People are good at ignoring the obvious. Saudi Arabia is finished. The 2014 crash in the price of oil has left the ruling family in an impossible position. Since 2014 the country has been burning through around $100 Billion of dollar reserves a year. At that pace, the current regime has got about 4 years left before they can’t meet their obligations. The almost 100 billion in debt (up by a factor of 4 since 2014) that the country is now carrying will accelerate this issue. This problem has been noted of course, but most financial publications have been quick to swallow the Saudi line on the issue.
The problem has been identified, and Saudi Arabia is supposedly taking bold steps to address it. What few are talking about is how inadequate these steps are. This video covers the farcical “Vision 2030” idea that is supposedly going to turn Saudi Arabia into a new Dubai.
What I didn’t get into, because the video was already too long, was the illusion of a Saudi Aramco IPO. Saudi Aramco, the state oil company, is supposedly a multi-trillion dollar company. Selling off the proposed 5-10% of the company would give the Saudi royal family a few more years of runway. It’s not going to work. It may very well go forward, but they are not going to get the money they want. Also, the investment is something that everybody will be excited to look into, but dramatically fewer will want to actually buy.
Aramco is a state-run black box at the moment. Getting money from outside investors would require a high degree of disclosure and re-organization that they are unlikely to be interested in doing. The country is also faced with a couple of Catch-22s. First, driving up the valuation of the company requires driving up the cost of oil. To do this Saudi Arabia has to restrict its supply, which means it would lose market share, and have less funds to deal with its many issues. Second, if they don’t get Aramco up to Western corporate standards, they’ll have to rely on local investors. Those investors have plenty of money, but as the country gets shakier, they will become less interested in investing in Aramco. A great indication of the shakiness of Saudi Arabia would be the country’s needing to rely on local investors to fund the Aramco IPO.
These issues leave me convinced that by 2030 Saudi Arabia will be a completely different country. Unfortunately US policy seems to be that the Saudi money spinner will go on forever. The new administration has been doubling down on the brutal Saudi adventure in Yemen, and seems to want to escalate with Iran. This is crazy.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Ladies and Gentlemen Saudi Arabia as we know it is Finished. They’re toast. Western Government and Media are currently in denial over this. The Western relationship with Saudi Arabia has been a great money spinner, with a few downsides. Folks don’t want to admit it’s over. But the basics are clear.
Standard Oil of California struck oil in Saudi Arabia in 1938. Since then the country’s history has been pretty straightforwardly tied to the price of oil. Since the 1970s that price has steadily spiraled upward. As that price reached stratospheric new heights, the Saudis found new ways to spend it. That’s over now. I’ve talked about this at greater length elsewhere, but the old upward pressures on the price are gone, and there’s an ever growing set of downward pressures. It’ll be at least a decade before we see 100 Dollar a barrel oil again. It’s possible that the price will hit 60 dollars over the next couple years… But even that’s unlikely.
As the price got ever higher, the welfare responsibilities and budget of the Saudi government got higher as well. Petro-States like Saudi Arabia tend to have a break-even price in their budget forecasts. This is the price point they need to run the country without borrowing money. Since 2014, and probably before, that budgeted price point has been dramatically higher than the actual price. In 2016 the Saudi’s crammed the budgeted price down massively, and it’s still 15 bucks over the actual price of oil. Basically Saudi Arabia is screwed.
Last year’s hot new thing was Prince Muhammad bin Sultan, who has jumped the line in the Saudi succession. He’s kind of a Saudi Jared Kushner, granted great powers on the strength of his family ties alone. Apparently he has a plan. He wants to turn Saudi Arabia into a hub for innovation and international business. You know. Like Dubai…
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I’m sorry. This is simply not going to work. The difference between Saudi Arabia and Gulf Countries like Dubai is very stark. None of these countries are real countries. They live on petroleum, not taxes, and they are welfare distributors more than they are welfare states. Without the protection of the United States they wouldn’t last a year. The majority of the population of these countries is made up of immigrant labor, who serve a small pampered class of rich citizens. Most of the immigrants are laborers from Asia, who live in conditions that have been compared to slavery. But a couple percentage points are made up of Western bankers and assorted shady business types. These are the people Saudi Arabia would need to attract to become a center of business and innovation. Have you ever been to Dubai? I haven’t, but I understand it’s quite a party city. The UAE keeps its shady western business people happy. Most of the gulf countries officially support hardcore religion. But it doesn’t really matter. The few citizens these countries have are too rich to care what their paychecks get up to.
Saudi Arabia is different though. It has the population of a real country. And the hardcore religion the royal family pushes is the only thing keeping that population in line. It’s something I like to call the Saudi balancing act. Live like a king, and keep your people in line with crazy fundamentalist Islam. There are large populations of impoverished Saudi Arabians, and they only support the Saudi royal family because of hardcore religion. Men and women are not allowed to mix publicly in Saudi Arabia. Can you imagine turning Riyadh or Jeddah into a party city like Dubai? The Sauds would fall in a week if they tried it… This Vision 2030 stuff is a fantasy. They can build all the theme parks they want. Nobody’s coming. Saudi Arabia is toast. This presents a problem for the United States, because we’ve been in bed with the Saudis for over 70 years. Whoever comes after the Saudi Royal family, is very likely to hate the US of A. It’s a problem, but it’s also an opportunity.
Because that crazy of version of Islam the Saudis have been pushing for half a century is at the root of a lot of the world’s problems. Everything from ISIS, to the disaster that is US foreign policy, to world-wide radical Islamic terrorism has Saudi religion at its root. We’re in the middle of a historic opportunity. Right now. If we in the US reevaluate our relationship with Saudi Arabia, we can move on from this ridiculous and tragic phase of history in the Middle East. I’ll be talking about this a lot more on this channel, but if you want to get the full story, I suggest you pick up my essay Everybody’s Lying About Islam, available now on the Amazon Kindle.
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