29 December 2015

That Sound is the House of Saud Collapsing

While the reports of internecine conflict amongst the House of Saud might presage a crackup, at the core of everything that is the descendants of Ibn Saud is money.

There is no state craft, no vision, no understanding of the fundamental reciprocity that makes one a leader.

Well, it appears that their attempts to bury alternative fossil fuel extraction techniques by dropping oil prices through the floor is in the process of bankrupting them.

It appears that we have found a benefit to fracking:
Saudi Arabia on Monday unveiled spending cuts in its 2016 budget, subsidy reforms and a call for privatisations to rein in a yawning deficit caused by the prolonged period of low oil prices.

The Gulf kingdom has kept oil production at high levels in an attempt to force out higher-cost producers, such as shale, and retain its market share. But this year’s deficit ballooned to 367bn Saudi riyals ($97.9bn,) or 15 per cent of gross domestic product, as oil revenues fell 23 per cent to Sr444.5bn.

Seeking to ward off future fiscal crises, the ministry of finance confirmed wide-ranging economic reforms, including plans to “privatise a range of sectors and economic activities”.

Riyadh would revise energy, water and electricity prices “gradually over the next five years” to optimise efficiency while minimising “negative effects on low and mid-income citizens and the competitiveness of the business sector,” it added.

The first reforms will be effective from Tuesday, including an increase in gasoline prices, a rise in electricity tariffs for the wealthiest consumers, a modest increase in water costs for all, and changes to all energy prices for industrial users.


The kingdom’s austerity and reform programme, a reaction to the past decade of profligate spending, has raised alarm among parts of the country’s business community, who are already reeling from this year’s cuts that have triggered widespread delays in government payments.

Radical reforms to the social contract between Saudi citizens and the ruling al-Saud family also threaten discord at a time when Islamist extremist groups such as Isis have threatened the country.


“We see real GDP growth decelerating sharply in 2016, albeit remaining positive,” said Monica Malik, chief economist with Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. “Non-oil GDP is forecast to moderate with the lower government spending feeding into the wider economy.”

The government’s austerity measures have been accompanied by extra spending items, such as the Saudi-led war in Yemen and Sr88bn in bonus payments for civil servants when King Salman ascended to the throne in January.

The 2016 budget envisions spending Sr840bn in 2016, compared to the Sr975bn that is forecast to have been spent this year and Sr1.14tn in 2014. Actual spending has outstripped projections by as much as a quarter for the past decade, but the government is trying to instil greater fiscal discipline.
It's been clear for some time that the House of Saud will fall at some point in the not too distant future.  They are an anachronism whose continued existence is an artifact of the fossil fuel rich geography of the Arabian peninsula.

The only question is whether it falls like the House of Windsor, with a few colorful figureheads remaining as a historical oddity, or if it falls like the House of Romanov, with the family shot and buried in a ditch.

The recent budgetary issues point to sooner rather than later, and the fate of the Russian Royal Family, not the British one.


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