The IMF estimated that Saudi Arabia will need oil prices to trade at about $70 per barrel in 2018 for its budget to breakeven, a dramatic improvement from the $96.60 per barrel it needed just last year. Saudi’s improvement is the most dramatic out of all the Middle Eastern oil producers, and it also suggests the combination of austerity, cuts to wasteful subsidies, new taxes and economic reforms are starting to bear fruit.
The improvement is all the more important because Saudi Arabia and its fellow OPEC members are restraining output as a way to boost oil prices. Selling fewer barrels means less revenue, although that is offset by the coordinated production cuts through the OPEC deal, which has helped raise prices.
Nevertheless, there is something glaring about Saudi Arabia’s breakeven price: It is still far higher than the current oil price, which means Riyadh is still feeling the economic and fiscal pressure from low crude prices. ‘The reality of lower oil prices has made it more urgent for oil exporters to move away from a focus on redistributing oil receipts through public sector spending and energy subsidies,’ the IMF said in its report. Saudi Arabia and other Middle East oil producers ‘have outlined ambitious diversification strategies, but medium-term growth prospects remain below historical averages amid ongoing fiscal consolidation,’ the IMF added. In other words, austerity might help narrow the budget deficit to some degree, but it can also be self-defeating if it slows growth.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Nov 2, 2017.