Traditional houses line the Mutrah Corniche on the harbor side in the old city district of Muscat, Oman. (Photographer: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg)

Oil Keeps Oman on Debt Binge With $6.2 Billion Plan for 2019

(Bloomberg) -- Oman’s government, whose budget deficit is among the largest of all the sovereigns tracked by Fitch Ratings, will tap capital markets for a fourth straight year to plug a fiscal gap vulnerable to lower oil prices.

The Persian Gulf nation is looking to raise 2.4 billion rials ($6.2 billion) internationally and at home, according to a state budget plan published on the Oman News Agency. Borrowing will cover 86 percent of the country’s 2.8 billion-rial shortfall, with the remaining 400 million rials to be drawn from the country’s reserves.

After ending a two-decade absence from international capital markets three years ago, Oman has grown increasingly reliant on borrowing and fallen behind on efforts to reform its economy after oil prices collapsed in 2014. As a result, debt as a share of gross domestic product more than tripled to near 50 percent.

The focus on foreign borrowing last year was to “avoid crowding out the private sector in meeting its financing needs, as well as to enhance foreign currency cash flows and reserves,” the Finance Ministry said in the budget statement. The remainder of the 2018 deficit was covered from reserves, it said.

The yield on Oman’s debt due 2028 has soared to about 7.5 percent, the most since the securities were sold in January 2018.

Raising funds in the future may get even more expensive after Oman’s sovereign rating was downgraded last month to one level below investment grade by Fitch, which warned that fiscal deficits are leading to a sharp deterioration in its sovereign and external balance sheets. It expects government debt to continue climbing and reach 58 percent of GDP by 2020 from 48 percent in 2018.

S&P Global Ratings has Oman two levels into junk with a stable outlook, while Moody’s Investors Service puts it at the lowest investment grade with a negative view.

Here are other highlights from Oman’s 2019 budget:

  • Deficit is expected at 2.8 billion Omani rials, or 9 percent of GDP, versus 2.9 billion rials in 2018
  • Revenue is projected at 10.1 billion rials, down from a preliminary estimate of 10.3 billion rials at end-2018
  • Spending is set to reach 12.9 billion rials, compared with around 13.2 billion rials last year
  • The country’s external borrowing in 2018 accounted for 69 percent of its total funding, while domestic loans represented 17 percent

The sultanate, which was expected to raise $7.5 billion from debt sales in 2018, ended up only borrowing $6.5 billion in January as higher oil prices helped boost revenue. The country has raised $18 billion from the sale of dollar bonds since the start of 2016, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.