Moody's: Shaky economic ground for some oil exporters

Investor service looked at members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes OPEC members.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  March 15, 2017 at 6:18 AM
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March 15 (UPI) -- The economic footing of Persian Gulf nations is under pressure from the decline in crude oil prices that began three years ago, Moody's Investors Service said.

Crude oil prices started their descent from $100 per barrel in 2014 as a glut of oil started to build in the market in response to U.S. shale oil production and robust policies from an Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries defending a market share through strong output. The price of oil last year sunk to a historic low below $30 per barrel.

Mathias Angonin, an analyst for Moody's and a co-author of a report on the economies for members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, said the risks to the region are low, but still under pressure.

"GCC countries have seen a substantial weakening in their current account balances as a result of the fall in oil prices since 2014," he said in a statement.

A current account deficit may be indicative of a country living outside its means. Of the GCC members, Oman had the highest account deficit with 20.1 percent of GDP, with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia registering moderate current account deficits of around 3.4 percent GDP, Moody's said.

"Moody's expects the aggregate current account deficit to narrow to $5.5 billion -- 0.3 percent of GDP -- by 2018 from $21 billion -- 3.4 percent of GDP -- in 2016," the report read. "This will, however, still be well below the large surpluses recorded between 2005 and 2014."

Economies can reduce their current account deficit by adding value to or promoting exports, imposing tariffs or advocating trade quotas.

Four of the six members of the GCC -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar -- are OPEC members.

OPEC members in January began implementing a deal to cut production in an effort to balance a market still under supply-side pressures. That arrangement pulled the price of crude oil back toward $55 per barrel, though recent improvements in the North American market has led to a build in regional crude oil output and put negative pressure on the price of oil, trading Wednesday at around $51.50 per barrel.

The International Monetary Fund warned early last year that oil exporters like some of the members of the GCC faced economic headwinds because of reduced oil export revenues. At the time, the IMF recommended a diversification away from oil.

Advanced economies may have less concern about a current account deficit if, for example, it reflects inward domestic investments.

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