Thu, Jul 28, 2016

Business, Banking & Finance
Saudi reforms to benefit economy, says UBS

Saudi Arabia current fiscal measures should help ensure a sustainable economic future for the kingdom in the medium term, according to a UBS report.

The report was released by UBS, the world's largest global wealth manager, following a recent assessment by the bank's Chief Investment Office (CIO).

“Saudi Arabia has implemented several measures to protect fiscal balances from the oil price drop. Government spending was cut by 15 per cent in real terms in 2015, and a further cut of 16 per cent is envisaged for this year,” the UBS report said, adding that “going forward, several measures will likely be implemented to raise the share of non-oil revenues, such as the introduction of VAT in the GCC region”. 

The ambitious Vision 2030 development plan which was launched in April aims to reduce the Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, boost the private sector’s role in the economy, lower national unemployment, and raise non-oil revenues almost four-fold to about 20 per cent of GDP by 2020. 

It involves the creation of a large sovereign wealth fund, the sale of less than 5 per cent of Aramco shares by 2018, and an array of fiscal and structural reforms. The share of Saudi nationals in total labour is projected to increase from 44 per cent in 2014 to 60 per cent by 2030, with most of the new jobs being in the private sector.

Jorge Mariscal, Emerging Markets Chief Investment Officer at UBS Wealth Management, commented, “The key to ensuring that Vision 2030 is achieved is to guarantee that nationals are equipped with the right qualifications to make them competitive in the private sector job market, while absorbing talent transitioning from the public sector. Following the current fiscal consolidation and other proposed reforms, the Kingdom's finances should find a more sustainable footing in the medium term. This is despite declining oil revenues impacting fiscal and external balances and a surge in public spending. Government level reforms, including closure of a number of overlapping councils, commissions and committees, should benefit the economy, reducing red tape and making the government smaller, more efficient, and more accountable.”

However, UBS warns that even lower oil prices might pose a risk to reform implementation. 

“Geopolitical risks could distract the government from much-needed reforms domestically. Non-oil GDP could be hit potentially due to austerity measures. The general government debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to be about 10 per cent of GDP in 2017, up from 1.5 per cent in 2014. The sovereign net foreign asset position is also expected to drop quite sharply. Growth is expected to slow to about 1.5 per cent in 2016-17,” the report concluded.

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