Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries. Photo: AFP

In order to increase its footprint in India, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil behemoth Saudi Aramco is keen to pick up a stake in the refining and petrochemicals business of Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), but the Indian refiner has sought a higher valuation.

The world’s largest crude-oil producer wants to buy a 25% stake, but RIL is seeking to offering less as it is aiming for a higher valuation. A minority stake sale could fetch between US$10 billion and $15 billion, valuing the business at $60 billion.

For RIL, owned by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, the refining and petrochemicals business is a cash cow that contributes nearly 75% of the company’s profit.

Saudi Aramco has been pursuing a deal with RIL for a few years, which is expected to be a win-win for both parties. The Saudi government expects the deal to de-risk its economy from oil’s uncertainties. It also wants to tap India’s growing demand for automobile fuels. For RIL the deal would help it gain a secure supply of crude oil and substantially reduce its debt. As of December, RIL’s debt was 2.74 trillion rupees ($39.47 billion).

If the deal is to happen, the refining and petrochemical assets need to be moved to a separate subsidiary. This will lead to the reduction of the holding company’s discount, debt and interest costs.

In a separate development, Saudi Aramco and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co (ADNOC) last June signed a memorandum of understanding jointly to develop and build a $44 billion integrated refinery and petrochemicals complex at Ratnagiri, in India’s Maharashtra state. However, because of delays in land acquisition, the project was shifted to neighboring Raigad district.

Saudi Aramco and ADNOC will jointly hold 50% in this refinery and the rest will be held by Indian stakeholders such as IndianOil, Bharat Petroleum Corporation, and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation. Analysts say the purchase of a stake in RIL would in no way affect Saudi Aramco’s commitment to this refinery project.

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