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Fitch downgrades Saudi Aramco amid rising Gulf tensions after attacks on oil facilities

Fitch downgrades Saudi Aramco amid rising Gulf tensions after attacks on oil facilities
Fitch has cut its rating for Saudi Arabia’s oil giant Aramco after the September attacks on two of its key refineries. The downgrade comes a week after the firm slashed Saudi Arabia’s overall credit rating.

Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, had its A+ rating, which it received in April after announcing its inaugural public bond issue, slashed to A. The rating agency said the downgrade “took into account rising geopolitical tensions in the region, but also the country’s continued fiscal deficit, among other factors.” Fitch put the outlook for state-owned Aramco at “stable.”

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Despite the brief pause in oil production that followed the September drone strikes, Aramco’s “standalone credit profile” has been left at a high AA+, with Fitch forecasting that the attacks “will not have a material impact on Saudi Aramco’s full-year operational and financial performance.” The company recently promised to increase its dividend payments to at least $75 billion per year in 2020 and later.

Our financial modelling shows that the company should have capacity to maintain this level of dividends while being in line with our guidance for the AA+ SCP under our current price deck assumptions,” Fitch said.

Meanwhile, Riyadh is planning to launch Aramco’s initial public offering (IPO) later this year in a move to draw in foreign capital and shift the Saudi economy away from oil. The  government wants Aramco’s IPO to achieve a $2 trillion valuation, however, the downgrade of its credit rating could put a shadow on these plans. Credit ratings are generally used to derive the risk profile of a company or state, and any downgrade is seen as a warning, particularly since Fitch downgraded Saudi Arabia’s overall credit rating on September 30.

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Although oil production was restored fully by end-September, we believe that there is a risk of further attacks on Saudi Arabia, which could result in economic damage,” Fitch said, explaining that move at the time. Now, according to Fitch, “the IPO itself is unlikely to have any major effect on Saudi Aramco’s financial position.”

Aramco temporarily lost production capacity of 5.7 million barrels per day of crude after an attack on the Abqaiq oil processing facility and the Khurais oilfield on September 14, but claimed it had since managed to restore full production to both facilities. Yemen-based Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for blowing up the oil installations. However, both the Saudis and the US have blamed Iran. Tehran has repeatedly denied the allegations.

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