Saudi Arabia just hired another oil minister, though it's only been three years since the former one took the role. Since 1960, the kingdom has had five oil ministers. None of them were members of the royal family, until now.
On Sunday, former energy minister Khalid Al-Falih was replaced by Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, a member of the kingdom's royal family. To be more specific, the newly appointed energy minister is King Salman's son and a veteran oil expert. According to Financial Times, members of the royal family are not usually appointed to that position, but it seems as though desperate times call for desperate measures.
The former energy minister was first appointed in May 2016 after the departure of the longstanding oil minister Ali Al-Naimi, who served as Saudi Arabia's oil minister for just over two decades. During his time in office, there were talks about a potential cut in oil production, which caused a spike in oil prices for an incredibly short time. In 2018, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) said it believes "demand was softening enough" to justify a potential production cut. At the time, Al-Falih announced that Saudi Aramco, the country's national petroleum and natural gas company, will cut production by 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) in December of that year. Oil prices rose by more than 1 percent after the announcement as the price of international benchmark Brent crude rose to $70.83 a barrel. But, the rise was short-lived as falling oil prices have been hitting the Saudi economy hard.
During his time as energy minister, Al-Falih did not manage to drive oil prices back up to $80 a barrel as Saudi Arabia hoped. The kingdom is more hopeful now as the newly appointed minister is known for cutting deals and negotiations with OPEC. In fact, he's been a member of the kingdom's delegation to OPEC for many years.
In statements made following his appointment, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said all OPEC producers must comply with oil output targets under a supply deal led by the producer group.
The appointment of the Saudi royal comes just a week after Al-Falih was also let go of his position as chairman of the giant state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco. The dramatic changes in leadership are a stepping stone for the kingdom before Aramco goes public. If it all goes as planned, it would be the world's biggest IPO (Initial Public Offering).
Saudi Arabia hopes to pull off a $2-trillion-valuation for Saudi Aramco, but that is not likely if oil prices don't go up.
It's been more than three years since Saudi Arabia announced its plans for a potential IPO of Aramco. Since then, the planned listing has been delayed multiple times, but it seems as though the plans may actually fall through very soon. According to sources who spoke to Bloomberg in August, the public offering is scheduled to take place as early as 2020.
Back in August, Saudi Aramco disclosed its financial data for the first half of the financial year, revealing that its profits have dropped 12 percent due to weaker global oil prices. Despite a drop in profits, Saudi Aramco still maintains its position as the world's most profitable company. The company admitted that its profits dropped down to $46.9 billion during the first six months of 2019.
Low oil prices have hit the Saudi economy hard, forcing the kingdom to cut subsidies and strive to diversify its oil-reliant economy. A 2016 report suggested the kingdom will fall into an economic recession in 2017 for the first time since 1999. Although 2017 turned out better than experts had expected, the kingdom still ran a deficit, forcing it to dig deep into its massive foreign reserves.
An IPO (Initial Public Offering), which is the first time the stock of a private company is offered to the public, is meant to be a step forward for the kingdom. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 has been pushing for major economic reforms in the kingdom, and the announcement of the partial sale of Aramco is just one part of that transformative plan.