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Saudi Arabia in huge new bond sale to finance deficit

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Thursday announced it had undertaken another multi-billion dollar bond sale to finance a persistent budget deficit left by low oil prices.

The world’s top crude oil exporter raised $12.5 billion (10.6 billion euros) in its third international bond issue, the finance ministry said.

It comes as Saudi Arabia pursues economic and social reforms including this week’s announcement that it will end a ban on women driving.

The kingdom has already undertaken three “sukuk” Islamic bond issues this year — including one international sale — totalling around $15 billion.

Last year it raised $17.5 billion in its first global bond issue — the largest ever by a single country. Previously it had sold domestic bonds.

The latest issue was heavily oversubscribed with orders worth $40 billion, according to the finance ministry.

A slump in global oil prices resulted in massive budget shortfalls in 2014.

Saudi Arabia has posted a budget deficit in each of the past three years and is headed for a fourth year in the red in 2017.

The kingdom’s deficit topped $200 billion from 2014 to 2016, and it is forecast to post a $53 billion shortfall this year.

Riyadh has also withdrawn more than $230 billion from its fiscal reserves since the end of 2014 to finance the budget deficit. Its reserves now stand at just over $490 billion.

Economic growth in Saudi Arabia is expected to hit just 0.1 percent this year, the weakest since 2009, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The kingdom is due to introduce its first value-added tax (VAT) in early 2018 and is preparing to sell just under five percent of energy giant Aramco next year.

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