Saudi GDP could surprise on the upside, higher budget deficit seen in 2019: IMF

Updated 30 April 2019

Saudi GDP could surprise on the upside, higher budget deficit seen in 2019: IMF

  • The Saudi economy grew by 2.2 percent last year, recovering from a contraction in 2017
  • The IMF's projection for the Saudi budget deficit in 2019 is based on the assumption that oil prices will remain in the mid-$60 per barrel range

DUBAI: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that Saudi Arabia's economic growth in 2019 may be slightly higher than its earlier 1.8 percent forecast as the non-oil sector is expanding faster than the wider economy, a senior official said.

The budget deficit this year could be 7.9 percent, higher than 2018 on an assumption that oil prices would be lower in 2019 compared to last year, Jihad Azour, director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF, told Reuters.

"We expect non-oil growth to be at 2.6 percent this year and 2.9 percent for 2020," he said in an interview in Dubai.

"Based on the early assessment of the (IMF) team, we think there are upside risks, i.e. growth could be slightly higher than the one we have in our projections," Azour said.

Saudi central bank governor Ahmed al-Kholifey told Reuters last week that Saudi economic growth in 2019 would be "no less than 2 percent".

The Saudi economy grew by 2.2 percent last year, recovering from a contraction in 2017.

Azour said an IMF team was now on the ground in Saudi Arabia and revised economic numbers were expected next week.

The IMF's projection for the Saudi budget deficit in 2019 is based on the assumption that oil prices will remain in the mid-$60 per barrel range this year, he said.

Brent crude futures settled at $72.15 a barrel, down $2.20, on Friday after U.S. President Donald Trump again pressured the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to raise crude production to ease gasoline prices.

Saudi Arabia had estimated a budget deficit of 4.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2018 and its budget for 2019 forecast a deficit of 4.2 percent of GDP.

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said last week the Kingdom recorded a budget surplus of 27.8 billion riyals ($7.4 billion) in the January-March period, its first since oil prices plunged in 2014.

"The decline in oil price and the volatility we saw in the market are leading to an expected deficit of 7.9 percent," Azour said. "We expect the situation to improve in 2020 to 5.7 percent." 


Global trade experts gather in Riyadh as virus crisis heats up

Updated 24 February 2020

Global trade experts gather in Riyadh as virus crisis heats up

  • More than 1,000 international companies set up operations in Saudi Arabia last year

RIYADH: World trade experts are gathering in Riyadh for a major conference as the coronavirus crisis casts a shadow over global commerce.

The Asia House Trade Dialogue takes place on Tuesday in the Saudi Arabian capital, with thought leaders and policymakers taking part in the first such event to be staged in the Kingdom. Around 200 delegates are expected to attend the one-day forum.

Leading thinkers will share their insights on global trade, women’s growing role in business, and the energy industry moving toward renewable technologies. There will also be a live link with a Beijing-based expert on Chinese business to discuss the economic effects of the virus.

Asia House is a London-based consultancy which is headed by the former British trade minister and chairman of the HSBC banking group, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint. He said: “With Saudi Arabia hosting the G20 this year, we believe it is an important time to bring our trade dialogue to Riyadh to explore the economic shifts taking place in the region and beyond.”

The event is sponsored by the Saudi British Bank, whose chair Lubna Olayan will deliver the keynote speech.

She said: “Trade has historically always been important to the development of the Kingdom, and that is equally true today as the Far East and the Middle East are once again becoming increasingly connected, and we begin a year in which Saudi Arabia leads the G20, with deliberations around trade and investment being a major focus of the B20 (the business arm of G20 summit of world leaders). It is truly an exciting time, so we are pleased to be jointly hosting this important event to explore opportunities for enhancing and facilitating growing trade links between the Far East and the Middle East.”

The conference will be opened by Ibrahim Al-Omar, the governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, the body which promotes foreign investment in the Kingdom. Arab News is the strategic media partner for the event.

Lord Green said: “The Middle East remains an extremely important region for global trade, especially as the Gulf broadens its relationships with Asian markets. Just last year, more than 1,000 international companies set up new operations in Saudi Arabia, highlighting business interest in the Kingdom.”

Victor Gao, who is vice president of the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization, will answer questions via web link about the impact of coronavirus on the Chinese economy.

Saudi Arabia launched its G20 presidency last December with a declaration of its program, which seeks to support innovation, achieve prosperity, empower people and preserve the planet, in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan.

King Salman hailed the G20 presidency as proof of the country’s key role in the global economy.