Saudi Arabia has more money to burn on imported goods
Saudi Arabian import financing posted a record first half as economic growth in the world's biggest oil exporter spurs demand for goods including building materials and cars.
The value of letters of credit signed by lenders in the largest Arab economy surged 24 per cent in the first six months of 2012 to SR107 billion ($29 billion), the most on record for the period, according to the most-recent central bank data. That compares with growth of 10 per cent in the same period last year.
Saudi businesses are taking out bank loans at the fastest pace in three years and pursuing record bond sales as they take part in the government's $514 billion plan to build housing, infrastructure and industry. This is stimulating the non-oil economy, which is poised to grow 6.5 per cent this year, the second-fastest pace in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) after Qatar, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Supported by oil prices that have averaged $96 a barrel so far this year in New York, state and private investors in Saudi Arabia are importing more. Saudi Arabia's $597 billion economy, may grow five per cent this year, including the oil industry, the second-fastest pace since 2005 according to the median forecast of 12 economists surveyed by Bloomberg in July.
The pickup has prompted banks to accelerate the pace of lending and spurred higher borrowing costs. Loans to private businesses expanded 13.9 per cent in June, the fastest pace since March 2009, central bank data show.
The three-month Saudi interbank offered rate, known as Saibor and the benchmark used by banks to price loans, has added 17 basis points this year to 0.95 per cent on August 17, the highest since April 2009, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That's widened the spread with the equivalent US rate to 53 basis points on August 24 compared with 20 at the end of 2011.
The yield on Saudi Arabia's one-year treasury bills is up eight basis points in 2012 to 0.59334 per cent at the last auction. The kingdom holds weekly T-bills sales on Mondays. The Saudi riyal weakened to 3.7499 a dollar in the 12-month forwards market yesterday, hovering near the lowest level since April, the data show.
Cargo traffic through the Jeddah Islamic Port on the Red Sea, the port handling more than a third of the kingdom's traffic, surged 31 per cent in the first half, the fastest pace in at least seven years, according to official data.
Letters of credit to finance building material imports gained 46 per cent in the first six months to SR13.4 billion, central bank data show.