Lebanese PM, Saudi minister talk support for country’s economy

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan
Updated 24 September 2019

Lebanese PM, Saudi minister talk support for country’s economy

  • Beirut remains one of the world’s most heavily indebted governments, a victim of low growth and lack of capital inflow

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri spoke to the Saudi finance minister on Saturday about support for the Lebanese economy and preparations for the first meeting of a bilateral council, his media office said.

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said on Wednesday that Riyadh was in discussions with the Lebanese government about providing financial support, lifting Lebanon’s dollar-denominated government bonds.

Lebanon, one of the world’s most heavily indebted states, faces financial strains linked to a slowdown in capital inflows needed to meet the financing needs of the government and the import-dependent economy. Years of low growth also weigh heavily.

Central bank foreign assets have been in decline. These, excluding gold, fell around 15 percent from an all-time high in May last year to $38.7 billion in mid-September.

In a phone call, Hariri and Al-Jadaan discussed “preparations to hold the first meeting of the Lebanese-Saudi joint committee and ... the agenda that includes agreements and memorandums of understanding that are intended to be signed.”

They also discussed “ways leading to the support of the Lebanese economy and the participation of the Saudi private sector in projects included in the Cedre conference,” a reference to a major infrastructure investment program.

Lebanon won pledges of some $11 billion in financing for the investment program at the “Cedre” conference in Paris last year. But foreign governments including France first want to see Beirut follow through on long-delayed reforms aimed at putting the public finances on a sustainable path.

A Lebanese official source told Reuters on Wednesday that work was underway to convene the bilateral council in October.

The statement from Hariri’s office gave no details of what kind of financial support Saudi Arabia might provide.

Krisjanis Krustins, director at Fitch Ratings, noted that one step taken by Saudi Arabia and others to help Lebanon in the past was to deposit funds at the central bank.

“Buying bonds is another option and another thing that could be done is support for purchase of petroleum products. Investments are another option but (it’s) not clear what assets they would buy other than bonds,” Krustins said.

Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said on Wednesday Lebanon would “very soon” start measures to issue foreign currency bonds of about $2 billion.


Aramco profits fall in tough quarter, but sees partial recovery from COVID-19 impact

Updated 59 min 15 sec ago

Aramco profits fall in tough quarter, but sees partial recovery from COVID-19 impact

  • Aramco see’s “partial recovery” from pandemic impact
  • Aramco president says company remains resilient

DUBAI: Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, reported a net income of $6.57bn for the second quarter of 2020, the period which witnessed the most volatile oil market conditions for many decades.

The result, announced to the Tadawul stock exchange in Riyadh where the shares are listed, compared with income of $24.7 bn last year.

Amin Nasser, president and chief executive, said: “Despite COVID-19 bringing the world to a standstill, Aramco kept going. We have proven our financial resilience and operational reliability, setting a record in our business operations, while at the same time taking steps to ensure the health and safety of our people.”

Aramco’s dividend - a big attraction for the investors who bought into the world’s biggest initial public offering last year - will remain as pledged, Nasser added. Cash flow in the quarter amounted to $6.106 bn.

““Strong headwinds from reduced demand and lower oil prices are reflected in our second quarter results. Yet we delivered solid earnings because of our low production costs, unique scale, agile workforce, and unrivalled financial and operational strength. This helped us deliver on our plan to maintain a second quarter dividend of $18.75 billion to be paid in the third quarter,” he said.

Aramco said the loss was “mainly reflecting the impact of lower crude oil prices and declining refining and chemicals margins, partly offset by a decrease in production royalties resulting from lower crude oil prices and a decrease in the royalty rate from 20 per cent to 15 per cent, lower income taxes and zakat as a result of lower earnings, and higher other income related to sales for gas products.”

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Sales and revenue in the period - which saw oil prices collapse on “Black Monday” in April - fell 57 per cent to $32.861 bn from the comparable period last year. 

Nasser said he was cautiously optimistic that the world economy was slowly recovering from the depths of the pandemic lockdowns.

“We are seeing a partial recovery in the energy market as countries around the world take steps to ease restrictions and reboot their economies. Meanwhile, we continue to place people’s safety first and have adapted to the new normal, implementing wide-ranging precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 wherever we operate.

“We are determined to emerge from the pandemic stronger and will continue making progress on our long-term strategic journey, through ongoing investments in our business – which has one of the lowest upstream carbon footprints in the world,” he added.

Aramco expects capital expenditure to be at the lower end of the $25bn to $30bn range it has already indicated for this year.