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Saudi Oil Giant Aramco Reports 44% Profit Slump In 2020 Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Saudi Arabia's state-backed oil giant Aramco saw its profit tumble by 44% last year, as coronavirus pandemic restrictions slashed fuel demand around the globe.

Aramco, the world's largest oil company, reported earnings of $49 billion in 2020, down from $88.2 billion in the year before. CEO Amin Nasser described last year as "one of the most challenging years in history."

Despite the drop, Aramco said it would pay out $75 billion in annual dividends to shareholders. The company began selling shares publicly in December 2019, yet the Saudi government owns more than 98% of them, the Associated Press reports.

As with its competitors, Aramco has faced historic headwinds in the oil markets brought on by the coronavirus. Countries have limited travel and work to confront the coronavirus pandemic, sending oil prices spiraling. At one point last year, oil prices dipped below zero for the first time in history. U.S. energy company Exxon Mobil Corp. recorded its worst year in 2020, CNN Business reported.

Aramco's earnings report comes after attacks on its facilities, including a drone strike on Friday claimed by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebel group in Yemen. The company has said the attacks did not affect business, although major assaults in 2019 hurt production and jolted oil markets.

Aramco's 2020 numbers came in slightly below analysts' expectations but still represents one of the highest profits of any company, according to CNBC.

Aramco's CEO said he saw encouraging signs going forward.

"We are seeing a pick-up in demand in Asia and also positive signs elsewhere,"
Nasser said in a statement. "We remain confident that we will emerge on the other side of this pandemic in a position of strength."

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Alex Leff is a digital editor on NPR's International Desk, helping oversee coverage from journalists around the world for its growing Internet audience. He was previously a senior editor at GlobalPost and PRI, where he wrote stories and edited the work of international correspondents.