Oman’s bond market return a key test for reform path

Oman is hoping a return to the international bond market will boost its credibility in the eyes of investors. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 21 October 2020

Oman’s bond market return a key test for reform path

  • After becoming ruler in January, Sultan Haitham made shaking up and modernising state finances a top priority

DUBAI: Oman’s return to the international bond market this week will be a test of its ability to convince investors that long-awaited fiscal reforms have started to put it on a sustainable financial footing.

Oman, rated below investment grade by all the major credit agencies, announced on Monday plans to issue bonds with maturities of three, seven and 12 years, in what would be its first global debt sale this year.

Sultan Haitham, who became Oman’s ruler in January, has made shaking up state finances one of his priorities.

But investors would like to see more concrete steps being taken and, after a further sovereign downgrade last week, may require the new bonds to offer a significant premium over the country’s existing debt.

“The new sultan has done some good things — rationalizing the number of ministries, the implementation of VAT, plans to generate additional tax revenues, and they still have sovereign assets,” said Raza Agha, head of emerging markets credit strategy at Legal & General Investment Management.

“There is positive momentum but it will take time for that credibility to build.”

According to a bond prospectus, Oman has begun talks with some Gulf countries for financial support.

“I don’t think this will actually be taken into consideration by investors unless there is a tangible announcement from Gulf countries with a tangible support package,” said Zeina Rizk, executive fixed income director at Arqaam Capital.

Oman will likely price the new three-year bonds in the high 4 percent area, the seven-year tranche in the high 6 percent and the 12-year in the mid-to-high 7 percent area, implying a premium of at least 50 basis points (bps) over its existing curve, she said.

Two other investors, who did not wish to be named, said the paper could carry a 25 bps premium over existing secondary trading levels.

Sources have previously told Reuters Oman would target over $3 billion with the new deal.

“If they take $3 to 3.5 billion, you will have a market indigestion for Oman, and I’m sure people will ask to be compensated for this risk,” Rizk said.


Fishing rights top Brexit talks agenda

Updated 18 min 33 sec ago

Fishing rights top Brexit talks agenda

  • A no-deal scenario is widely expected to cause economic chaos

LONDON: Last-ditch Brexit trade talks continued in London on Sunday with fishing rights remaining an “outstanding major bone of contention,” according to British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters that “work continues, even on a Sunday,” as he arrived for the second day of talks.

Barnier had arrived in London on Friday following a spell in self-isolation after a member of his team contracted coronavirus and ahead of the resumption of talks with British counterpart David Frost on Saturday.

Both men warned that a deal could not be reached without major concessions from the other party.

There are only five weeks to go until the end of the current transition period, during which trade relations have remained largely unchanged.

The two key sticking points remain post-Brexit access to British fishing waters for European vessels and the EU’s demand for trade penalties if either side diverges from common standards or state aid regulations rules.

Raab told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that this could be the final week of “substantive” talks, with time running out to agree and ratify a deal.

“There’s a deal to be done,” he said.

“On fishing there’s a point of principle: As we leave the EU we’re going to be an independent coastal state and we’ve got to be able to control our waters,” he added.

Barnier told envoys last week that London was asking that European access to UK waters be cut by 80 percent, while the EU was willing to accept 15 to 18 percent, according to a Brussels source.

A British official called the demands “risible,” according to the domestic Press Association, adding that the “EU side knows full well that we would never accept this.”

“There seems to be a failure from the Commission to internalize the scale of change needed as we become an independent nation,” said the source.

However, Raab was cautiously optimistic over the “level playing field” issue, saying “it feels like there is progress toward greater respect” for Britain’s position.

A failure to reach an agreement would see Britain and the EU trading on World Trade Organization terms, with tariffs immediately imposed on goods traveling to and from the continent.

As it stands, Britain will leave Europe’s trade and customs area on Dec. 31, with no prospect of an extension.

A no-deal scenario is widely expected to cause economic chaos, with customs checks required at borders.

Concern is particularly acute on the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, where the sudden imposition of a hard border threatens the delicate peace secured by 1999’s Good Friday Agreement.

The talks have already dragged on much longer than expected and time is running out for ratification of any deal by the European Parliament by the end of the year.