Regional

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

BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s economy will stall this year with growth “close to zero” due to lower oil revenue, the International Monetary Fund said. The fund lowered its 2017 growth forecast to 0.1 percent from 0.4 percent, citing OPEC production cuts, uncertainty over oil prices and the structural reforms the country is undertaking to reduce its reliance on crude, it said in a statement Friday concluding its Article IV Consultation. The IMF also lowered its non-oil growth projection to 1.7 percent from 2.1 percent – compared with actual growth of 0.2 percent 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 Mohammad 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 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 percent of gross domestic product in 2017 and to just under 1 percent by 2022, from 17.2 percent last year, 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.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 24, 2017, on page 15.

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