or regional ones.

That is funny because no one ever said that that was the intended goal. In fact, the choice of Tadawul was meant to encourage Saudis to be the first to buy into their national treasure. Second, who said non-Saudis did not buy in? Investors from all around the region and the world bought, including Russian, Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, British, European and American! Those who believed the likes of the FT, WSJ and Western investment advisers, should sue them – one and all. I would!

*Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi

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