Finance minister’s pre-budget statement paints rosy picture of Saudi economy

Finance minister’s pre-budget statement paints rosy picture of Saudi economy
Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan speaking to media in Riyadh. (AN photo by Ahmed Fathi)
Updated 01 November 2019

Finance minister’s pre-budget statement paints rosy picture of Saudi economy

Finance minister’s pre-budget statement paints rosy picture of Saudi economy
  • Efforts to develop and grow role of private sector in Kingdom continue to pay off

RIYADH: Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan on Thursday said government expenditure is expected to be SR 1,020 billion in 2020. Efforts will be made to improve the efficiency of spending without any disruption to diversification and transformation plans, he added. Revenues are projected to be about SR 833 billion in 2020, with a budget deficit of about 6.5 percent of GDP.

The figures were revealed in the minister’s pre-budget statement for fiscal year 2020. It gave details of developments in public-finance performance during 2019, and set out the main fiscal objectives and economic estimates for 2020 and the medium-term future. It also highlighted the key initiatives and programs that will be implemented during the coming fiscal year within the framework of Saudi Vision 2030.

Al-Jadaan said that the Kingdom’s fiscal policy aims to strike a balance between maintaining fiscal sustainability and enhancing economic growth and development, while also supporting economic transformation in line with Vision 2030. It does this by striving to increase efficiency and effectiveness within the framework of fiscal discipline, improving the basic services provided to citizens, diversifying government revenue sources and empowering the private sector.

The cabinet's approval of the government’s Tenders and Procurement Law will ensure fairness and transparency, promote competition, prevent the influence of personal interests, protect public money and provide fair treatment to competitors, he added, which will help to ensure equal opportunities.

The minister also said that the preliminary economic results and indicators reflect significant progress in the past year. Real GDP achieved a positive growth rate of about 1.1 percent in the first half of 2019, helped by the growth of the non-oil sector by 2.5 percent in the same period. Initial estimates indicate that GDP is expected to grow by 0.9 percent in 2019, with non-oil GDP growth rates expected to accelerate. Performance is expected to continue to improve in 2020, with GDP growth projected to reach 2.3 percent.

Total expenditure in 2019 is expected to be SR 1,048 billion, Al-Jadaan said, as the government aims to achieve fiscal discipline and stability as key objectives for sustainable economic growth in the medium term. Revenues for fiscal year 2019 are expected to be SR 917 billion, representing 1.2 percent growth compared with 2018, he added. The ratio of non-oil revenues to non-oil GDP is expected to increase to 16 percent by the end of 2019, compared with 7 percent in 2012.

“The budget deficit is expected to continue to decrease in this fiscal year 2019, reaching 4.7 percent of GDP, compared with 5.9 percent last year,” said Al-Jadaan.

He added that the 2020 budget will continue to implement programs and initiatives designed to strengthen the role of the private sector in the economy as the main driver of economic growth and job creation. Currently, there are 22 support initiatives for the private sector, including cash subsidies, commitments and financing guarantees, offered by entities such as the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Housing and the General Investment Authority.

Al-Jadaan said that the 2020 budget will continue efforts to improve the efficiency of public-finance management to maintain fiscal sustainability and maximize return on expenditure. This takes into account the potential effect of domestic and international developments during budget execution, he added.

“The 2020 budget will also focus its expenditure on Vision 2030 realization programs, which represent the main tool to realize economic transformation objectives, including housing programs, the quality of life program, privatization program, mega projects, private-sector stimulus packages and other major projects across various sectors,” the minister said. These projects will help to support non-oil GDP growth in 2020 and over the medium term, he added.

The implementation of these programs and initiatives has led to performance improvement in a number of sectors, Al-Jadaan said, the most notable of which is construction. It returned to positive growth in 2019 after declining during the previous three years.

In general, the economy has resumed positive and high growth across a number of economic sectors.

“In the first half of 2019, wholesale, retail-trade, restaurants and hotels, and finance, insurance, and real-estate activities grew by 3.8 percent and 5.1 percent respectively compared with the same period last year,” said the minister.

Transport, storage and communication, and community, social and personal services activities, including arts and entertainment, increased by 5.6 percent and 5.9 percent respectively compared with the same period in 2018.

The government is continuing its efforts to develop local content, enhance the competitiveness of the economy and improve the business environment, said Al-Jadaan. He noted that the non-oil private sector experienced positive growth during the first half of 2019 for the first time in three years, supported by policies designed to stimulate the private sector.

He said that releasing a pre-budget statement for a second consecutive year highlights the government commitment to reinforcing governance and controls on public finance, while enhancing the policy of financial disclosure by strengthening transparency principles.

With this in mind, the Kingdom recently joined the International Monetary Fund’s Special Data Dissemination Standard, which is considered one of the best international standards in the dissemination of national fiscal and economic data.

“This is an important step on the Kingdom's path to enhancing fiscal disclosure and transparency in accordance with international standards,” said Al-Jadaan.
 


Why North American investors are gobbling up booming bitcoin

Updated 33 min 57 sec ago

Why North American investors are gobbling up booming bitcoin

Why North American investors are gobbling up booming bitcoin
  • Digital currency soars to record high amid dramatic $3.4bn global market shift

LONDON: Bitcoin has grabbed headlines this week with its dizzying ascent to an all-time high. Yet, under the radar, a trend has been playing out that could change the face of the cryptocurrency market: A massive flow of coin to North America from East Asia.

Bitcoin, the biggest and original cryptocurrency, soared to a record $19,918 on Tuesday, buoyed by demand from investors who variously view the virtual currency as a “risk-on” asset, a hedge against inflation and a payment method gaining mainstream acceptance.

But the boom represents a shift in the market, which has typically been dominated by investors in East Asian nations like China, Japan and South Korea since the digital currency was invented by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto over a decade ago.

It is North American investors who have been the bigger winners in the 165 percent rally this year.

Weekly net inflows of bitcoin — a proxy for new buyers — to platforms serving mostly North American users have jumped over 7,000 times this year to over 216,000 bitcoin worth $3.4 billion in mid-November, data compiled for Reuters shows.

East Asian exchanges have lost out.

Those serving investors in the region bled 240,000 bitcoin worth $3.8 billion last month, versus an inflow of 1,460 in January, according to the data from US blockchain researcher Chainalysis.

The change is being driven by an increasing appetite for bitcoin among bigger US investors, according to Reuters interviews with cryptocurrency platforms and investors from the US and Europe to South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan.

“The sudden influx of institutional interest from the North American region is driving a shift in bitcoin trading, which is rebalancing asset allocations across different exchanges and platforms,” said Ciara Sun of Seychelles-based Huobi Global Markets, whose parent company has roots in China and operates in several Asian markets.

East Asia, North America and Western Europe are the biggest bitcoin hubs, with the first two alone accounting for about half of all transfers, according to Chainalysis, which gathers data by region with tools such as tagging cryptocurrency wallets.

Industry experts caution it is too early to call a fundamental shift in the market, particularly in an unprecedented year of pandemic-induced financial turmoil.

Growing flows to North America this year are not necessarily “an indication that the center of gravity is tilting toward the US,” said James Quinn of Q9 Capital, a Hong Kong cryptocurrency private wealth manager.

Others also point out that cryptocurrency trading is highly opaque compared with traditional assets and patchily regulated, making comprehensive data on the emerging sector rare.

Nonetheless, Chainalysis found North American trading volumes at major exchanges — those with the most blockchain activity — had eclipsed East Asia’s this year. This is not unheard of, with North America having moved ahead on occasions in the past, but never by such a large margin.

Volumes at four major North American platforms have doubled this year to reach 1.6 million bitcoin per week at the end of November, while trading at 14 major East Asian exchanges have risen 16 percent to 1.4 million, according to the data.

By comparison, a year before, East Asia led the way with 1.3 million a week versus North America’s 766,000.

Those interviewed said compliance-wary US investors, many of whom had been deterred by the opaque nature of the market in the past, are being attracted by the tightening oversight of the American crypto industry.

US exchanges are in general more tightly regulated than many of those in East Asia, and there have been several moves by American regulators and law-enforcement agencies this year to clarify how bitcoin is overseen.

A leading banking regulator said in July, for instance, that national banks could provide custody services for cryptocurrencies. The justice department also outlined an enforcement framework for digital coins in October.

“You’re increasingly starting to see distinctions in the market between those that have no regulatory or little regulatory clarity, versus those that do,” said Curtis Ting of major US exchange Kraken.

“Larger institutions seek the predictability that a regulated venue offers.”

Assets under management at New York-based Grayscale, the world’s largest digital currency manager, have soared to a record $10.4 billion, up more than 75 percent from September. Its bitcoin fund is up 85 percent.

“A lot of US funds are trading with large US counterparties,” said Christopher Matta of 3iQ, a Canadian digital asset manager with clients in the US, citing exchanges such as California’s Coinbase that are overseen by New York financial regulators.

“It tells you right there how important the regulatory nature of the space is, and having venues to trade on that are regulated — it’s definitely something that institutional investors are thinking about.”

Another factor behind the 2020 trend is a decline in the armies of retail investors in Asia who drove bitcoin’s 2017 boom, which pushed it to its previous peak.

In South Korea, strict regulations have been discouraging such investors, according to In Hoh of Korea University’s Blockchain Research Institute.

Concerns that major retail exchanges linked to China but based elsewhere could be caught up in a crackdown by Beijing may have pushed down demand, said Leo Weese, co-founder of the Hong Kong Bitcoin Association.

In October, for instance, Malta-headquartered OKEx, which was founded in China, suspended crypto withdrawals for nearly six weeks because an executive was cooperating with an investigation by Chinese law enforcement.