Aramco pays nearly $100bn in dividends as profits tumble

Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company Aramco has paid out dividends of nearly $100bn (£77bn), despite the company’s annual profits tumbling from the record earnings raked in the year before.

The group, in which the Saudi government owns a 82% stake, said in its annual accounts that dividends to shareholders increased by 30% to $97.8bn in 2023.

Overall profits fell by just under 25% to $121.3bn, owing to a drop in oil prices and lower sales when compared with the previous 12 months.

Despite this fall, the profit figure was the second highest reported by Saudi Aramco after its record $161.1bn in 2022, the largest profit recorded by an oil or gas firm. The 2022 bumper results were largely driven by escalating oil prices as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, which affected global supply.

The price of Brent crude, the benchmark oil price, fell from as high as nearly $120 a barrel in the middle of 2022 to as low as $67 a barrel last year. It is trading at about $82, despite fears that tensions in the Middle East could push crude prices above $100 a barrel.

The dividend payout is likely to anger campaigners who have condemned the huge profits made by energy companies – and the bonuses handed to their executives – since the surge in commodity prices, against the backdrop of a cost of living crisis for households. On Friday, the £8m pay packet of the new boss of BP was labelled “sickening”.

Aramco’s huge payout is expected to be mirrored by some of the world’s other big oil firms. A report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in January forecast that thefive other large oil companies – BP, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies – would pay dividends for 2023 that would exceed the $104bn paid out last year.

Aramco said its base dividend for the fourth quarter of 2023 was $20.3bn, up 4% on the previous year while its performance-related dividend would be $43.1bn, an increase of 9%.

The company’s capital expenditure for 2023 was $49.7bn, up from $38.8bn in 2022. It also expects this investment to reach between $48bn and $58bn this year, and grow further by the middle of the decade, with some of this investment going into non-oil projects.

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Amin H Nasser, Aramco president and chief executive, said: “Our capital expenditures increased in line with guidance as we seek to create and capture additional value from our operations, positioning the company for a future in which we believe oil and gas will be a key part of the global energy mix for many decades to come, alongside new energy solutions.”

Armaco has said it will commit to delivering 12m barrels a day (bpd) after the Saudi government in January ordered it to scrap its plan to increase production to 13m bpd.