By Arab News
By Frank Kane
Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, announced net profits of $16.7 billion for the first quarter of 2020, a period that saw the beginning of the collapse in demand in global oil markets because of the lockdowns in all major economies.
In accordance with the levels indicated at the time of the initial public offering last December, Aramco paid a dividend of $13.4 billion in the quarter, and declared it would pay $18.75 billion to shareholders in the next quarter — the biggest dividend of any listed company in the world.
That result — the first time Aramco has reported financials as a publicly listed company — was down nearly 25 percent compared to the same period last year, but was significantly less than the fall in oil prices, which roughly halved over the three-month period. Revenues were down by some 16 percent at $60.2 billion.
On the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul), the shares rose 1.29 percent to SR31.3 ($8.33) on the results announcement.
“The COVID-19 crisis is unlike anything the world has experienced in recent history, and we are adapting to a highly complex and rapidly changing business environment,” said Aramco President and CEO Amin Nasser.
“Aramco has demonstrated resilience during economic cycles, and has an unparalleled position due to a strong balance sheet and low-cost structure,” he added.
“We have delivered solid earnings with robust free cash flow, despite weak energy demand and low oil prices. We remain committed to the safety of our people while delivering on our long-term value-creation strategy for all of our shareholders.”
Cash flow from operating activities came to $22.4 billion, around $7 billion more than Shell, its closest rival in terms of cash flow.
Shell recently dropped its dividend for the first time in 75 years. Aramco’s profits were more than double those of the five big oil companies combined.
Analysts said the results show that Aramco is more resilient to volatile global energy markets than other big oil companies.
It 25 percent profit decline compared with an average of 35 percent down by the five big oil companies over the past fortnight.
Nasser said he expects further challenging conditions in oil markets. “Looking ahead to the remainder of 2020, we expect the impact of the pandemic on global energy demand and oil prices to weigh on our earnings,” he added.
“We continue to reinforce the business during this period by reducing our capital expenditure and driving operational excellence. Longer term, we remain confident that demand for energy will rebound as global economies recover.”
Capital expenditure will be held between $25 billion and $30 billion for the rest of the year, but is under review for next year and beyond, Aramco said.
“We retain significant flexibility to adjust expenditures, and have considerable experience in managing the business through times of adversity,” Nasser said. “This resilience will enable us to continue delivering on our commitments to our shareholders.”
Analysts said the first-quarter performance was creditable given the background of turmoil in global oil markets.
Majed Kabbara, managing director of Dubai-based Quencia Capital, said: “Given the pressure on oil prices, Aramco came in slightly lower than expectations. The pressure will continue, but Aramco has a strong balance sheet and a low-cost structure that will allow it to weather the storm.”
He added that Brent crude averaged $51 per barrel in the quarter, while so far in the second quarter it has been trading at around $27.5 per barrel.
Aramco told Reuters that its planned acquisition of a 70 percent equity stake in Saudi petrochemical maker SABIC is on track to close in the second quarter.
“Despite a challenging market environment, the downstream business is keeping pace with its long-term strategy to capture value across the hydrocarbon value chain through further strategic integration and diversification of its operations,” Aramco said.