Arab states warned against complacency over debt

Jihad Azour, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia department, said higher oil prices should spur a change in the region’s fortunes. (AP)
Updated 02 May 2018

Arab states warned against complacency over debt

  • Oil prices have reached around $75 a barrel from under $30 a barrel in early 2016
  • After the GCC saw their economic growth shrink by 0.2 percent last year, their economy is expected to return to growth in 2018

DUBAI: The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday warned Arab states against complacency over a looming debt crisis, urging continued economic reforms despite a rise in oil prices.
Crude prices have rebounded in the region thanks to a deal by producers to trim production, but the IMF said such a change in fortunes should not get in the way of overhauling state spending.
“Required reforms include further steps toward full elimination of energy subsidies, and changes to pension and social security systems — including revisions to retirement age and benefits,” the IMF said in its Regional Economic Outlook for May.
Jihad Azour, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia department, said higher oil prices should spur change.
“We should not be complacent ... oil prices are going up. That definitely does not mean that we should not introduce the reforms. On the contrary, the current environment offers the opportunity to accelerate some of these reforms,” Azour said.
Oil prices have reached around $75 a barrel from under $30 a barrel in early 2016.
Overall growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which includes all Arab countries and Iran, was forecast by the IMF to reach 3.2 percent this year compared to just 2.2 percent in 2017.
The partial recovery in oil prices will be a boost for the Gulf Cooperation Council states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE — which supply almost a fifth of global crude oil.
After the GCC saw their economic growth shrink by 0.2 percent last year, impacted by a 0.7 percent contraction by the Saudi economy, their economy is expected to return to growth in 2018.
The Council’s economy is forecast to grow by 2.2 percent this year and 2.6 percent in 2019, the IMF said.
Following the oil price slump in mid-2014, GCC members undertook fiscal measures and reforms to cut public spending and boost non-oil revenues.
Azour said that Saudi Arabia’s economic consolidation measures to cut a persistent budget deficit and diversify the economy away from oil remains the correct policy.
“The current strategy that is based on reaching a balanced budget by 2023 is the right one,” he said.
Despite the improved economic forecast, the IMF estimated cumulative overall fiscal deficits in the region to be $294 billion in 2018-22.
Around $71 billion of government debt is expected to mature during the same period.
“The rapid buildup of debt in many of them (MENA countries) is a cause for concern. Debt has increased by an average of 10 percentage points of GDP each year since 2013, with countries financing large fiscal deficits,” the IMF report said.
An impending increase in interest rates, making borrowing more expensive, will complicate the problem, it added.
According to the IMF, the economy of oil-importers should grow by 6.2 percent annually to maintain unemployment at the current rate of 10 percent.
MENA countries need to create 25 million new jobs over the next five years, Azour said, while warning of the negative consequences of unemployment coupled with rising debt levels.
“The average debt in the region for oil-importing countries exceeds 80 percent,” of gross domestic product (GDP), he said, stressing such a figure is “beyond what is acceptable.”


Iraq pledges full compliance with OPEC+ oil cuts

Updated 07 August 2020

Iraq pledges full compliance with OPEC+ oil cuts

  • Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, the Saudi Arabian energy minister, and his Iraqi counterpart, Ihsan Ismail, reaffirmed their commitment to the cuts
  • Under tough economic pressure, Iraq had struggled to meet the full cuts, but Ismail promised to reach 100 percent this month

DUBAI: Iraq has pledged to meet in full its obligations under the OPEC+ oil production cuts that have been credited with rebalancing global crude markets after the mayhem of April’s “Black Monday” when prices crashed around the world.

In a telephone call between Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, Saudi Arabian energy minister, and his Iraqi counterpart, Ihsan Ismail, the two men reaffirmed their commitment to the cuts, which have helped to pull the oil price back from historic lows.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, has more than doubled in the past three months.

Under tough economic pressure, Iraq had struggled to meet the full cuts, but Ismail promised to reach 100 percent this month. Iraq has now committed itself to an ambitious program of compensation to make up for past overproduction.

Iraq will further reduce production by 400,000 barrels per day this month and next, Ismail said, bringing its total cut to 1.25 million barrels daily. That level of cuts could be adjusted when final estimates of compliance are assessed by the six “secondary sources” that monitor OPEC+ output.

“The two ministers stressed that efforts by OPEC+ countries toward meeting production cuts, and the extra cuts under the compensation regime, will enhance oil market stability, help accelerate the rebalancing of global oil markets, and send a constructive signal to the market,” a joint statement added.

Prince Abdulaziz thanked Ismail for his efforts to improve Iraq’s compliance with the agreement.

Iraq had been the biggest laggard in the move toward 100 percent compliance by the 23 members of the OPEC+ alliance.

Officials in Riyadh told Arab News that Iraqi compliance had reached about 90 percent, a high level by the country’s previous standards but still short of the new targets.

Saudi Arabia has been forcefully advocating full compliance with the targets in an effort to remove oil from the global market as demand is still badly affected by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The oil market will be under the spotlight later this month when the joint ministerial monitoring committee of OPEC+ energy ministers convenes virtually in the most recent of the monthly meetings set up to oversee the state of the global industry.

Oil had another strong week on global markets, breaking through the $45 barrier for the first time since early March on signs that the glut in US oil stocks was easing, as well as reductions in the amount of “floating crude” stored in tankers on the world’s oceans.

The price spiked on news of the Beirut explosion, which some analysts believed could herald a deterioration in regional security and a threat to oil exports.

Brent crude was trading at $44.70 on international markets.