Saudi Arabia poised to tip into deficit


Saudi Arabia risks falling into a budget deficit next year and may have to tap its reserves, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned.

One sign that Saudi Arabia is in danger of dipping into deficit is its "break-even oil price" – the price oil would need to be for the country to balance its budget. The IMF, in its annual consultation paper released Wednesday, notes that Saudi Arabia's break-even price has risen to $89 a barrel in 2013 from $78 a barrel in 2012.

Waseem Obaidi | Bloomberg | Getty Images

It would be the first time since 2010 that the Middle East's largest economy records a deficit for its government finances. Apart from domestic expenditures such as ambitious infrastructure outlays, pressure on government finances is also coming from substantial aid pledges to countries across the Arab World.

"This expenditure path and lower oil revenues lead to an overall fiscal deficit in 2015, which is expected to deteriorate further to almost 7.5 percent of (gross domestic product) GDP by 2019," the fund said in the 54-page dossier.

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But while Saudi officials have shrugged off suggestions spending needed to be reined in, experts diverge on projections.

"According to our model, we will see a fiscal deficit in 2016 as government maintains high spending while a gradual decline in oil prices will push revenues downward," Fahad Alturki, Head of Research at Riyadh-based Jadwa Investment, told CNBC. "We also factor in lower oil production as many of the oil outages that we see today are expected to resume production".

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Figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed Saudi Arabia cut August supply by 330,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 9.68 million bpd "seemingly in response to lower requests from customers".

The report comes on the day officials released figures for second-quarter economic growth, which showed a significant slowdown from 5.1 percent to 3.8 percent year-on-year.

"Looking ahead, we think growth will weaken further. The slowdown in the oil sector looks set to continue and may even contract in annual terms towards the end of the year," Jason Tuvey of Capital Economics explained.

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Saudi Arabia's massive oil revenues are managed by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), the country's central bank, and serve as the backbone for policy responses to economic shocks. Earlier this month, HSBC noted the Kingdom's foreign reserve levels stood at $742 billion, enough to cover 35 months of imports.

"The macroeconomic outlook is favorable and substantial policy buffers are in place, but the current path of fiscal policy risks substantially eroding these buffers over the next few year," the IMF warned.

The Saudi Tawadul, the stock exchange with the largest market capitalization in the region, has gained over 25 percent so far this year.