With China Crash, Saudi Arabia Hemorrhaging Cash

AP Photo/Hasan Jamali
AP Photo/Hasan Jamali

With China’s economic crash driving U.S. oil prices down to $42 a barrel, Saudi Arabia is the oil-exporting nation suffering the worst economic decline.

The 15,000 members of the six branches of the Saudi royal family have been buying national support with massive social welfare spending. But with the oil price plunging by 60 percent, causing a massive budget deficit, the kingdom’s foreign exchange reserves could be wiped out in four years.

Most analysts have focused on Russia as suffering the worst impacts of the oil price crash. The value of Russia’s oil & gas production is approximately $350 billion per year; it accounts for 20 percent of Russia’s GDP, and equals two thirds of all exports. But even at current prices, Russia will still achieve a trade surplus of about three percent of GDP. As an oil exporter, Russia’s is uniquely self-sufficient and a military exporter.

Saudi Arabia’s oil and gas sector makes up 45 percent of GDP, funds about 80 of the government’s budget, and accounts for 90 percent of exports. Saudi Arabia’s 2014 budget spending was $294.3 billion, with a $14.4 billion deficit. The 2015 Saudi budget was cut down to $229.3 billion in spending, with an expected $38.6 billion deficit.

But in June with the average price of oil estimated to be $60 a barrel for the year, the IMF estimated that Saudi Arabia’s $745 billion GDP would fall to $649 billion and the nation would post a budget deficit of 20 percent of GDP, or $130 billion.

With international oil prices at $49 a barrel, the Saudi deficit will jump to about $163 billion and Saudi GDP will plunge by another $80 billion, to $570 billion.

The IMF also did not make any mention of the added cost of Saudi Arabia’s air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, and its war and invasion of Yemen.

Unlike the Russians’ legendary ability to hunker down and rely on their own self sufficiency in food and production,Saudi Arabia imports 70 percent of its food and does not produce military hardware, cars, refrigerators, civil airplanes, ships, or most manufactured consumer and industrial goods. Saudi Arabia’s only real domestic industry is petrochemicals.

The Saudi Arabian kingdom is in no position to implement severe austerity measures, like Russia. The vast majority of Saudis enjoy their standard of living due to government handouts.

Saudi citizens tend to lack employable skills and are culturally not inclined to work. Of the 30 million residents, only 5.5 million work and 3 million work directly for the government. The small private sector tends to employ foreigners.

When 80 year old Salmanbin Abdulaziz Al Saud ascended to the throne in February, he distributed $32 billion to the people to cement his popular support.

Saudi Arabia was a prime beneficiary from the 1998 to 2013 “supercycle” that saw commodity prices experience double-digit after-inflation growth. The price of oil rose 1,062 percent. But the price of copper rose 487 percent and corn rose 240 percent, as growing emerging market demand, led by China, drove up prices across various commodity markets, according to PIMCO.

Since China’s economy faltered last year, commodity prices have crumbled. But despite those falling prices, oil production and commodity supply is still expanding.

As a result, Saudi Arabia’s foreign exchange peaked in August 2014 at $750 billion, and fell $91 billion to $659 billion by June 2015, according to the IMF.

And that was before China’s $3 trillion stock crash.


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