Oman’s sultan says government will work to reduce debt

Sultan Haitham who assumed power in January, said the government would create a national framework to boost employment. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2020

Oman’s sultan says government will work to reduce debt

DUBAI: Oman's Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said said on Sunday the government would work to reduce public debt and restructure public institutions and companies to bolster the economy.
Haitham, in his second public speech since assuming power in January, said the government would create a national framework to tackle unemployment while addressing strained public finances.
"We will direct our financial resources in the best way that will guarantee reducing debt and increasing revenues," he said in the televised speech.
"We will also direct all government departments to adopt efficient governance that leads to a balanced, diversified and sustainable economy."
Rated junk by all three major credit rating agencies, Oman's debt to GDP ratio spiked to nearly 60% last year from around 15% in 2015, and could reach 70% by 2022, according to S&P Global Ratings.
The small oil producing country has relied heavily on debt to offset a widening deficit caused by lower crude prices. Also, the late Sultan Qaboos, who ruled Oman for nearly 50 years, held back on austerity measures.
The country has delayed introducing a 5% value added tax from 2019 to 2021, and economic diversification has been slow, with oil and gas accounting for over 70% of government revenues.
Last week, rating agency Fitch said Oman was budgeting for a higher deficit of 8.7% for 2020 despite its expectation of further asset-sale proceeds and some spending cuts.
"We are willing to take the necessary measures to restructure the state's administrative system and its legislation," Haitham said in his first speech since the mourning period for Qaboos ended, without elaborating.
He said there would be a full review of government companies to improve their business performance and competence.
Oman observers have said that if Haitham moves to decentralise power it would signal willingness to improve decision making. Like Qaboos, he holds the positions of finance minister and central bank chairman as well as premier, defence and foreign minister. 


Despite OPEC+ drama, oil markets uncertain on ‘historic’ deal

Updated 10 April 2020

Despite OPEC+ drama, oil markets uncertain on ‘historic’ deal

  • Heavy lifting of the meeting was accomplished fairly efficiently
  • Some analysts believe there could still be a headline number of 15 million barrels of cuts

DUBAI: The OPEC+ meeting hosted from Vienna turned into a night of high drama punctuated by “virtual” farce as delegates struggled to get a final deal to slash oil output by an unprecedented amount.

The heavy lifting of the meeting — the need for a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Russia if any headway was to be made in tackling the huge global oversupply of crude — was accomplished fairly efficiently.

The behind-closed-doors meeting of delegates had not even begun when Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund and a member of the Russian OPEC negotiating team, declared a “historic moment” in the history of oil. “We, working closely together with the US, can bring stability back to global energy markets,” he told Arab News.

The broad outline of a deal began to emerge: A cut of 10 million barrels per day by OPEC + running for two months starting in May; reductions of 8 million barrels from June until the end of the year; followed by 6 million barrels reduction until the spring of 2022.

Still to be decided is the important issue of what baseline level of production the cuts are calculated from, but it is expected that Saudi Arabia will make the biggest contribution, perhaps cutting more than 3 million barrels of output.

That was indeed an unprecedented commitment by the oil producers. To put it in context, the early March OPEC+ meeting fell apart — sparking the price war — because of disagreement over proposed extra cuts of 1.5 million barrels. Now a reduction many times that has been waved through almost unanimously.

“Almost” because of Mexico, which threw a late-night spanner in the works by refusing to sign up to a deal beyond cutting a mere 100,000 barrels from its own production. There was talk of sharing out surplus between OPEC+ members to get Mexico’s signature to a deal; the Americans amusingly suggested they would take the Mexican excess crude; even a half-serious threat that Mexico should be expelled from OPEC.

After this interlude was the high drama of a phone call between King Salman of Saudi Arabia, President Putin of Russia and American President Donald Trump. The leaders “stressed the importance of cooperation between oil producing nations to maintain stability of energy markets and support growth in the global economy,” which is a good omen ahead of the meeting of G20 energy ministers scheduled for Friday mid-day Vienna time.

The G20, under Saudi Arabia's presidency will bring in the third leg of the global oil industry which had not been present at the OPEC+ talks — the US Energy secretary Dan Brouillette has agreed to take part in the G20 energy summit, and while the Americans have ruled out any formal cuts as part of the process, they will be keen to highlight reductions in capital expenditure and a “natural” decline in shale production — by which they mean the increasing risk of bankruptcy to shale companies. 

Some analysts believe that, perhaps with some sleight of hand, there could still be a headline number of 15 million barrels of cuts, which would satisfy the expectations President Trump declared last week.

Whether it satisfies the oil markets is still open to question. Despite the “historic” agreement between Saudi Arabia and Russia, and the prospect of some American buy-in to follow, the price of Brent crude, which has been rising most of last week in anticipation of the OPEC+ meeting, fell by nearly 5 percent to just over $32 a barrel.

Traders were surprised by the gloomy tone of Mohammed Barkindo, the OPEC secretary general, in his preamble to the Vienna virtual meeting. With some experts estimating that global demand is currently down by more than 30 percent, Barkindo said that the fundamentals of supply and demand in oil were “horrifying.”

Paul Young, head of energy products at the Dubai Mercantile Exchange, told Arab News: “The market initially liked Russia coming back into the fold, but focus now switches to the wider G20 group and the need for firm commitments from non-OPEC+ producers to bring the oil markets back into balance.” 

But even if the final level of cuts does manage to exceed 10 million barrels, many experts doubt that will be enough to offset huge demand loss.

Anas Al-Hajji, managing partner of Energy Outlook Advisers, said: “Trump has made a big mistake blaming Saudi Arabia and Russia. He will be shocked when oil prices remain low even if we have a 10-million-barrel cut.”