In the heady days of the commodity boom, oil-rich nations accumulated billions of dollars in reserves they invested in U.S. debt and other securities. They also occasionally bought trophy assets, such as Manhattan skyscrapers, luxury homes in London or Paris Saint-Germain Football Club.
Now that oil prices have dropped by half to $50 a barrel, Saudi Arabia and other commodity-rich nations are fast drawing down those “petrodollar” reserves. Some nations, such as Angola, are burning through their savings at a record pace, removing a source of liquidity from global markets.
If oil and other commodity prices remain depressed, the trend will cut demand for everything from European government debt to U.S. real estate as producing nations seek to fill holes in their domestic budgets.“This is the first time in 20 years that OPEC nations will be sucking liquidity out of the market rather than adding to it through investments,” said David Spegel, head of emerging markets sovereign credit research at BNP Paribas SA in London.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, is the prime example of the swiftness and magnitude of the selloff: its foreign exchange reserves fell by $20.2 billion in February, the biggest monthly drop in at least 15 years, according to data from the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency. That’s almost double the drop after the financial crisis in early 2009, when oil prices plunged and Riyadh consumed $11.6 billion of its reserves in a single month.
A concomitant drop in foreign reserves, revealed in data from national central banks and the IMF, is affecting nations from oil producer Oman to copper-rich Chile and cotton-growing Burkina Faso. Reserves are dropping faster than during the last commodity price plunge in 2008 and 2009.
Excluding Iran, whose sales are subject to some sanctions, members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries are expected to earn $380 billion selling their oil this year, according to U.S. estimates. That represents a $350 billion drop from 2014 — the largest one-year decline in history.
“The shock for oil-rich countries is enormous,” Rabah Arezki, head of the commodities research team at the IMF in Washington, said in an interview.
Oil-rich countries will sell more than $200 billion of assets this year to bridge the gap left between high fiscal spending and low revenues, Spegel said.
The IMF’s Arezki said that unless they cut spending, resources-rich nations “have no choice but to draw on their financial assets when available” as oil prices are well below the fiscal break-even needed by many exporting nations. The IMF estimates that many oil countries would only balance their budgets if crude prices recover to $75 or higher.
Full article: Oil-Rich Nations Are Selling Off Their Petrodollar Assets at Record Pace (Bloomberg Business)