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Saudi Aramco's bookrunners recommend pricing IPO at top end: sources

RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Aramco’s bookrunners have recommended pricing its initial public offering at 32 riyals ($8.5) per share, the top of an indicative price range, three sources familiar with the deal said, potentially making it the world’s biggest IPO.

FILE PHOTO: A sign of Saudi Aramco's initial public offering (IPO) is seen during a news conference by the state oil company at the Plaza Conference Center in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia November 3, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo

At that level, Aramco would have a market valuation of $1.7 trillion, comfortably overtaking Apple AAPL.O as the world's most valuable listed firm but missing the $2 trillion target initially sought by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A final pricing decision will be taken later on Wednesday by an executive committee overseeing the IPO that includes top government officials, Aramco executives and bankers. The committee reports directly to The Saudi crown prince.

If the deal is priced at the top, Aramco's IPO will exceed the $25 billion raised in the listing of China's Alibaba Group Holding Ltd BABA.N in 2014, the biggest flotation to date.

Riyadh scaled back its original IPO plans, scrapping an international roadshow to focus instead on marketing the offering to Saudi investors and wealthy Gulf Arab allies. It has stayed quiet on when or where it might list the stock abroad.

The deal is the centerpiece of the crown prince’s plans to diversify the Saudi economy away from its reliance on oil.

Aramco, which had set an indicative price range of 30-32 riyals per share, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Two sources said the firm could exercise a 15% “greenshoe” option, offering more shares to meet high demand from institutional investors. If exercised, it would mean the stake sale could increase from 1.5% to 1.725%.

Aramco is expected to announce on Thursday the results of the book-building for allocating shares to institutional buyers, typically asset managers, insurers or pension funds.

The final allocation will also be announced on Thursday.

Aramco previously said 0.5% of the offering would be allocated to retail investors and 1%, or 2 billion shares, for institutional buyers.

The retail tranche, which closed on Nov. 28, attracted bids worth 47.4 billion riyals, equivalent to around 1.5 times the number of shares offered.

A full allocation for retail investors who ordered 1,000 shares or less has also been recommended, one of the sources said, adding that allocation for higher than this amount would be decided on a pro-rata basis.

Reporting by Marwa Rashad, Hadeel Al Sayegh and Saeed Azhar; Editing by Susan Fenton and Edmund Blair