Policy
US Crude Turns Unattractive For India, PSUs In A Fix
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HPCL-MRPL May Merge With IOC After BPCL’s Fate Decided
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Freeing Up Gas Price: Agreed But Reluctant To Act
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Challenges In Transforming GAIL After Mandated Unbundling
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Refineries Operate At Lower Capacity As Demand Remains Low
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Regulation
India’s Natural Gas Consumption Makes Significant Recovery
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Mangala Field Completes 11 Years Of Successful Production
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PNGRB Acts To Regulate Force Majeure Invocation In CGD Sector
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Status Of Shale Oil & Gas Development In India: An Assessment
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Alternative Energy / Fuel
GAIL And CCSL Sign MoU For CBG Projects
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New Projects
CPCL To Infuse Rs 18.50 Billion In BS VI Auto Fuel
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CPCL Cauvery Basin Project Gets Environmental Nod
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BPCL To Commission Bokaro LPG Bottling Plant In December
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India To Divert 100 MT Coal To Gasification Projects
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Market Watch
IOC To Use Solar Power At Retail Outlets
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Companies
Nabors Industries Ltd
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ONGC Reports East Coast Deep-Water Oil And Gas Find
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IOC Raises Borrowing Limit
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Engineers India Wins New Order
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Press Release [FREE Access]
Petro Intelligence » Aramco’s Due Diligence: The new twist in a riveting ‘Sop Opera’

By R. Sasankan

Relationships are always more valuable than deals in the world of big business. Reliance Industries has seen a blizzard of high-value transactions in an intense, Covid-fraught, lockdown-hit period which has justifiably earned Mukesh Ambani the reputation of the world's best-known dealmaker this year. But every once in a while, even the Man with the Midas touch can falter.

In August last year, Ambani had announced at the company's annual general meeting that Aramco of Saudi Arabia had tentatively agreed to pick up a 20 per cent stake in the oil-to-chemicals business that RIL intended to spin off at an enterprise value of $ 75 billion. The $ 15 billion Aramco deal, he said, would be the biggest foreign investment in India.

A year later, things have not panned out as Ambani had envisaged. With the world economy heading into a deep recession -- a situation worsened by the outbreak of a global pandemic -- that valuation is no longer a feasible option.

 “Due to unforeseen circumstances in the energy market and the Covid-19 situation, the (Aramco) deal has not progressed as per the original timeline,” Ambani told shareholders at the virtual AGM in mid-July. It was the first admission that things were not going to plan -- and it prompted talk that the deal was off the table, at least for now.

There has been a great deal of disappointment on both sides but both RIL and Aramco have not allowed the setback to cloud their decades-old relationship. So, it came as no surprise that Aramco tried to soothe any ruffled feelings by talking of an extended due diligence process on the deal -- more to save Ambani from any embarrassment than any realistic prospect of clinching a deal in the future.

At an earnings call with analysts, Aramco CEO Amin Nasser was asked a pointed question about the status of the negotiations. He said: "With regard to the Reliance deal, all I can say at this stage, it's going through due diligence. So, depending on the due diligence, we will make our decision …This is a big deal. So, we need to take our time to review and then decide based on the outcome of the due diligence study."

It is the first time that Aramco has officially commented on a deal that the Saudi oil giant had pursued with vigour when the influential Khalid al-Falih was the country's oil minister. However, he was shifted out of the ministry when the deal had reached an advanced stage of negotiation.

There is no evidence to suggest that Khalid's exit had anything to do with the deal that Aramco was negotiating with RIL. But it is clear that his successor was not completely convinced about the valuation of the asset. Put simply, Aramco is not willing to pay more than $ 13 billion for the 20 per cent stake in the O2C business even as Mukesh Ambani had been negotiating hard for $ 15 billion.

Amin Nasser's latest announcement may have rekindled the smouldering embers of hope that a deal might still be struck, but that looks unlikely as Ambani isn't budging from his price, sources say. But the two sides are keen to ensure that the outcome of the negotiations does not in any way strain the extremely cordial relations that the Ambanis have with the leading figures in the Kingdom. The best way to paper over the differences would be to prolong the process of due diligence but it cannot drag on indefinitely.

This could also be read as an overture by Aramco to look further afield in its desire to cement its long-standing relations with RIL. Aramco’s interest in India is not confined to RIL's mega refinery; it has made no secret of its ambitions to develop a beachhead in India's vast petroleum retail market. It is this abiding interest in India that has been one of the factors that has influenced the Indian government’s decision to privatise Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL). Be it Aramco or ExxonMobil, no one can succeed in India’s petroleum retailing sector without a chunk of the marketing infrastructure which is almost totally controlled by the three public sector oil marketing companies. By deciding to privatise BPCL, the Indian government has guaranteed a 25 per cent retail market share to whoever takes control of BPCL. Aramco will have to get into a scrum with a number of rivals who are expected to participate in what promises to be an intense international competitive bidding process which has already been initiated.

This is where the ties with Mukesh Ambani's RIL can come in very handy for Aramco. It is tough for an outsider to negotiate the labyrinth of India's power corridors; it will need someone like Ambani to guide them through it. Aramco may find it eminently sensible to have RIL as a partner for its retail foray in India now that its deal with RIL for equity stake in O2C is in danger of collapsing.

It remains to be seen how keen RIL will be to partner Aramco in BPCL. RIL may well baulk at Aramco's offer since it already has a petro-retailing arrangement with BP and the joint venture is being strengthened. Moreover, Mukesh Ambani announced a few days ago his plans to move into sustainable energy in 15 years' time. If that is true, BPCL or a new mega refinery may not fit in with his future plans. Observers reckon that the timing of Mukesh’s announcement is important. It is not going to be easy for Aramco to find any other partner in India with sufficient heft to partner it in BPCL. Meanwhile, there is some talk of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund -- the sovereign wealth fund -- investing as much as $ 1 billion in Reliance Jio's fibre assets. This comes on top of PIF's $ 1.5 billion investment in Jio Platforms for a 2.32 per cent stake.

Aramco’s biggest problem in India emanates from Russia’s Rosneft which is making an all-out effort to wrest BPCL. Rosneft's strategy is guided by President Vladimir Putin who commands respect in India and is a force to reckon with. “The Russians and the Saudis want to enter the Indian market and it would be ideal for them to do this via a company such as BPCL instead of setting up a new refinery and establishing a retail network from scratch. The Saudis will need a local partner more than the Russians,” said an acknowledged energy expert.

The Indian government has the option to accommodate both Aramco and Rosneft. The state-owned upstream major, ONGC, is facing an extremely serious liquidity crunch. Last year, it was forced to acquire the government stake in oil marketing company Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL). As a public sector undertaking, it could not oppose the government decision (read policy item 2). Later, the government granted it the freedom to sell the stake in HPCL if it so desired.

The ONGC leadership may not be bold enough to come out with a proposal to this effect. The petroleum ministry can prompt it do so. Here is an out-of-the-box solution: why not put both BPCL and HPCL on the block together? If it is enticingly packaged, overseas bidders may rise to the bait. India needs both oil and gas in large quantities. Aramco and Rosneft are in a position to help India in meeting these requirements at a reasonable cost. That will ultimately decide who gets BPCL or HPCL.



To download the latest issue 'Volume 27 Issue 11 - September 10, 2020', click here
Petro Intelligence [FREE Access]
Refinery Politics: Where Will Aramco Commit Its Money?
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Aramco’s Due Diligence: The new twist in a riveting ‘Sop Opera’
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BPCL Privatisation Must Be Anchored To A Sectoral Strategy
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High Fuel Prices Can Implode A Faltering Economy
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Foreign Investment
Total Sees Growth In Battery Business In India
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Overseas Investment
ONGC Not In A Hurry For Investment Overseas
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Gas Scene
Domestic Natural Gas Scene In August 2020
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Natural Gas Price Trends: Global And Domestic
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Recoverable Coal Bed Methane Reserves
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Domestic Natural Gas Scene in July 2020
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Import of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)
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Natural gas price trends: Global & Domestic
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Sector-wise Consumption Of Natural Gas In June 2020
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Changing Fortunes of India’s LNG Regasification Terminals
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LNG Consumption By Power Sector Jumps, Power Consumption drops
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India’s Rising Gas Import Dependency
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Sector Wise Demand And Consumption Of Natural Gas
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Competiveness Of Pipelines vs LNG
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Transnational Pipelines - Operating or Under Construction
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CGD Growth Over The Years
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India’s Increasing Gas Import Dependency
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Data Section
Monthly Upstream Data
Monthly Downstream Data
Historical database
Data Archives
Special Database
Gross Refining Margins (GRM) Of Refineries during April-June 2020
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Drilling activity in India in July 2020
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Specific Energy Consumption of PSU Refineries - An Update
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Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production in North-East
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Upstream activity And Declining Global Rig count
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India’s Rising Self-Sufficiency Petroleum Products
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Prices In Indian Crude Basket In August 2020
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Expansion of Existing Refineries & Refining Capacity Addition over the years
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Update: The level of taxes on Petrol and Diesel and the Price Build Up in the capital city of Delhi
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Retail Selling Price Of Major Petroleum Products In India & Neighbouring Countries
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Refining Capacity & Refinery Crude Throughput
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Petroleum Products Import Up Even As Crude Import, Refining, Consumption Down
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Crude Oil Processing In July: Share of Domestic Crude Up, High Sulphur Crude Down
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India’s Crude Oil Import Plunges In July, OPEC Share Shrinks Further
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Power supplied and deficit: Region-wise position for July 2020
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Product-Wise Consumption In July 2020
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Update: FDI in India’s Petroleum Sector
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Update: Status of blocks under NELP (As on 1st April 2020)
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Distillate yield of PSU refineries: An Update
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Indian Rig Count vs. Indian Basket Crude Price
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Global Rig Count Falls In June 2020, US Worst Hit
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Indian Crude Basket prices in July 2020
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India’s Crude Oil Import Declines In June 2020, OPEC Share Shrinks
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Negative Growth In Vehicle Sales Impact Consumption Of Petrol, Diesel
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Covid-19 Impact Minimum In Offshore Oil and Gas Investments
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Covid -19 Impacts India’s Crude Oil Demand
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Crude Oil Import- Volume And Value
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Petroleum Sectors Contribution To Ex Chequer
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Declining Demand For PDS Kerosene
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Self-Sufficiency In Petroleum Products - An Update
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Capital Expenditure Of PSU Oil Companies - An Update
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Tenders [FREE Access]
ONGC Neelam & Heera Asset, Mumbai
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