India Markets closed

Reliance Industry: Saudi Aramco deal more to secure crude supply than deleveraging

Mumbai: The 20-percent stake sale in Reliance Industry's oil-to-chemicals business to Saudi Aramco is a strategic deal driven partly to secure long-term crude supply, senior company officials explained Monday. The deal, which is expected to be completed during this fiscal, is not driven by the company's move to deleverage debt of over Rs 1.54 trillion, they clarified even as chairman Mukesh Ambani told the shareholders that RIL will be debt-free over the next 18 months.

Earlier in the day, Ambani told the AGM that the Saudi oil giant Aramco will pick up 20 percent in the oil-to-chemicals (O2C) business for over USD 15 billion, valuing RIL at USD 75 billion, making this one of the largest foreign investments into the country to date. However, the final payout to RIL may not be USD 15 billion but will be determined by the quantum of debt it chooses to transfer to the O2C division, executive director PMS Prasad said adding Aramco will take a fifth of the debt in the business as well.

The O2C business has been the cash churner for RIL, which has been using the proceeds from this business for expanding into other businesses like telecom and retail, Prasad said, but declined to give an exact debt level of the O2C business. At present, the two parties have signed a letter of intent for the deal, which is non-binding, Prasad said and explained that RIL is carving out the O2C business as a separate division which will have to be changed into a subsidiary in up to five years.

Aramco will get a seat on the board of the new division and both the partners will jointly decide whether to list the subsidiary or not, he said, adding the companies expect to close the deal by March 2020. Explaining the mechanics of the deal, he said while RIL has already shared some documents to Aramco, there will be a detailed due diligence which the state-owned Saudi company will be carrying through over the next four months. Prasad said this is not a financial deal but a strategic deal which will "last a lifetime" adding the world's largest oil company has been trying to enter the country for over three decades now.

It will also involve technology transfer between the two partners, he said, adding RIL also has a lot of technologies of its own. The assurance of getting up to 5 lakh barrels of crude daily is one of the motives for the deal, but not the only one, Prasad said. He said in the last two decades that it has been having a relationship, Aramco has supplied RIL 2 billion barrels for processing, and the same has been averaging at over 2.20 lakh barrels a day in recent times. Prasad drew attention to the present geopolitical tension, hinting that crude supply to RIL, which operates the world's largest single location refining complex at Jamnagar, has been hit because of the same.

While Iran and Venezuela undergo troubles due to the global pressure, green concerns in Canada have led to a reduction of crude throughput, while Brazil has invested in refineries, he said. The company used to receive 5-6 very large crude carriers from Brazil alone a month earlier, he said, adding RIL has been looking to diversify its crude sources which has taken it to markets like Ecuador too. Saudi Arabia has created a new port capacity to export over 6 million barrels a day at a new facility which can move to India within three and half days without passing through the troubled Strait of Hormuz, he said.

If the deal was driven by the high debt at RIL, as flagged out a foreign brokerage Credit Suisse last week, Prasad replied in the negative and questioned the quality of analysis at the brokerage as it included working capital with long-term debt while calculating the debt at USD 65 billion. A senior company official said even without sales, at the current operating profit levels, RIL is in a comfortable position to clear off its debt in the next 18-24 months.

Prasad said the money flowing in from Aramco and the Rs 7,000-crore that BP will be paying for a 49 percent stake in RIL's fuel retailing business, will flow to the corporate treasury, the gains from which has on average been contributing around 30 percent of RIL's earnings for years. Prasad said building transformative partnerships through such deals is the "new mantra" for RIL.

Alignment on values and impact of the deal on the broader society and the community are the primary drivers for such deals, the official said, adding that every deal need not be as big as the one with Aramco and can also be something as small as a partnership with the neighbourhood "kirana" or grocery shop. In the telecom business, having hived-off the tower business to a separate infrastructure investment trust, he said RIL is at an advanced stage of a similar deal for the fibre business as well with the final terms being negotiated at present. Prasad chose not to comment on the fate of the mega refinery complex in Maharashtra, in which Aramco is the single largest equity partner along with the three state-run oil giants.