Low global crude prices have hit Saudi Arabia hard. With a considerable budget deficit, Saudi has been forced to begin borrowing from capital markets – $4bn in July. The kingdom is highly reliant on oil – accounting for more than 90% of budget revenues. Cuts have not been made to capital expenditure and Saudi has engaged in an expensive conflict within Yemen. Consequently, the decision to ride out lower prices has put a huge strain on finances – the IMF estimates $50 oil will lead to a deficit of ~$140bn (20% of GDP) this year. Plugging holes in the budget with bond issues is the clearest sign yet that the kingdom is feeling the pinch, the question is, how long can it continue?
At least for the time being, there seems to be room for more lending, with plans to raise $27bn by year end. Debt levels have been dramatically reduced since the late 1990s when borrowing reached 100% of GDP (prior to July’s bond issue, debt was 1.6% of GDP). At present, liquidity does not seem to be a problem with local banks easily absorbing bond issues. However, further borrowing into 2016 and beyond could prove problematic. Predicted rises in global interest rates over the coming years may make borrowing unattractive, forcing further withdrawals from the country’s foreign reserves. If current oil price trends continue, these reserves could fall to $200bn by 2018 – 70% less than pre-crash levels.