London: The UK market regulator may change listing rules for companies controlled by a sovereign country as London woos Saudi Aramco which is planning what could be the world’s largest initial public offering (IPO).
The Financial Conduct Authority on Thursday announced a consultation paper on a new category in its premium listing segment for state-owned businesses, proposing two key exceptions. The moves could inch London ahead in the competition to lure a listing of the company—better known as Saudi Aramco—which aims to raise as much $100 billion.
An Aramco listing would be a boost to post-Brexit London, helping politicians make the case that the UK is open for business and remains a financial hub even as it leaves the European Union—and its single market. The London Stock Exchange’s premium listing segment has stricter rules and reporting requirements than a standard listing. It also has access to a wider pool of investors and large companies typically list on the premium segment.
Under the proposed changes, sovereign shareholders will not be considered related parties and exempt from the rules on deals between a listed company and its directors, substantial shareholders or their associates. The FCA also wants to absolve those controlling shareholders from rules that apply to their transactions with the listed company in the present listing regime.
“This is a clever solution to the dilemma of Aramco, which does not meet the general requirements regarding free-float and corporate governance," said Edward Bibko, head of capital markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Baker & McKenzie LLP. “We are aware of other large privatizations in the works that may also benefit from this new category."
The FCA is also proposing a new category in its premium listing that will allow companies to list depositary receipts instead of stock.
Saudi officials have said they are looking to list as much as 5% of Aramco in Riyadh plus one or two foreign exchanges. It’s fiercely competitive, with London, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and Toronto all named as possible candidates. The moves come as IPO activity in the Middle East is gathering pace. Apart from Aramco, large state-owned companies including Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. are planning stock sales for their businesses.
“We support initiatives that enable UK markets to function well and in an orderly and internationally competitive manner," a spokesman at London Stock Exchange Group Plc, owner of the London Stock Exchange, said in an emailed statement.
The UK Investment Association, an influential industry body that represents funds managing more than £5.7 trillion ($7.4 trillion), has said it opposes loosening listing rules to bring Aramco to London. The Investment Association did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Bloomberg
David Hellier contibuted to this story.