Aramco deal more to secure crude supply than deleveraging: RIL officials

Reliance industries

The 20-per cent stake sale in Reliance Industries' oil-to-chemicals business to Saudi Aramco is a strategic deal driven partly to secure long-term crude supply, senior company officials explained Monday.

The deal, which is expected to be completed during this financial year, is not driven by the company's move to deleverage debt of over Rs 1.54 trillion, they clarified even as chairman Mukesh Ambani told the shareholders that RIL will be debt-free over the next 18 months.

Earlier in the day, Ambani told the AGM that the Saudi oil giant Aramco will pick up 20 per cent in the oil-to-chemicals (O2C) business for over $15 billion, valuing RIL at $75 billion, making this one of the largest foreign investments into the country to date.

However, the final payout to RIL may not be $15 billion but will be determined by the quantum of debt it chooses to transfer to the O2C division, executive director PMS Prasad said adding Aramco will take a fifth of the debt in the business as well.

The O2C business has been the cash churner for RIL, which has been using the proceeds from this business for expanding into other businesses like telecom and retail, Prasad said, but declined o give an exact debt level of the O2C business.

At present, the two parties have signed a letter of intent for the deal, which is non-binding, Prasad said and explained that RIL is carving out the O2C business as a separate division which will have to be changed into a subsidiary in up to five years.

Aramco will get a seat on the board of the new division and both the partners will jointly decide whether to list the subsidiary or not, he said, adding the companies expect to close the deal by March 2020.

Explaining the mechanics of the deal, he said while RIL has already shared some documents to Aramco, there will be a detailed due diligence which the state-owned Saudi company will be carrying through over the next four months.

Prasad said this is not a financial deal but a strategic deal which will "last a lifetime" adding the world's largest oil company has been trying to enter the country for over three decades now.

It will also involve technology transfer between the two partners, he said, adding RIL also has a lot of technologies of its own.

The assurance of getting up to 5 lakh barrels of crude daily is one of the motives for the deal, but not the only one, Prasad said.

He said in the last two decades that it has been having a relationship, Aramco has supplied RIL 2 billion barrels for processing, and the same has been averaging at over 2.20 lakh barrels a day in recent times.

Prasad drew attention to the present geopolitical tension, hinting that crude supply to RIL, which operates the world's largest single location refining complex at Jamnagar, has been hit because of the same.

While Iran and Venezuela undergo troubles due to the global pressure, green concerns in Canada have led to a reduction of crude throughput, while Brazil has invested in refineries, he said.

The company used to receive 5-6 very large crude carriers from Brazil alone a month earlier, he said, adding RIL has been looking to diversify its crude sources which has taken it to markets like Ecuador too.

Saudi Arabia has created a new port capacity to export over 6 million barrels a day at a new facility which can move to India within three and half days without passing through the troubled Strait of Hormuz, he said.

if the deal was driven by the high debt at RIL, as flagged out a foreign brokerage Credit Suisse last week, Prasad replied in the negative and questioned the quality of analysis at the brokerage as it included working capital with long-term debt while calculating the debt at $65 billion.

A senior company official said even without sales, at the current operating profit levels, RIL is in a comfortable position to clear off its debt in the next 18-24 months.

Prasad said the money flowing in from Aramco and the Rs 7,000-crore that BP will be paying for a 49 per cent stake in RIL's fuel retailing business, will flow to the corporate treasury, the gains from which has on average been contributing around 30 per cent of RIL's earnings for years.

Prasad said building transformative partnerships through such deals is the "new mantra" for RIL.

Alignment on values and impact of the deal on the broader society and the community are the primary drivers for such deals, the official said, adding that every deal need not be as big as the one with Aramco and can also be something as small as a partnership with the neighbourhood "kirana" or grocery shop.

In the telecom business, having hived-off the tower business to a separate infrastructure investment trust, he said RIL is at an advanced stage of a similar deal for the fibre business as well with the final terms being negotiated at present.

Prasad chose not to comment on the fate of the mega refinery complex in Maharashtra, in which Aramco is the single largest equity partner along with the three state-run oil giants.

Dear Reader,

Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.

We, however, have a request.

As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.

Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.

Digital Editor

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel