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Saudi prince vows an IPO for Aramco by 2021

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Saudi Arabia's crown prince insisted the stalled plan to sell shares in oil giant Aramco will go ahead, promising an initial public offering by 2021 and sticking to his ambitious view the state-run company is worth $2 trillion or more.

The comments show 33-year-old Mohammed bin Salman's determination to press ahead with the IPO even after Riyadh's original timetable was undone by skepticism over the company's valuation and a plan for Aramco to buy a controlling stake in the country's biggest chemical producer.

"I believe late 2020, early 2021," he said, discussing the timing of the IPO in an interview at the royal palace in Riyadh. "The investor will decide the price on the day. I believe it will be above $2 trillion. Because it will be huge."

The IPO project was first announced in 2016 as the cornerstone of the prince's Vision 2030 plan to modernize the Saudi economy. Officials repeatedly said the deal was "on track, on time" for the second half of 2018, but earlier this year they said it would be delayed until 2019. Soon after, Aramco put the IPO on hold and instead started talks to buy a majority stake in local petrochemical giant Sabic, a deal potentially worth $70 billion.

Speaking late on Wednesday, surrounded by a handful of advisers, the prince said the IPO was "100%" in the nation's interest.

"Everyone heard about the rumors of Saudi Arabia canceling the IPO of Aramco, delaying that, and that this is delaying Vision 2030," he said. "This is not right."

The prince said the IPO's delay had its origin in mid-2017, when it became clear that Aramco needed a push into petrochemicals. He said it would had been unfair to go ahead with the listing only to surprise investors soon after with a big deal in chemicals.

The Aramco IPO would be a seismic event for financial markets. The prince said he hoped to raise a record $100 billion by selling a 5% stake, dwarfing the previous record set in 2014 when Chinese retailer Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. raised $25 billion.