RIYADH (AFP) – Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, on Thursday announced a 2015 budget with a huge $38.6 billion deficit due to the sharp decline in oil prices but still raised spending.
A statement read on state-run television said spending for 2015 is projected at 860 billion riyals ($229.3 billion) and revenues at 715 billion riyals ($190.7 billion).
Projected spending is slightly higher than the 855 billion riyals planned for this year, but revenues are 140 billion riyals lower than estimates for 2014, said the statement read after a cabinet session chaired by Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz.
The budget shortfall is the first deficit projected by the OPEC kingpin since 2011 and the largest ever for the kingdom.
Over the past decade, Saudi Arabia overspent budget projections by more than 20 per cent and if the trend is maintained next year, the deficit will be much higher.
The price of oil, which makes up more than 90 per cent of public income in Saudi Arabia, has lost about half of its value since June due to a production glut, weak global demand and a stronger US dollar.
Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said this month that Riyadh will continue massive public spending despite the sharp decline in oil prices.
Assaf said the budget comes during “challenging” global economic conditions but reserves built over many years have given Saudi Arabia “depth and a line of defence that come in handy in times of need”.
In royal decrees issuing the new budget, King Abdullah called for “rationalisation of spending” and for the “accurate and efficient implementation of the budget”.
“You are aware of the slowdown in growth in the global economy and the events in the petroleum market that led to the sharp fall in oil prices,” the statement quoted the king as saying.
If oil prices remain at the current level of about $60 a barrel for benchmark Brent crude, Saudi Arabia is expected to lose half of its oil revenues of $276 billion posted in 2013.
No figures have yet been provided for this year’s budget results.
The International Monetary Fund has warned that due to the drop in oil price, Saudi Arabia will post a budget deficit this year.
But the wealthy kingdom, which pumps around 9.6 million barrels per day, can easily tap into huge fiscal buffers, estimated at $750 billion, to meet the budget deficit.
King Abdullah authorised the finance minister to draw “from the reserves” to meet the deficit or through borrowing.
Ratings agency Standard and Poor’s lowered its outlook for Saudi Arabia to stable from positive following the slide in oil prices.
But S&P also affirmed its high ratings for Riyadh over the “strong external and fiscal positions” it has built up in the past decade.