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Mideast countries face $1 trillion budget shortfall if oil keeps falling: IMF official

Saudi Arabia faces 20% budget deficit in 2015

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King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, which may face a 20% shortfall in its 2015 budget if oil prices stay low.

Middle Eastern oil exporters face a combined $1 trillion budget shortfall in the next five years if crude prices stay at present lows and economic reforms aren’t introduced more rapidly, an International Monetary Fund official said.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are coping with the impact of falling oil prices CLZ5, +1.35% by drawing down some of the vast reserves they built up in recent years thanks to high oil prices. They’ve also started borrowing more, though spending on large infrastructure projects and social handouts hasn’t significantly come down yet.

Masood Ahmed, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department, says these oil-rich countries for now have the capacity to borrow more from the markets, but time is running out because most countries in the region will have burned through their reserves within five years.

“It has to be accompanied by a plan to find a better balance between expenditures and income in the medium term,” Ahmed told The Wall Street Journal.

Saudi Arabia, the region’s biggest economy and world’s top oil exporter, has this year issued domestic bonds worth billions of dollars. It has also been burning through its foreign reserves, which have dropped by 11% to $662 billion at the end of August, according to Saudi central bank data.

The kingdom faces a 20% budget deficit in 2015, the IMF predicted.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com