Aramco doing due diligence for buying 20% stake in Reliance's O2C biz: CEO

Aramco CEO Nasser did not give timelines for completion of the deal saying discussions with Reliance were still on

Saudi Aramco, the world's largest oil exporter, is doing due diligence on buying a $15 billion stake in Reliance Industries Ltd's refining and petrochemical business, its CEO Amin Nasser said.

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani had in August last year announced plans to sell to Aramco a 20 per cent stake in RIL's oil-to-chemical (O2C) business, which he valued at $75 billion. The deal was to close by March 2020 but has been delayed.

"With regard to the Reliance deal, all I can say at this stage (is that) it's going through the due diligence," Nasser said in June quarter earnings call with investors.

"So, depending on the due diligence, we will make our decision after we complete the due diligence on that deal."

According to the transcript of the investor call, he went on to state that the deal to buy a stake in the world's largest single-location oil refining complex and India's biggest petrochemical assets "is a big deal. So, we need to take our time to review and then decide based on the outcome of the due diligence study".

Ambani had at RIL's annual general meeting last month stated that the Aramco deal had been delayed "due to unforeseen circumstances in the energy market and the Covid-19 situation".

He neither said if the deal was on track nor gave any fresh timelines for its completion.

Nasser too did not give timelines for completion of the deal saying discussions with Reliance were still on and shareholders will be updated "in due course".

RIL's O2C business comprises of the company's twin refineries at Jamnagar in Gujarat, petrochemical plants, and 51 per cent in fuel retailing venture.

The deal may have been delayed over valuations, sources said.

Last month after RIL's AGM, Bernstein had stated that: "The sell-down of a 20 per cent stake in the refinery and chemical business to Aramco for $15 billion has not progressed as planned, given changes in market conditions. We believe a deal is still possible although at a lower valuation, closer to our estimate of $57 billion gross".

To facilitate the deal, Reliance had earlier this year decided to spin off the O2C business into a separate subsidiary, and Ambani last month said that process is likely to be completed by early 2021.

But for him, the urgency of the Aramco deal has diminished after RIL amassed over Rs 2.12 trillion from sale of nearly 33 per cent stake in the conglomerate's digital arm Jio Platforms, rights issue and selling 49 per cent stake in fuel retail business to BP.

This money helped the oil-telecom-to-retail conglomerate to become a zero net debt company nine months ahead of the target.

"Our equity requirements have already been met," Ambani had said in the AGM.

With a stake, Aramco would not just have a share in one of the world's best refineries and the largest integrated petrochemical complex but also access to one of the fastest-growing markets -- a ready-made market for 500,000 barrels per day of its Arabian crude and a potentially bigger downstream role in future.

It will make the world's biggest crude exporter join the ranks of the top oil refiners and chemical makers, and help it reach its goal of more than doubling refining capacity to between 8 million and 10 million barrels a day.

Last week, BofA Securities in a report said with the Saudi Aramco deal, "RIL will be able to better utilise its refinery capabilities with availability of several grades of crude oil from super light to heavy being supplied by Aramco".

The partnership going ahead will leverage the O2C value chain to maximise margins and meet the evolving needs of consumers by supplying energy, base chemicals and new materials.

The strategic partnership with Aramco will help in increasing its crude oil to chemicals conversion ratio, which presently stands at 20 per cent. "With the deal, RIL will get technological expertise from SABIC (Saudi Basic Industries Corporation), in which Aramco recently bought a controlling stake," it had said.

For Aramco, it creates a long-term crude supply contract of 0.5 million barrels per day (about 5 per cent of current production) to RIL's Jamnagar refinery, with reduced demand risks.

Aramco currently covers only about 40 per cent of its crude output via refining and strives to increase it further.

"It would give Aramco the opportunity to participate in Indian market growth story where demand will likely be strong over the next two decades," it added.

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