Oman Electricity Company sells $1bn stake to Chinese state firm

Sale of a 49% stake in utility company is in line with country's privatisation plans

Oman Electricity Holding Company (Nama) sold a 49 per cent stake in its transmission company to the State Grid Corporation of China for $1 billion (Dh3.67bn), as part of the company's privatisation plans.

The company is planning to privatise Oman Electricity Transmission Company in the second quarter of 2020, according to Nama spokesman Mansoor Al Hinai. Nama received 11 bids from 16 international investors, either individually or in consortia. China State Grid's investment is the largest single investment project of Chinese enterprises in Oman, said Li Lingbing, Chinese ambassador to Oman, who attended the signing of the contract, according to a statement by State Grid.

Nama is also planning four other privatisations, including Muscat Electricity Distribution Company.

"Through this privatisation programme, Nama Holding will support the government’s objectives of attracting foreign direct investment into the country and promoting private sector participation as part of the wider nation-building process," the company said on on Twitter.

Oman's privatisation drive comes amid a yawning budget deficit of 2.8 billion Omani rials (Dh26.7bn) for 2019 – one of the highest among Gulf oil producers. Oman's external debt and funding costs are set to increase over the next three years, but the government's balance sheet remains "reasonably strong", ratings agency S&P Global said last month.

The introduction of a new National Programme for Fiscal Balance could present an opportunity to fast track fiscal consolidation by cutting spending and improving revenue collection, according to the agency. Like most oil exporters Oman was impacted by the collapse of oil prices in 2014, which have now rebounded to an average of about $60 per barrel. The government has made some strides toward diversification away from hydrocarbon receipts, but fiscal deficits are expected to remain high against a backdrop of weak oil prices, according to S&P.

Oman derives about 35 per cent of its gross domestic product, 60 per cent of exports and 70 per cent of fiscal receipts from hydrocarbon products. S&P expects rising oil and gas production from 2020, and that growth in the non-oil sector will drive real GDP growth of 2.4 per cent on average between 2020-2022.

The Chinese interest in the sultanate comes amid an increasing thrust by Beijing to secure energy assets in the Middle East as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

Earlier this year, Oman raised $3bn in bonds from international investors, despite its downgrade to below investment grade by all three major credit rating agencies. The sultanate is also planning to list 20 to 25 per cent of state-backed Oman Oil Company next year, the country's energy minister said earlier this month.

The sultanate will follow in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia, which listed 1.5 per cent of its state-owned oil company raising 96 billion Saudi riyals (Dh94bn) and achieving an overall valuation of $2 trillion.

A number of options are being considered, including an initial private placement of shares ahead of any listing process, and a potential listing on an international market.

Oman Oil was established in 1996 and has several different business lines including exploration and production, energy infrastructure, refining, shipping, petrochemicals, power and metals, among others. It has also made a number of international investments.