Saudi Arabia May Tap Debt Market in January to Cover Deficit

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia may tap international debt markets as early as next month as it seeks funding to help bridge its widening budget deficit.

Most of the debt will be local and about 45% will be raised overseas through sukuk and conventional bonds, Fahad Al-Saif, head of the Finance Ministry’s debt management office, said in an interview on Wednesday. The country will also refinance roughly 44 billion riyals ($11.7 billion) of existing local debt, he said.

“Myself and the team will be ready on the 1st of January, and then we will start to assess the market openings,” Al-Saif said in Riyadh. “As soon as we have the right components, or the right energy of an issuance, we will be going ahead with it.”

  • Total debt requirement next year will be as much as 120 billion riyals
  • New debt will be up to 76 billion riyals
  • Of the new debt, 30 to 35 billion riyals will be international
  • Plans to maintain issuance ratio of 55% local and 45% international

Saudi Arabia expects its budget deficit next year will widen to 187 billion riyals, with plans to finance that by borrowing and drawing down the kingdom’s reserves.

The budget, announced this week, marks a shift away from the fiscal stimulus that helped power non-oil economic growth this year to the fastest since 2015. The world’s largest oil exporter is embarking on three years of spending cuts as it looks to private businesses to take the lead.

In the mid-term, the kingdom is considering selling bonds or sukuk in currencies other than the dollar and the euro, which it’s already issued in, Al-Saif said.

“It is not part yet of my annual borrowing plan,” he said. “But it is part of the medium term debt strategy, which is keeping an assessment and keeping an eye on other markets that may develop.”

The debt office is also looking at alternative options including export credit agency financing, Al-Saif said.

“We are now engaged in ECA financing that actually makes sense to be plugged into the portfolio,” he said. “Also infrastructure finance, project finance -- it depends. There are certain governmental projects that we could finance away from the debt capital markets.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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