DUBAI (Reuters) - Petrochemical producer Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) plans to spend between $3 and $10 billion on acquisitions over the next five years in specialties and agri-nutrients, chief executive Yousef al-Benyan said on Tuesday.
The group was already looking at two producers of specialty plastics with operations in Europe, the Middle East and China - and could reach a decision on them by the second quarter of 2018, Benyan told Reuters in an interview.
SABIC, was also looking for ways to expand its agri-nutrients operations in Africa and South America, he added. The sector produces chemicals used in fertilisers.
The move to target more lucrative specialty chemicals comes as Saudi Arabia as a whole is looking for ways to diversify its economy and lessen its reliance on oil.
“We would like to provide our shareholders a business that has less dependency on oil and energy, to reduce the high level of cyclicality in our petrochemical industry,” Benyan said.
The company had decided it needed to expand its work in specialities and “this is not going to happen through organic growth this will happen through acquisitions,” he added.
The specialities sector - which produces plastics for car windscreens, mobile phone screens and other goods - currently brings in around $1 billion of the company’s annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. That figure would grow to between $2 to $3 billion in the near future, Benyan added.
The company posted a net profit of 17.9 billion riyals ($4.8 billion) for the full year of 2016.
He told Reuters in May the firm was evaluating acquisition opportunities in the range of $3 billion to $6 billion in petrochemicals, specialty chemicals and fertilisers and said it aimed to do the first such deal in the fourth quarter of this year.
SABIC, currently the world’s fourth-biggest petrochemicals company, planned to make a decision on an investment in a cracker in Texas with an affiliate of Exxon Mobil by the end of 2018, he said.
“We don’t have a decision yet but it is progressing well ... the project is promising and I think it will strengthen our partnership and our strategic position in North America,” he said.
SABIC agreed with Saudi Aramco to build a $20 billion complex on Sunday, converting 45 percent of crude oil directly into chemicals and bypassing refining.
The use of crude oil as feedstock to produce olefins and other petrochemicals is economically attractive particularly when it has become harder to get gas, pushing petrochemicals companies for the search of alternative feedstock abroad.
In April, SABIC said it had agreed with Exxon Mobil Chemical to potentially build the petrochemical complex in Texas. The ethane cracker would have a capacity of 1.8 million tonnes per year.
Additional reporting by Reem Shamseddine in Khobar; Editing by Louise Heavens and Andrew Heavens