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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Saudi’s Tadawul is raising the stakes as it prepares for Aramco IPO

No word more accurately describes the Tadawul stock exchange right now than “bullish”.

Saudi Arabia is already making changes in leaps and bounds to bring its capital markets in line with international listing requirements and increase foreign investor participation. Tadawul chief executive Khalid Al Hussan has emphasised the work that is needed for the biggest initial public offering (IPO) in the region – and the world .

Al Hussan told The National in Riyadh yesterday : “We [have] worked hard and continue to work hard to ensure we have both regulatory and operational infrastructures to make this possible.”

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Aramco would help double the Tadawul’s market capitalisation to more than US$1 trillion by 2022, he estimated, while adding that such a listing would not be “taken for granted”. Still, to make such a proclamation when the kingdom is still in the implementation stages of capital market reform is significant.

Judging by the speed at which recent changes have been made or announced, Mr Al Hussan’s comments suggest Saudi decision makers, including regulator the Capital Markets Authority, could introduce further measures extremely rapidly.

Following reports last month that the Aramco listing would be delayed, the state oil major's chief executive Amin Nasser came outand stated the IPO was “still on track” for 2018 as planned. The kingdom is accelerating efforts to be prepared for the listing which will require some changes.

Changes already introduced or about to be introduced include new corporate governance rules; adoption of the industry standards used to group companies by industry; amending the settlement cycle for listed securities to bring it in line with international exchanges; and enabling foreign investors to participate in IPOs.

Saudi Arabia has announced plans this year for new regulations to encourage mergers and acquisitions among publicly traded companies, among other reforms.

However, there are other preparations to make. A potential 5 per cent stake float of Aramco could potentially raise as much as $100bn, causing shockwaves across regional capital markets.

Mr Al Hussan’s comments also suggest the kingdom has a twin-strategy to develop a powerful domestic capital market and open it up to foreign investors in line with its broader Vision 2030 diversification plans. And Saudi Arabia is certainly doing everything in its power to realise this.