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Fitch revises Saudi Arabia’s outlook to ‘positive’ from ‘stable’

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Ratings agency Fitch revised its outlook on Saudi Arabia to “positive” from “stable” on Thursday, citing improvements in the country’s sovereign balance sheet given higher oil revenues.

Saudi Arabia expects to post its first budget surplus in nearly a decade this year by keeping a tight rein on its budget while revenues roll in, boosted by higher crude prices, Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said in December.

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The Kingdom has increasingly relied on its $450 billion sovereign wealth fund, the PIF, and other state entities to drive an ambitious spending push - leaving the government’s books relatively clear while freeing it to raise debt if needed.

S&P last month also raised Saudi Arabia’s outlook to positive from stable.

“Government debt/GDP and sovereign net foreign assets (SNFA) will remain considerably stronger than the ‘A’ median, even as these metrics weaken mildly after 2022 as oil prices trend lower offsetting further gradual budgetary reforms,” Fitch said.

The Saudi government plans to keep its debt stock unchanged this year, with new issues used mostly to refinance maturing debt rather than to support the budget.

Jadaan said in December: “In total, actually the numbers are higher than what we used to spend, but the scope is a lot bigger.”

The Kingdom expects 7.4 percent GDP growth this year after the economy rose 3.2 percent last year as oil prices rose and it recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact. GDP had contracted 4.1 percent in 2020.

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