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The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority’s chief admitted that the watchdog met with executives from Saudi Aramco several months prior to its proposal to change the listing rules for the London Stock Exchange to accommodate the oil giant.
In a letter to legislators, Andrew Bailey said that representatives of the regulator “held conversations with Saudi Aramco and their advisors in light of their interest in a possible UK listing in the early part of this year”. The FCA head also said in the letter that “We emphasised during those conversations that we were reviewing the listing regime.”
FCA’s listing rules currently require that any company wishing to opt for a premium listing needs to list at least 25 percent of its shares. Aramco, however, plans to only float 5 percent of its stock – a much-anticipated event planned for the second half of 2018.
The FCA announced the idea of changing the rules for Aramco in July. FCA’s proposal essentially comes down to creating a new category within its rules for premium listings, “to cater for companies controlled by a shareholder that is a sovereign country.” The aim was to convince Aramco to go for the premium, rather than the standard, listing.
The Telegraph recalls that the proposal came soon after PM Theresa May and LSE’s chief executive Xavier Rolet traveled to Riyadh to discuss bilateral trade opportunities. The visit included a meeting of May and Rolet with Aramco’s head, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih.
The proposal quickly drew criticism from corporate governance bodies, including the Institute of Directors, which last month came out with a press release saying the market watchdog’s proposal did “little to address the risks and challenges surrounding sovereign-controlled companies which include the potential for politically-motivated ownership interference over the company by the state apparatus. National governments are also in a strong position to undermine the rights of minority shareholders and the authority of the Board of Directors at such enterprises.”
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Last month, the chairs of two UK parliament committees approached the Financial Services Authority over a proposal to relax LSE listing rules in a bid to win the business of Saudi Arabia when it floats Aramco next year.
Nicky Morgan, chair of the Treasury Select Committee, and Rachel Reeves, head of the Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, wrote to the watchdog with a number of questions regarding whether FCA’s proposal for a consultation to look into a change of listing rules was in any way motivated by interest expressed by Aramco’s management in floating 5 percent on the London Stock Exchange.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.