IMF sharply cuts Saudi forecast as oil, virus hit economy

Agence France-Presse
IMF sharply cuts Saudi forecast as oil, virus hit economy

AFP

The International Monetary Fund predicts Saudi Arabia's economy will contract by 6.8% in 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product (GDP) will shrink by 6.8% this year, its worst performance since the 1980s oil glut, as low crude prices and the coronavirus batter Middle East economies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Wednesday, June 24.

The new projection for the Saudi economy, the largest in the region, is a massive 4.5 percentage points lower than what the IMF had projected just two months ago, reflecting a fast deterioration in the world’s top crude exporter.

Growth in the Middle East and Central Asia region is expected to contract by 4.7% this year, 1.9 percentage points below the previous projection in April, the global lender said in its World Economic Outlook update.

The IMF kept its oil price projections almost unchanged from April at around $36 a barrel.

“Oil futures curves indicate that prices are expected to increase thereafter toward $46, still about 25% below the 2019 average,” which was around $64 a barrel, it said. 

Many of the countries in the region, which includes all Arab countries, Iran, and Central Asian republics, heavily rely on oil income.

Several economic forecasts have predicted that the Middle East and North African countries could lose hundreds of billions of dollars in income as oil prices sag amid a global slowdown caused by the pandemic.

The IMF said in an April report that the COVID-19 outbreak and the plunge in oil prices were causing significant economic turmoil in the region and that the impact could be long-lasting.

Oil prices crashed to a two-decade low below $20 a barrel in May due to a sharp decline in global demand as a result of the coronavirus lockdown.

Crude prices have partially recovered to just over $40 a barrel after the OPEC+ producers agreed to historic cuts of 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd), and Riyadh and its Gulf partners pledged an additional 1.2 million bpd reduction for June.  

In the latest update, the IMF forecast Iran’s economy, the 2nd largest in the region, to shrink by 6%, unchanged from April, mired in the red for the 3rd year in a row. Iran has been battling stifling sanctions imposed by the United States.

The only bright spot was Egypt, which the IMF said will grow by 2% this year, but still way down from 5.6% achieved in 2019.

Fiscal deficits and public debt levels in the region will substantially rise this year and in 2021, the IMF said.

Saudi’s budget deficit will more than double from last year to hit 11.4% of GDP, but is expected to moderate to 5.6% of GDP in 2021, it said.

Saudi Arabia has already resorted to austerity measures, cutting spending, scrapping a cost of living allowance to civil servants, and tripling its value-added tax to 15% from July. – Rappler.com

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