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Saudi spending to exceed 2012 budget, but surplus likely

Spending by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2012 will likely be higher than budgeted, but the country will still run a fiscal surplus of 4% of GDP, says Fitch Ratings.

January 5, 2012 4:00 by

Spending growth will moderate in 2012 compared with last year. In 2011, spending      growth reached 24%, the highest in a decade. The government raised public sector      wages, created government jobs, injected capital into state-owned lenders and      pledged more resources for housing. Capital spending – mainly on infrastructure      – exceeded 12% of GDP.

Saudi budgets typically underestimate both revenue and spending. In 2002-2011,      central government spending exceeded the budget by an average of 24.8%. But in      each year other than 2009, oil prices lifted revenues beyond expectations,      giving the government room to spend more without running a deficit.

In its National Budget released December 26, the Ministry of Finance projected      total revenues of SAR702bn (USD187.2bn) and government expenditure of SAR690bn,      giving a surplus of SAR12bn.

This appears to be based on a conservative oil price assumption. Assuming Saudi      Arabia reduces oil output to an average of 9mbd in 2012, the breakeven oil price      would be around USD60/b.

However, a budget overspend in line with the recent historical average would      result in spending of SAR846bn and push up the breakeven oil price to USD75/b.      At Fitch’s oil price assumption of USD100/b, revenue would reach SAR907bn,      giving a surplus of SAR61bn, or around 4% of GDP.

Over the medium term, there is still a possibility of Saudi Arabia running a      deficit by 2015. Assuming 7% spending growth – which would be lower than the      annual average of 12.5% in 2002-2011 – modest oil output growth, and an average      oil price of USD100/b, the country would run a deficit of 1% of GDP by 2015.

Fitch rates Saudi Arabia ‘AA-‘ with a Stable Outlook. The high investment grade      rating largely reflects the very strong sovereign and external balance sheet.      The sovereign balance sheet improved further in 2011, despite the highest      spending growth in a decade. Sovereign net foreign assets grew by over USD100bn      to 112% of GDP. With Brent averaging USD110/b, the general government surplus      for the year was 14% of GDP, higher than our expectation of 7.5% when we      affirmed the rating on April 8, 2011. That estimate was based on an assumption      of USD100/b.

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