Saudi economic reforms ‘yielding positive results,’ says IMF

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde sits alongside Ahmed Alkholifey, Governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA), during the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting in Washington, DC. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 May 2019

Saudi economic reforms ‘yielding positive results,’ says IMF

  • Non-oil sector expected to grow at a faster rate this year
  • Fiscal deficit seen rising to 7 percent of GDP in 2019

LONDON: Economic reforms underway in Saudi Arabia have started to yield “positive results,” the IMF said on Wednesday — although the fund cautioned that challenges, notably the level of government spending, remain.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued its preliminary findings on the Kingdom’s economy following an official staff visit to the country, prior to the preparation of a final report.
It found that reforms under the Vision 2030 program — the ambitious plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy set out three years ago — were paying off. 
“Reforms to the capital markets, legal framework, and business environment are progressing well,” the IMF said. 
“Non-oil growth has picked-up, female labor force participation and employment have increased.”
Other factors the IMF cited include the “successful introduction” of value-added tax (VAT), energy price reforms, and an increase in fiscal transparency.
But several challenges remain, the IMF cautioned. 

“Government spending has risen, supporting growth but raising medium-term fiscal vulnerabilities to lower oil prices. Fiscal consolidation is needed to reduce these vulnerabilities. More generally the economic footprint of the public sector is still large,” it said.
The IMF said unemployment among Saudi nationals remains high.
“To deliver a diversified, productive and competitive economy, reforms need to make Saudi nationals more competitive for private sector jobs, raise foreign direct investment, and increase the availability of finance for young and growing companies,” it said.
The fund said Saudi Arabia’s non-oil sector is expected to grow at a faster rate this year, at 2.9 percent.
Yet the IMF said it expects Saudi Arabia’s fiscal deficit — the difference between government spending and revenues — to rise to 7 percent of GDP in 2019, from 5.9 percent last year.
It urged fiscal consolidation to reduce the impact of “medium-term” vulnerabilities. 
“If oil prices are lower than assumed in the government’s budget plan, the country would face large fiscal deficits unless spending was reduced,” it said.
The fund said the government should consider lowering its wage bill and increasing the VAT rate. 
“A reduction in the government wage bill, a more measured increase in capital spending, and the better targeting of social benefits will all yield fiscal savings. The introduction of the VAT has been very successful, and consideration should be given to raising the rate from 5 percent, which is low by global standards, in consultation with other GCC countries,” it said.

Saudi Arabia looks to cut spending in bid to shrink deficit

Updated 01 October 2020

Saudi Arabia looks to cut spending in bid to shrink deficit

  • Saudi Arabia has issued about SR84 billion in sukuk in the year to date

LONDON: Saudi Arabia plans to reduce spending next year by about 7.5 percent to SR990 billion ($263.9 billion) as it seeks to reduce its deficit. This compares to spending of SR1.07 trillion this year, it said in a preliminary budget statement.

The Kingdom anticipates a budget deficit of about 12 percent this year falling to 5.1 percent next year.

Saudi Arabia released data on Wednesday showing that the economy contracted by about 7 percent in the second quarter as regional economies faced the twin blow of the coronavirus pandemic and continued oil price weakness.

The unemployment rate among Saudis increased to 15.4 percent in the second quarter compared with 11.8 percent in the first quarter of the year.

The challenging headwinds facing regional economies is expected to spur activity across debt markets as countries sell bonds to help fund spending.

Saudi Arabia has already issued about SR84 billion in sukuk in the year to date.

“Over the past three years, the government has developed (from scratch) a well-functioning and increasingly deeper domestic sukuk market that has allowed it to tap into growing domestic and international demand for Shariah-compliant fixed income assets,” Moody’s said in a statement on Wednesday. 

“This, in turn, has helped diversify its funding sources compared with what was available during the oil price shock of 2015-16 and ease liquidity pressures amid a more than doubling of government financing needs this year,” the ratings agency added.