Conflicting data on Saudi economy

05 July 2015

Full impact of lower oil prices has not been realised

The first half of 2015 is over and it is time for a bombardment of reports and results. Although there are endless metrics to analyse and interpret, most just want to know whether the Saudi market is growing or contracting.

The question is particularly important this year, as a new king takes charge in Saudi Arabia and the economy digests a sharp decline in oil prices, which on 1 July 2015 were down by 42 per cent when compared to the same date last year. According to the US’ Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average daily spot price for Brent Crude was $57.82 a barrel during the first half of 2015, down 46.9 per cent on the average daily price of $108.93 during the first half of 2014.

Frustratingly, the answer is not that clear. The Saudi economy is set to grow by 3.2 per cent this year if real GDP growth is measured, while nominal GDP growth is set to fall by 9.9 per cent from $746bn to $672bn.

There are economic arguments for using both figures, and the likelihood is that people will use the figure that best explains their experiences this year. If you have had a good year, it is because the economy is growing, if it has been a bad year it is because it is declining.

Another data set to consider is the projects market, of which Saudi Arabia’s rebounded strongly in the first half of 2015, according to new research from MEED Insight.

Saudi Arabia 2015: The Kingdom’s Year of Change, which is released on 30 June, reports that the value of project contract awards in the kingdom in the first five months of 2015 was 25 per cent higher than in the same period the previous year, with more than $20bn-worth of deals signed in Saudi Arabia from January to May 2015.

The performance of the state-driven projects market is not matched by the performance of listed companies. The local Al-Rajhi Capital Research anticipates earnings for the companies it covers on the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) to dip 27 per cent year-on-year for the second quarter of 2015.

The firm says the market has been weighed down by the petrochemicals sector, which is expected to report near 34 per cent lower earnings on account of weak product prices and shutdowns at various operations.

For perfectionists, the lack of consensus will be a bugbear, but the conflicting results demonstrate that the decline in oil prices has been a shock to the Saudi economy in 2015 and its full impact has not yet been fully realised.

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