Kuwait scrambles to boost coffers with up to $16 billion debt plan

Kuwait scrambles to boost coffers with up to $16 billion debt plan
Kuwait is scrambling to boost state coffers badly hit by the coronavirus crisis and low crude prices. (AFP)
Updated 19 July 2020

Kuwait scrambles to boost coffers with up to $16 billion debt plan

Kuwait scrambles to boost coffers with up to $16 billion debt plan
  • Other Gulf states have tapped international markets over the past few years
  • Kuwait could need three to four months to prepare a debt sale

KUWAIT: Kuwait plans to issue between $13 billion and $16 billion in public debt by the end of the fiscal year ending March 2021 if parliament approves a long-debated debt law, a government document seen by Reuters showed.
Facing one of the worst economic crunches in the oil-exporting Gulf region, Kuwait is scrambling to boost state coffers badly hit by the coronavirus crisis and low crude prices, rapidly depleting its General Reserve Fund (GRF) to plug a budget deficit.
A parliamentary committee is due to vote on the law — which would allow Kuwait to tap international debt markets — on Sunday ahead of putting it to the elected assembly for approval.
Legislators have been requesting more visibility from the state about use of the funds and repayment mechanisms given the government’s heavy reliance on oil income.
“The government will face a real crisis in everything if the debt law is not passed,” a government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The law, which a parliamentary committee discussed last week, would allow it to borrow 20 billion dinars ($65 billion) over 30 years.
Other Gulf states have tapped international markets over the past few years and the region saw more issuances when oil prices crashed earlier this year as the pandemic hit global demand.
Even with parliamentary approval, Kuwait could need three to four months to prepare a debt sale, according to the government document.
A finance ministry official declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
Kuwait has already depleted the cash in its GRF, the document showed. The International Monetary Fund estimates the deficit could reach more than 11 percent of gross domestic product this year, compared with a 4.8 percent surplus last year.
The finance ministry also proposed selling 2.2 billion dinars of the GRF’s assets to Kuwait’s other — much larger — sovereign fund, the Future Generations Fund, or borrowing from the central bank to boost state finances, the document showed.
Finance Minister Barak Al-Sheatan said in a statement published in state media on Saturday that the ministry submitted to cabinet “available options for securing sufficient liquidity” and that the government had approved an “interim financial reform scheme.” He did not specify the measures approved.
“The government looks forward to the legislative authority’s cooperation,” Sheatan said in the statement issued after S&P Global Ratings on Friday revised Kuwait’s outlook to ‘negative’ from ‘stable’.
Kuwait’s 91-year-old Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah underwent successful surgery on Sunday morning after being admitted to hospital on Saturday, his office said. His designated successor Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah temporarily took over some of the ruler’s constitutional duties on Saturday.
The document said the cabinet approved a slate of reforms aimed at diversifying state revenues away from oil, but it did not specify them.
Lawmaker Riyadh Al-Adsani had tweeted that reforms include introducing value-added tax and excise taxes, a tax on net profits of private businesses, reforming the wage structure in the bloated public sector, slashing some benefits and raising utility prices.
Successive parliaments have hampered far reaching economic reform plans over the past decade in a country whose citizens are accustomed to a cradle-to-grave welfare system. Kuwait is due to hold parliamentary elections in the next several months.
Deutsche Bank estimates its economy will contract by 7.8 percent this year, the biggest fall among Gulf states.
Last month Kuwait’s government approved a cut to state entities’ budgets by at least 20 percent. It is also considering making an annual 10 percent transfer of state revenue to the Future Generations Fund conditional on budget surpluses, a move that could save it some $3 billion in the current fiscal year.


Weekly energy recap: February 26, 2021

Weekly energy recap: February 26, 2021
Updated 28 February 2021

Weekly energy recap: February 26, 2021

Weekly energy recap: February 26, 2021
  • The market is still assessing the resumption of US crude oil output after the fallout from the big freeze across Texas

RIYADH: Oil prices made another big weekly gain, as WTI rose above $60 per barrel and the Brent crude price settled above $65 per barrel, amid a sharp drop in US output due to the weather crisis in Texas. The week closed with Brent crude at $66.13 per barrel and WTI at $61.50.

The market is still assessing the resumption of US crude oil output after the fallout from the big freeze across Texas. The impact on US crude production is still unclear. Some American producers reported production losses of about four million barrels per day (bpd) during the cold blast, but the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a drop of only one million bpd.

US commercial crude stocks climbed by 1.28 million barrels to 463.04 million last week as the Texas freeze pushed refinery demand to 12-year lows. Global Platts S&P has reported the total U.S. refinery net crude input plunged 2.59 million bpd to 12.23 million bpd, the lowest since the week ended September 2008, as refinery utilization fell 14.5 percent to 68.6 percent of capacity.

Even before the striking impact of the Texas snowstorm on the US energy industry, output had fallen greatly. The EIA reported that US oil production has decreased to 9.7 million bpd, down 1.1 million from the week before and 3.4 million lower than the US peak of 13.1 million bpd a year ago. Coming in addition to the 8.2 million bpd output cuts from OPEC+ (including Saudi Arabia’s additional 1 million bpd voluntary cut), this has reduced global supplies by about 11.6 million bpd, which has so far kept the market intact and helped oil prices to head for their fourth monthly gain.

There has been bullish talk that prices might reach $100. This is completely false, despite the upcoming spring refineries maintenance season in Asia, where China is getting ready with lower crude oil imports. Continuing fears over the coronavirus may even push Asian refineries to make deeper run cuts until oil prices advance into the $70s in coming months.

Ironically, ahead of the OPEC+ meeting in early March, market participants and major shale oil producers are giving OPEC+ bullish signs to consider a modest production boost. These signals show the declining influence of US shale on OPEC and suggest that the organisation no longer needs to worry about the threat posed by the sector.


UK to allocate $17bn for new infrastructure bank

UK to allocate $17bn for new infrastructure bank
Updated 27 February 2021

UK to allocate $17bn for new infrastructure bank

UK to allocate $17bn for new infrastructure bank
  • Sunak to use budget to expand apprenticeships and extra funds for traineeships

LONDON: Britain is to launch a new infrastructure bank with £12 billion ($17 billion) in capital and £10 billion in government guarantees, the treasury said on Saturday, aimed at supporting the economy.

British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, is expected to announce the initial funding at Wednesday’s budget and the bank will launch in spring, the ministry said.

“Britain’s businesses and the Great British public deserve world-class infrastructure and that is exactly what this new bank will help us deliver for them,” Sunak was quoted as saying.

The bank is set to finance private sector projects in the green economy, focusing on areas such as carbon capture and renewable energy.

It will also provide loans to local authorities at low interest rates to support “complex infrastructure projects.”

The Finance Ministry said the bank would unlock billions more in private finance to support a £40 billion infrastructure investment to “fire up the economy” and help reach commitments on net zero emissions and reducing regional deprivation.

The announcement comes as Britain’s economy has been hit hard by pandemic lockdowns.

Analysts expect unemployment to surge when the UK government’s furlough scheme paying the bulk of wages for millions in the private sector ends — as currently planned — at the end of April.

Sunak last week hinted he would announce further employment support in the coming months.

He first announced the planned bank in November last year, saying its headquarters would be in northern England rather than in the financial hub of London.

Apprenticeships

The minister will also announce more funding for apprenticeships in England.

Employers taking part in the Apprenticeship Initiative Scheme will from April 1 receive £3,000 for each apprentice hired, regardless of age — an increase on current grants of between £1,500 and £2,000 depending on age.

The scheme will be extended by six months until the end of September, the Finance Ministry said.

Sunak will also announce an extra £126 million for traineeships for up to 43,000 placements.

‘Enormous strains’

Sunak will use the budget next week to level with the public over the “enormous strains” in the country’s finances, warning that a bill will have to be paid after further coronavirus support, according to an interview with the Financial Times.

Sunak told the newspaper there was an immediate need to spend more to protect jobs as the UK emerged from COVID-19, but warned that Britain’s finances were now “exposed.”

UK exposure to a rise of 1 percentage point across all interest rates was £25 billion a year to the government’s cost of servicing its debt, Sunak told FT.

Additionally, the government will also announce a new £100 million task force to crackdown on COVID-19 fraudsters exploiting government support schemes, it said.


S. Africa proposes new rules to boost economy

S. Africa proposes new rules to boost economy
Updated 27 February 2021

S. Africa proposes new rules to boost economy

S. Africa proposes new rules to boost economy
  • Africa’s most industrialized nation — the hardest-hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the continent — has put public works in sectors

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa’s National Treasury is proposing changing rules governing pension funds to encourage investment in infrastructure projects.

Africa’s most industrialized nation — the hardest-hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the continent — has put public works in sectors such as transport, energy and water at the heart of its economic recovery plans.

The treasury is proposing changes to Regulation 28 of the Pension Funds Act in draft amendments published for public comment on Friday. This rule sets the maximum percentage of a fund’s assets that can be invested in different asset classes and is aimed to shield savers from over-concentrated investments.

The proposed amendments do not introduce infrastructure as a new asset class alongside existing ones like equities, debt instruments and property but allow for infrastructure investments to be recognized within those asset classes.

They also say overall investment in infrastructure across all asset categories may not exceed 45 percent of domestic exposure and an additional 10 percent for the rest of Africa.

The changes should make it easier for retirement funds to invest in infrastructure and allow for better measurement of investment in projects, the Treasury said in a statement.

The changes are “informed by a number of calls for increased investment in infrastructure given the current low economic growth climate,” it said, stressing that the decision to invest in any asset class remained up to the board of trustees of each fund.

The public can comment on the amendments until late March.


G20 vows multilateral approach to tackle crises

G20 vows multilateral approach to tackle crises
Updated 28 February 2021

G20 vows multilateral approach to tackle crises

G20 vows multilateral approach to tackle crises
  • Finance chiefs agree to avoid premature withdrawal of fiscal support

ROME/BRUSSELS: The world’s financial leaders committed to a more multilateral approach to the twin coronavirus and economic crises.

“We agreed that any premature withdrawal of fiscal and monetary support should be avoided,” Daniele Franco, Italy’s finance minister, told a news conference after an online meeting held by the G20 finance ministers and central bankers on Friday.

The financial chiefs agreed to maintain expansionary policies to help economies survive the effects of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). 

The Italian presidency of the G20 group of the world’s top economies said the gathering of finance chiefs had pledged to work more closely to accelerate a still fragile and uneven recovery.

The G20 is “committed to scaling up international coordination to tackle current global challenges by adopting a stronger multilateral approach and focusing on a set of core priorities,” the Italian presidency said in a statement.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the G20 Washington had dropped the Trump administration’s proposal to let some companies opt out of new global digital tax rules, raising hopes for an agreement by summer.

The move was hailed as a major breakthrough by Germany’s Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire.

Scholz said Yellen told the G20 officials that Washington also planned to reform US minimum tax regulations in line with an Organization for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) proposal for a global effective minimum tax.

“This is a giant step forward,” Scholz said.

 Franco said the new US stance should pave the way to an overarching deal on taxation of multinationals at a G20 meeting of finance chiefs in Venice in July.

The G20 also discussed how to help the world’s poorest countries, whose economies are being disproportionately hit by the crisis.

On this front there was broad support for boosting the capital of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help it provide more loans, but no concrete numbers were proposed.

To give itself more firepower, the IMF proposed last year to increase its war chest by $500 billion in its own currency called the Special Drawing Rights (SDR), but the idea was blocked by former US President Donald Trump.

“There was no discussion on specific amounts of SDRs,” Franco said, adding that the issue would be looked at again on the basis of a proposal prepared by the IMF for April.


Deal signed to stimulate Saudi private sector

Deal signed to stimulate Saudi private sector
Updated 27 February 2021

Deal signed to stimulate Saudi private sector

Deal signed to stimulate Saudi private sector

The Saudi Center for International Strategic Partnerships (SCISP) signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC) to boost the private sector’s role in international partnerships.

The move aims to stimulate the private sector’s participation and sustainability by providing all necessary support to achieve the objectives of the Kingdom’s international strategic partnerships.

SCISP CEO Faisal Al-Sugair said the agreement is part of the measures aimed at involving all relevant actors in the Kingdom’s economic system to achieve the strategic goals of Vision 2030.

The memorandum includes exchange of information, data and necessary reports that support the two parties’ work, Al-Sugair said.

Established in 2017, the SCISP is a government entity linked to the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.