The International Monetary Fund released a report Tuesday that states that energy exporting states in the Arab world are "not saving enough of their oil windfall" and may collectively face a fiscal deficit by 2016 if current policies do not change, according to Reuters.
The report warns, "Together with substantial oil revenue risks, this prospect underscores the need for countries to build or strengthen their fiscal and external buffers."
Total state spending in the six GCC member states (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Omar and Bahrain) increased 9.7 percent between 2011-2012 with governments investing more in social welfare and infrastructure. Though the increase is significantly less than the 17.7 percent jump between 2010-2011, when many of the GCC countries were spending more to "ease tensions during the Arab Spring uprisings," the recent increase is demonstrative that GCC spending may be growing too fast when compared to countries' revenues.
Even as state spending is projected to slow in the upcoming years, spending restraint policies in the GCC are not strong enough to "prevent state budgets from going into the red," according to the IMF's predictions. Bahrain is already "in the red," with Oman and Saudi Arabia to follow as soon as 2015 and 2018, respectively.
The "going into the red" fear is heightened by predictions that 11 Arab oil exporters combined budget surplus is projected to decline to 4.2 percent of GDP in 2013 from its previous 6.3 percent level in 2012.
Lower oil prices and decreases in global demand further threaten revenues for many Arab states since oil export receipts currently account for 80 percent of government revenues throughout the GCC.
As the IMF report describes, "Notwithstanding the tightness caused by unexpected production disruptions and elevated geopolitical risks in the summer of 2013, a combination of weak global oil demand growth and strong supply growth from unconventional sources in the non-OPEC countries could reduce demand for OPEC oil by about a half-million barrels per day by 2016."
Based on IMF forecast levels, Arab oil exporters will need to sell barrels above $90 to balance their budgets. For this year, however, Kuwait is supposed to have the lowest budget break-even oil price at $52 per barrel this year, while Yemen will rake in $215 according to the report.
"A sustained period of oil prices remaining $25 below the baseline...would lead to deficits from 2015 onward in all countries except Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates...in the absence of a fiscal policy adjustment," the IMF said.
The baseline benchmark estimates based on Brent crude oil has been approximately $108 per barrel this year, which is four dollars down from this same period last year.
As part of the report's recommendations, the IMF is urging GCC government to search and invest in new, non-oil streams of revenue. Many governments have already heeded this advice and are in the process of diversifying their economies to account for future deficits they may encounter if revenues are primarily from oil sales. Many countries have also used oil windfalls to develop fiscal reserves and pools of foreign assets that can allow them to spend even when their state budget balances turn negative.
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