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Saudi Aramco hits crown prince's $2 trillion goal as shares soar

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Riyadh (AFP)

Saudi Aramco soared on Thursday above the $2 trillion valuation target sought by the kingdom's de facto ruler as the energy giant's share price surged on its second day of trading.

The valuation milestone, which defies widespread scepticism from investors, was coveted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ever since he first floated the idea of listing the world's biggest oil firm four years ago.

Aramco shares jumped 9.7 percent to 38.60 riyals ($10.3) on Thursday morning -- following a 10-percent rise the previous day -- before paring some gains in the early afternoon.

That boosted the oil giant's market capitalisation to over $2 trillion, up from a $1.7 trillion valuation set during its initial public offering, the world's biggest.

Aramco shares on the kingdom's Tadawul stock exchange, which closes at 1200 GMT, are allowed to fluctuate by a maximum of 10 percent each day.

Tadawul witnessed one of its most hectic trading sessions on Thursday, with some 400 million Aramco shares -- worth more than $4 billion -- changing hands.

Thursday is the last weekly trading day in Muslim Saudi Arabia. Trading resumes on Sunday.

Aramco's stock sale is the cornerstone of Prince Mohammed's ambitious strategy to overhaul the oil-reliant economy by raising funds to pour into megaprojects and non-energy industries such as tourism and entertainment.

The $25.6 billion proceeds from the Aramco IPO are expected to be channelled into the coffers of the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, which will invest it in mega projects.

- 'Patriotic duty' -

Wealthy Saudi families are reportedly under pressure from the government to invest in the Aramco stock, with nationalists calling it a patriotic duty.

Aramco also dangled sweeteners for investors, including guarantees that it will distribute dividends of at least $75 billion a year until 2024 and the possibility of bonus shares if they hold on to the stock.

Once one of the most secretive companies in the world, Aramco opened its accounts this year and announced that it posted $111 billion in net profit in 2018, making it the most profitable company in the world.

The energy giant's valuation was declared to be $1.7 trillion during the IPO process, putting it far ahead of other firms in the trillion-dollar club, including Apple and Microsoft.

And the listing of Aramco, with its huge capital value, boosts the Saudi bourse to the ranks of the world's top 10.

But the scaled-down offering is still a far cry from the blockbuster originally planned by Prince Mohammed.

The much-delayed stock sale, first announced in 2016, was initially expected to raise as much as $100 billion from the listing of up to five percent of the company.

The government's plans to raise additional funds by listing on a major international market are also on hold.

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