LONDON/DUBAI: Saudi Aramco has invited banks pitching for roles in its stock market listing, including Citi and Goldman Sachs, for meetings in the kingdom in the coming weeks to make their case, according to three banking sources familiar with the matter.
The meetings are an indication that preparations for a 2018 initial public offering, which could be the biggest IPO in history, are progressing despite market speculation it could be delayed or even shelved.
Executives from Citi , Goldman and Deutsche Bank , which are all bidding to be global coordinators for the share sale, are among the teams invited to present their pitches in person, said the three sources, including two bankers who expect to attend the meetings.
The talks will be held at the end of January or beginning of February in the Eastern Province city of Dhahran, where the state oil company is headquartered, they added.
Two of the sources said the talks would involve members of the banks' equity capital markets teams, executives who would be directly involved in an IPO, rather than top management.
Saudi Aramco, Deutsche Bank, Citi and Goldman Sachs all declined to comment.
The stock market listing of the national champion is a central part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's reform drive aimed at restructuring the kingdom's economy and reducing its dependence on oil revenue.
The government, which aims to float up to 5 percent of the company this year, says Aramco is worth US$2 trillion - but several industry experts have questioned whether a valuation that high is realistic.
Aramco had asked the banks to present written pitches last month, according to the sources. The oil giant told bankers not to come up with a valuation, saying it had not provided enough financial information to do so, two of the sources said.
Preparations for the IPO might be gathering speed just as the price of oil has approached US$70 per barrel, the highest since mid-2015, giving Aramco a better chance to achieve its desired valuation and become the world's most expensive company.
The listing is a mammoth undertaking, and any banks chosen to be global coordinators will join JPMorgan , Morgan Stanley and HSBC , who were appointed last year.
With so many banks expected to share the fee pool, the advisory mandates are not viewed in the industry as particularly lucrative. But bankers see such roles as a gateway to a host of other deals they expect to flow from the kingdom's plan to revamp its economy.
In another sign that plans for the IPO are moving ahead, Saudi Arabia has changed the status of Aramco to a joint-stock company as of Jan. 1, according to a cabinet decree published in the kingdom's official bulletin last week. The change of status is a requirement for Saudi companies before they can list, a senior Aramco source told Reuters.
However the final decision about if and when the listing takes place rests with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to several banking sources.
The prince led an anti-corruption purge which saw several Saudi royals, ministers and businessmen detained late last year. It was the latest in a series of steps he had taken to assert Saudi influence internationally and amass more power for himself at home.
As well as the economic reforms, the daunting list of challenges undertaken by the 32-year-old since his father, King Salman, ascended the throne in 2015 include going to war in Yemen and cranking up Riyadh's confrontation with arch-foe Iran.
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Pravin Char)