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Why Silicon Valley should care about a Saudi Arabian IPO that is no longer happening

The most important planned offering in Silicon Valley wasn’t Uber, but Aramco.

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud walking on the Google campus with Google co-founder Sergey Brin
Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman, right, visited Google with co-founder Sergey Brin in April.
Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Silicon Valley hasn’t paid much attention to it, but the tech industry’s future was quietly being shaped over the last two years by plans for an initial public offering that now isn’t going to happen.

It’s not the IPO of Uber or Airbnb, but the selling of shares in Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil company, Aramco, that was poised to rock Silicon Valley finance and politics. But now, after repeated delays and negotiations, there are reports that what was being marketed as the most valuable IPO of history is entering the trashcan. (Reuters says it has been “called off,” while Bloomberg says it’s “on hold.”)

This isn’t a Saudi Arabia story, though. Because what was Saudi Arabia going to do with the billions of dollars in proceeds? Invest in, among other things, U.S. technology companies.

The IPO, which the country hoped would value Aramco at $2 trillion, would have flooded the war chest of the Public Investment Fund, a government-run vehicle that is behind Saudi bets in funds like SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund and in companies like Uber. PIF is part of a broader Saudi strategy to transform the country from an oil-rich, yet oil-dependent, regional force into a global investing giant with holdings in marquee sectors like American technology.

Now? Things are complicated.

History is long, and the Saudis may have another opportunity to float shares in their crown jewel. And if PIF succeeds with its very tentative plan to help take Tesla private, then we’ll still be talking about the Saudis as preeminent tech investors for a very long time.

But this was going to be a massive money-making moment for the nation, and therefore for Silicon Valley. Tech expected this, and there should be people who are disappointed. Chief among them: SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which is preparing to fundraise its second massive tech investing vehicle, and had long been expected to indirectly benefit from the Aramco IPO.

Those celebrating? Think of the doomsdayers who worry that American tech already has too much easy cash arriving on our shores. And think of the humanitarians who worry whether it is good for American tech to be financed by a Saudi Arabia with a blemished record on human rights and democracy.

This article originally appeared on

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