saudi aramco
Source: cnbc

Last week, online reports suggested that Saudi Arabia may delay its public offering of Aramco, the country's national petroleum and natural gas company, until 2019. 

However, the company has since denied the speculations in a tweet, confirming that the $2 trillion dual listing on both the local and international stock market was still scheduled for 2018.

"Financial Times report on Saudi Aramco IPO is entirely speculative. All listing venues under review for optimal decision, IPO process is on track for 2018," Aramco writes

Over the weekend, the Financial Times and Bloomberg reported that the oil giant is postponing its plans due to an attractive private share sale. 

"Saudi Aramco is considering shelving plans for an international listing in favor of a private share sale to the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds and institutional investors," FT writes. 

The reports also suggested that the company is considering a domestic IPO and the private sale of a share of the company to one of several "cornerstone investors" - including China, according to Gulf Business

Aramco responds

Aramco confirms that it still plans to pursue its IPO listing in 2018

If it chooses to pursue a private sale, it would not cause a delay in its public offering.

In a report published by Reuters, it was revealed that China is offering to buy up to 5 percent of Saudi Aramco directly. 

Reuters suggests that the move will give "Saudi Arabia the flexibility to consider various options for its plan to float the world’s biggest oil producer on the stock market".

However, it hasn't yet been confirmed whether Saudi Arabia will accept China’s offer. 

"The Chinese want to secure oil supplies," a source from the industry told Reuters. 

"They are willing to take the whole 5 percent, or even more, alone."

Sources told Reuters that senior government officials have different views on the next steps, with some encouraging only a local listing or delaying the IPO until oil prices stabilize. 

However, no official decision has been made yet. 

"A range of options, for the public listing of Saudi Aramco, continue to be held under active review. No decision has been made and the IPO process remains on track," said a Saudi Aramco spokesman, according to Reuters.

Why is Saudi Aramco going public?

Low oil prices have hit the Saudi economy hard, forcing the kingdom to cut subsidies and strive to diversify its oil-reliant economy. 

An IPO, which is the first time that the stock of a private company is offered to the public, is the first step in doing so. 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious Vision 2030 aims to make major economic reforms in the kingdom.

Last year, the kingdom announced 20 percent pay cuts for all ministers and 15 percent pay cuts for Shura Council members. Bonuses and other perks were also targeted by the reforms and sales taxes have been introduced.

The partial sale Aramco was also announced with the economic reform plan.

More than two-thirds of Saudis work in the public sector, with the kingdom spending roughly 45 percent of its budget, or $128 billion, to pay their salaries in 2015.

The kingdom also sold $17.5 billion in debt in 2016. 

This was the largest-ever bond sale from an emerging market. The sale was hailed as a major success for the world’s top oil exporter, as it attracted investor interest totaling $67 billion, nearly four times the amount of the sale.

Saudi Arabia's deputy economy minister said that if these economic reforms are not followed, the kingdom faces bankruptcy in three to four years.