Saudi Aramco 2020 profits slump on lower crude prices
Aramco, Saudi Arabia's cash cow, has revealed consecutive falls in profits since it began disclosing earnings in 2019, piling pressure on government finances as Riyadh pursues multi-billion dollar projects to diversify the oil-reliant economy.
"Aramco achieved a net income of $49 billion in 2020," the company said in a statement - down from $88.2 billion in 2019.
Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest crude exporter, was hammered last year by the double whammy of low prices and sharp cuts in production.
"The company displayed strong financial resilience in one of the most challenging periods for the industry," the Aramco statement said.
"Revenues were impacted by lower crude oil prices and volumes sold, and weakened refining and chemicals margins."
Crude prices have risen in recent weeks to over $60 per barrel.
But analysts say the Saudi giant is bracing for a possible further waves of coronavirus infections that could undermine a tentative global economic recovery.
A brake on reforms
Even as its earnings plunged, Aramco said it stuck to its commitment of paying shareholders a $75 billion dividend last year - an amount that exceeds the declared profit.
Dividend payments from Aramco help the Saudi government, the company's biggest shareholder, manage its ballooning budget deficit.
Aramco chief executive Amin Nasser said belt-tightening had kept the firm's financial position "robust", enabling it to pay out dividends of $75 billion for 2020.
"As the enormous impact of Covid-19 was felt throughout the global economy, we intensified our strong emphasis on capital and operational efficiencies," Nasser said.
The statement said Aramco "expects capital expenditure for 2021 to be around $35 billion, significantly lower than the previous guidance of $40-$45 billion".
Aramco has also slashed hundreds of jobs as it seeks to reduce costs, Bloomberg News reported last June.
A drop in oil income is expected to hinder Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's ambitious "Vision 2030" reform programme to overhaul the kingdom's energy-reliant economy.
Aramco was listed on the Saudi bourse in December 2019 following the world's biggest initial public offering, generating $29.4 billion for 1.7% of its shares.
In January, Prince Mohammed said the kingdom would sell more Aramco shares in the coming years.
The kingdom's de facto ruler said future share offerings would be a key way to boost the Public Investment Fund, the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund which is the main engine of its diversification efforts.
But analysts say further share offerings could struggle to generate investor interest amid a downbeat energy market, as the coronavirus pandemic saps global demand.
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