Record budget spurs Saudi economy

The budget sets out to lift spending and cut the deficit. (Shutterstock)
Updated 20 December 2018
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Record budget spurs Saudi economy

  • “It is a growth-supportive budget with both capital and current expenditure set to rise.”
  • Government spending is projected to rise to SR 1.106 trillion

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced its biggest-ever budget — with spending set to increase by around 7 percent — in a move aimed at boosting the economy, while also reducing the deficit. 

However, analysts cautioned that the 2019 budget is based on oil prices far higher than today — which could prove an obstacle in hitting targets. 

Government spending is projected to rise to SR 1.106 trillion ($295 billion) next year, up from an actual SR 1.030 trillion this year, Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan said at a briefing in Riyadh. 

The budget estimates a 9 percent annual increase in revenues to SR 975 billion. The budget deficit is forecast at SR 131 billion for next year, a 4.2 percent decline on 2018.

“We believe that the 2019 fiscal budget will focus on supporting economic activity — investment and wider,” Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB), told Arab News.

“It is a growth-supportive budget with both capital and current expenditure set to rise.”

A royal decree by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, also announced on Tuesday, ordered the continuation of allowances covering the cost of living for civil sector employees for the new fiscal year.

“The continuation of the handout package will be positive for household consumption by nationals,” said Malik. “We expect to see some overall fiscal loosening in 2019, which should support a further gradual pickup in real non-oil GDP growth.”

World oil prices on Tuesday tumbled to their lowest levels in more than a year amid concerns over demand. Brent crude contracts fell to as low as $57.20 during morning trading.

Malik cautioned that the oil-price assumptions in the Saudi budget looked “optimistic.”

“We see the fiscal deficit widening in 2019, with the higher spending and forecast fall in oil revenue,” she told Arab News.

Jason Tuvey, an economist at London-based Capital Economics, agreed that the oil forecast was optimistic, but said this should not pose problems for government finances.

“The government seems to be expecting oil prices to average $80 (per barrel) next year,” he said. 

“In contrast, we think that oil prices will stay low and possibly fall a little further to $55 … On that basis, the budget deficit is likely to be closer to 10 percent of GDP. That won’t cause too many problems given the government’s strong balance sheet. 

“Overall, then, we think that there will be some fiscal loosening in the first half of next year, but if oil prices stay low as we expect, the authorities will probably shift tack and return to austerity from the mid-2019, which will weigh on growth in the non-oil sector,” Tuvey said.

John Sfakianakis, chief economist at the Gulf Research Center, based in Saudi Arabia, said that the targets of the budget were “achievable” and the forecast oil price reasonable. 

“It is an expansionary budget that should spurt private sector activity and growth,” he said. 

“With Brent crude averaging around $68 per barrel for 2018 and $66 per barrel for 2019, the authorities have applied a conservative revenue scenario.”


Oil prices jump as US crude stocks fall, Middle East worries add support

Updated 26 June 2019
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Oil prices jump as US crude stocks fall, Middle East worries add support

  • Analysts said the gains were mainly driven by American Petroleum Institute data showing a fall in US crude inventories
  • Data come as traders watched for any signs that tensions between the US and Iran could escalate into military conflict
SYDNEY: Oil prices rose more than 1 percent on Wednesday to their highest in nearly a month as industry data showed US crude stockpiles fell more than expected, underpinning a market already buoyed by worries over a potential US-Iran conflict.
Front-month Brent crude futures, international benchmark for oil, were up 1.3 percent at $65.91 by 0341 GMT. They earlier touched their highest since May 31 at $66 a barrel.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $58.98 per barrel, up 1.8 percent from their last settlement. WTI earlier hit its strongest level since May 30 at $59.03 a barrel.
Analysts said the gains were mainly driven by American Petroleum Institute (API) data showing a fall in US crude inventories.
US crude stockpiles fell by 7.5 million barrels in the week ended June 21 to 474.5 million, compared with analyst expectations for a decline of 2.5 million barrels, the data showed. Crude stocks at US delivery hub Cushing, Oklahoma, fell by 1.3 million barrels.
“Oil prices went ballistic after the API report,” said Stephen Innes, a managing partner at Vanguard Markets.
“Oil prices have been squeezing higher on escalating tensions in the Middle East. But with late-day draws showing up in the API report, this is a strong signal for the energy market,” Innes said.
The data came as traders watched for any signs that tensions between the United States and Iran could escalate into military conflict.
US President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday to obliterate parts of Iran if it attacked “anything American,” in a new war of words with Iran. Tehran has condemned a fresh round of US sanctions as “mentally retarded.”
Bilateral tensions between the two have spiked anew after Iran shot down a US drone last week in the Gulf. Relations have been tense since Washington blamed attacks on oil tankers just outside the Gulf in May and June on Iran, while Tehran has repeatedly said it had no role in the incidents.
Conflict between Washington and Tehran has stoked fears that shipments passing through the Strait of Hormuz — the world’s busiest oil supply route — could be disrupted.
Seeking to calm a nervous market, the head of national oil company Saudi Aramco said on Tuesday the company can meet the oil needs of customers using its spare capacity.