In its first six months as a public company the world’s biggest oil firm shows unrivalled strength—and unusual weakness
在上市后的头六个月,这家全球最大的石油公司展现了无与伦比的实力——以及非同寻常的脆弱

火的考验 Trial by fire-书迷号 shumihao.com

Aramco’s 262bn barrels of crude reserves and low production costs also allow it to limit spending without threatening future output, unlike America’s frackers, forced to pare back activity as investors sour on shale. Big international companies are slashing capital spending, too. BP and Eni, an Italian major, plan to reduce crude production over the next decade, amid investor disenchantment with oil’s returns and rising concern over climate change. If that continues, Aramco may gain market share with no need for another price war.

沙特阿美2620亿桶的原油储量和低生产成本也使得它能限制支出却不危及未来产量,而不像美国的页岩油开采商那样,在投资者对页岩油兴趣减退后只能减少开采。大型国际公司也在削减资本支出。随着投资者对石油回报不再抱持幻想以及对气候变化的担忧日益加剧,BP和意大利公司巨头埃尼(Eni)计划在未来十年减少原油产量。如果这种情况持续下去,沙特阿美可能无需再打一场价格战就能赢得市场份额。

To the sceptics, saying Aramco is more resilient than rivals is like boasting that milk is sour but not curdled—neither prospect is appetising. The outlook for oil remains uncertain as consumer habits change, electric cars get cheaper and governments mull new climate regulations.

而在怀疑者看来,说沙特阿美比竞争对手更具韧性,就好像在夸牛奶馊了但还没结块——两种情形一样都叫人没有胃口。随着消费者习惯改变、电动汽车降价以及各国政府考虑出台新的气候法规,石油的前景仍不明朗。

A bigger short-term worry is Saudi Arabia’s sway over Aramco. The firm now has minority shareholders but they remain powerless. And recent months have shown how complicated royal control can be.

短期内一个更大的担忧是沙特对沙特阿美的控制。这家公司现在有一些小股东,但他们仍然没有影响力。而最近几个月发生的事已经向世人展现了王室控股能复杂到何种地步。

Aramco’s production depends not on market forces, but on Saudi priorities. At the height of the price war in April Aramco pumped 12.1m barrels a day—an impressive feat that helped drive down global prices and lower Aramco’s profits. For every dollar the oil price falls, Aramco’s cashflow generally declines by $1.5bn, reckons Neil Beveridge of Bernstein, a research firm.

沙特阿美的产量并不取决于市场力量,而是取决于沙特政府对轻重缓急的选择。4月价格战最激烈的时候,沙特阿美每天的石油产量达到1210万桶,这一惊人壮举帮助拉低了全球油价,同时也压低了沙特阿美的利润。研究公司盛博的尼尔·贝弗里奇(Neil Beveridge)表示,油价每下跌一美元,沙特阿美的现金流通常就会减少15亿美元。

As Saudi Arabia made peace with Russia and others in an attempt to balance crude markets in May and June, Aramco has returned to its role as oil’s central banker. That is better than waging a price war in a pandemic, but still awkward for Aramco. The kingdom calibrates its output not just to support oil prices but to encourage other petrostates to do the same.

随着沙特在5、6月间与俄罗斯等国为平衡原油市场而达成和解,沙特阿美又重新扮演起了“石油央行”行长的角色。这比在疫情期间发动价格战要好,但对沙特阿美来说,状况仍然棘手。沙特调整产量不仅是为支撑油价,也是要鼓励其他产油国跟进。

Aramco’s interests and the kingdom’s can diverge in other ways. For example, even as the market value of SABIC, which is also listed in Riyadh, has fallen over the past year Aramco did not renegotiate the $69bn purchase price agreed in 2019. Aramco’s chairman, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, also leads Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which sold Aramco its 70% stake in SABIC and which is also tasked with investing to diversify the Saudi economy.

沙特阿美与沙特王国的利益也可能在其他方面产生分歧。例如,同样在利雅得上市的SABIC去年市值下滑,而沙特阿美并没有重新谈判在2019年达成的690亿美元的收购价格。沙特阿美的董事长亚西尔·鲁迈扬(Yasir Al-Rumayyan)同时也是沙特公共投资基金(Public Investment Fund)的负责人。该基金将自己持有的70%的SABIC股份出售给了沙特阿美,它肩负着投资推动沙特经济多元化的任务。

That economy is strained. Last year Saudi Arabia needed an oil price of more than $80 a barrel to balance its budget. Brent crude, the international benchmark, has not fetched more than $50 since February. Despite spending cuts Saudi Arabia still faces a yawning deficit.

沙特经济正承受巨大压力。去年,它需要油价超过每桶80美元才能平衡预算。自今年2月以来,国际基准油价布伦特原油价格一直没有超过每桶50美元。尽管削减了开支,沙特仍然面临巨大的赤字。

All of Aramco’s shareholders covet the same thing: payouts. To lure investors before listing, Aramco said it would give priority to non-state shareholders’ dividends for five years, come hell, high water or cheap oil. No one really thought it would have to make that choice. Now it has borrowed to meet its $75bn dividend pledge. As Mr Beveridge notes, that stategy is unsustainable at current oil prices. Those prioritised payments remain subject to approval by the board. Sooner or later Aramco will have to decide: keep the promise to minority owners or renege? That will be a real test of its bona fides as a public company. ■

沙特阿美的所有股东全都觊觎同一样东西:股息。为了在上市前吸引投资者,沙特阿美曾表示,无论遭遇低油价还是什么天大的困难,五年内它都会优先给非国有股东分红。当时没有人真的认为它还真有要硬着头皮这么干的一天。如今它已经在举债来兑现自己750亿美元的派息承诺。正如贝弗里奇指出的,在当前的油价水平下,这种策略难以为继。那些优先派发的股息仍然需要经过董事会批准。沙特阿美迟早必须做出决定:是信守对小股东的承诺还是背信弃义?对一家上市公司来说,这将是一次不折不扣的诚信考验。