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IMF sees 2017 Saudi growth ‘close to zero’ on oil prices, cuts

LiveMint logoLiveMint 23-07-2017 Dana Khraiche

Beirut: Saudi Arabia’s economy will stall in 2017 with growth “close to zero” due to lower oil revenue, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said.

The fund lowered its 2017 growth forecast to 0.1% from 0.4%, citing production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec), uncertainty over oil prices and the structural reforms the country is undertaking to reduce its reliance on crude, it said in a statement on Friday concluding its Article-IV consultation.

The IMF also lowered its non-oil growth projection to 1.7% from 2.1%—compared with actual growth of 0.2% in 2016.

Lower oil prices and austerity measures are weighing on Saudi Arabia’s economy, which contracted in the first quarter for the first time since 2009—illustrating the scale of the challenge facing the country’s new heir, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, as he implements his blueprint for a transition away from oil dependency.

Even so, the fund said it welcomed the government’s direction, which it said would help the fiscal deficit “narrow substantially in the coming years.”

“Non oil growth is expected to pick up this year and overall growth is expected to strengthen over the medium term as structural reforms are implemented,” the IMF board said in the statement released on Friday. It cautioned the government to monitor the impact of the fiscal measures and to “make corrections if needed.”

Saudi Arabia’s fiscal deficit is expected to narrow to 9.3% of gross domestic product in 2017 and to just under 1% by 2022, from 17.2% in 2016, the fund said.

The IMF said it commended Saudi Arabia’s plan to remove energy subsidies, encouraging a “more gradual phasing of the price increases to allow households and businesses more time to adjust.”

It also said the kingdom’s exchange-rate peg to the dollar “remains appropriate given the structure” of the economy. Bloomberg

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