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Saudi Budget Reverts to Traditional Practices as Dependency on Oil Persists

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Saudi Arabia's Budget Reliance on Oil: A Risky Path

Saudi Arabia's new budget reflects a continued dependence on high oil prices, posing risks for a country whose fiscal decisions have global implications. Despite a surplus in 2022, the costly economic transformation led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has resulted in projected deficits until at least 2026. This marks a significant shift from previous plans to maintain a balanced budget. The kingdom's fiscal choices are closely tied to the energy market, as it requires crude oil prices of around $91 per barrel to achieve fiscal equilibrium. However, this reliance on oil prices exposes the government's balance sheet to potential weaknesses and may impact its ability to manage spending effectively. The latest budget blueprint indicates that Saudi Arabia will need to closely monitor the energy market to ensure that crude prices remain high. However, this approach poses challenges, as reductions in oil output can lead to a contraction in gross domestic product. The Saudi Finance Ministry's pre-budget statement outlines plans to increase expenditure as part of the crown prince's economic transformation program. It also emphasizes the flexibility in spending, allowing for the extension of project implementation periods. The shift towards a more expansionary stance in the budget raises concerns about the medium-term fiscal outlook. Weaker global demand and fears of a slowdown in economic growth could exert downward pressure on oil prices, making the budget vulnerable. The revived connection to oil highlights the ongoing importance of the energy sector, which remains a significant source of government revenue and a key driver of the economy. While previous efforts aimed to reduce reliance on oil by diversifying the economy and controlling spending, the latest projections indicate a departure from these plans. The breakeven oil price for Saudi Arabia has averaged around $81 in recent years, and including outlays by the sovereign wealth fund, it is estimated to rise to $110 in the second half of this year. The Finance Ministry expects a fiscal deficit in 2024, and this year's shortfall is projected to be around 2% of GDP. The fiscal plans of Saudi Arabia may need to be adjusted if the energy market does not align with expectations. In the event of lower oil prices and production, the government may need to rationalize spending and make adjustments to capital expenditure. Moody's forecasts oil prices to average $80-$85 per barrel in the coming years, gradually declining over time. The government's ability to adapt to changing market conditions will be crucial in maintaining fiscal stability.

Implications for New Businesses in the Energy Sector

Saudi Arabia's budget reliance on high oil prices presents a precarious situation that could have significant implications for new businesses in the energy sector. The country's fiscal decisions, closely tied to the energy market, could influence global oil prices and market stability.

Market Volatility and Business Planning

The projected deficits and the need for high crude oil prices to achieve fiscal equilibrium could lead to market volatility. For new businesses, this uncertainty could complicate business planning and risk management. Companies may need to develop robust strategies to navigate potential price fluctuations and market disruptions.
Opportunities for Diversification and Innovation
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia's dependence on oil could create opportunities for businesses offering alternative energy solutions or technologies to enhance oil production efficiency. The country's shift towards an expansionary budget and increased expenditure on the crown prince's economic transformation program could open up avenues for innovation and diversification in the energy sector. In conclusion, while Saudi Arabia's budget reliance on oil presents risks, it also unveils opportunities. New businesses in the energy sector could leverage this situation to drive innovation, diversification, and growth, while also contributing to global energy stability.
Story First Published at: https://financialpost.com/pmn/business-pmn/saudi-budgets-back-to-old-ways-as-oil-habit-proves-hard-to-kick
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