It is almost a week ago, yet the news is still rustling through the Middle Eastern meadows. The news is partially all over it. Yet, it is the Business Insider who gave us ‘a plot to shore up the country’s depleted coffers’ (at http://www.businessinsider.com/saudi-arabia-corruption-crackdown-looks-like-a-plot-to-plug-deficit-2017-12), Ambrose Carey makes an interesting point here. The beginning quote “Now a more probable motive for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s unprecedented detention of members of the country’s rich elite is emerging. Reports suggest that detainees are signing away cash and assets to secure their freedom in what looks like an unorthodox bid to plug the kingdom’s gaping budget deficit” could be a given truth. When we consider the Guardian last week with ‘Saudi prince Miteb bin Abdullah pays $1bn in corruption settlement‘, some of us thought that it was interesting not just that the counts of corruption had already been investigated, the idea that there was a ‘get out of jail card‘ for a mere $1,000,000,000 is equally stunning, that I beside the fact that the sum has been agreed upon and that the head of the Saudi National Guard is apparently still smiling after having paid the amount. In light of one of the accusations “awarding contracts to his own firms, including a $10bn deal for walkie talkies and bulletproof military gear worth billions of Saudi riyals” we could see that the price is interestingly light. So does the Business insider have a case?
Well, when we consider how the oil prices have slumped from the almighty $135 to $58 we all have to wonder how the impact on the long term has been. pumping oil might be like printing money at your own convenience, but once the spending spree and the high rises are there, the long term issue is that oil is at 42% of what was and upping production by 193% is just not realistic in the long term. Yet there is another worry. the quote “a huge budget deficit, which stood at $79 billion in 2016. The government has had to use foreign reserves to help cover the revenue shortfall, with the former shrinking by about a third over the last three years. The recession has forced MbS to rein back public spending, alarming cosseted Saudis long accustomed to cradle-to-grave subsidies” does not give it. Even as that is merely the deficit, that and the selling of domestic debt in July gives rise to thoughts, yet we need to wonder how inflated this issue is, as it seems to be presented. Lets not forget that it is less than 10% of the Greek debt and unlike Greece, Saudi Arabia is still getting income from the oil fields. So the need to panic should not be there. And lets face it, who is actually panicking?
Even as the Business Insider is making a nice case. I fear I cannot agree on some of the ‘findings‘ and ‘assumed speculations‘ that they offer. With “So, in all likelihood, MbS will struggle to generate the money he needs. Worse still for him, his actions could have deleterious consequences for the economy. While the acquisition of assets and cash is likely to play well with ordinary Saudis weary of corruption amongst the royals and the business elite, it may unnerve already jittery foreign investors whose engagement is critical to the Crown Prince’s economic plans. Though allies have sought to portray the detentions as an anti-graft campaign aimed at cleaning up the corporate landscape, its apparently arbitrary nature and disregard for property rights and due process will worry the investment community“. You see, it might be correct to some extent, but knowing the greed that some have for mere millions, roughly 99.32554% of that population will not run away from optional billions, that is a given you can take to the bank. From my own point of view, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman can still have it all, the timeline might slip a little, but there are clear signs that there are options to grow opportunity within Saudi Arabia. They still have options to rival Al Jazeera if certain censoring is changed, By investing into tertiary degrees for Saudi’s its dependency for foreign workers will go down, which would be a massive boost for Saudi Arabia and as Saudi Arabia grows its entertainment network it can start opening doors on setting a 5G environment which will have them being amongst those leading the charge in the next mobile evolution which will enable a lot more industry all over the Middle East. In this aging day, pharmaceutical options seem to be the next step. There is no way it can compete with India, but in partnership with India they will have options to grow this industry internally. It seems like that need is too small for Saudi Arabia, yet with 28 million people it could profit by having an industry that is mainly for export within the Middle East that is comprised of 410 million people. That is still a large market that cannot be ignored and as the quality is proven and the export grows, Saudi Arabia could see a drastically reduced need for oil soon thereafter. There are more technology options for Saudi Arabia to enjoy, but the clear path of larger growth has been proven on several counts in several nations to be within the mobile and pharmaceutical industry and that could be the growing start for an entire next generation, because these two fields will have an almost exponential need for Patent lawyers, which means that the legal field will be pushed into revolutionary growth soon after that. Mind you, not merely a local growth, the IP field would enable global growth for Saudi Arabia as well and as this field is set in stone (or marble) it will attract even more foreign investors and opportunity seekers. All issues clearly set in this field and in this the Business Insider is still on the horse that states “The Crown Prince has staked his reputation on the success of an ambitious economic transformation plan, Vision 2030, to wean the country off its dependence on oil, but he needs to fund planned reforms and projects. He was banking on a part-floatation of the national oil company Aramco, which appears to have been postponed for at least a year. The ruthless purge and financial strong-arming could now deter the very western investors and regulators needed to move forward with the sell-off“, yet there is no given that other fields need to stop getting a foothold and as these two (or three) elements are grown within Saudi Arabia, other players will find options to get their own kind of fuzzy drink labelled ‘profit’ in their hands and as such they will still be fighting for a seat at this table called vision 2030. Even as the venue per plate is much higher than expected, the long terms gains are beyond what they are able to make now. With US deficits on the rise, the EU currently has 6 nations that are at risk of breaking the deficit rule (France, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Portugal and Slovenia), so there will be consequences there too, which would imply diminished profit, so those players are looking for seats at tables with loads of gain and that is where Saudi Arabia is one of the few that would accommodate their needs. So as such, Saudi Arabia has options if they have optional controls for greedy mobs. And even as there will be good news stories coming from Strasbourg, there will be eyes on the EU as it will likely dial down the consequences for these six nations. In addition with the Mario Draghi stimulus game where we will see a likely extension into 2018 yet at a lessened 30 billion a month implies that Europe will be diving into close to half a trillion of additional debt, with the likely result that there will be nothing to show for it, no actual economic growth, so in all this debt driven society, Saudi Arabia could have a larger windfall if it plays its cards right. Once certain plays are in place, Saudi Arabia would be more and more primed for export and exporting opportunities to places that ignored and neglected its own infrastructure. In this the US would have to cut costs and corners to a level never seen before as it optionally faces the ridicule for being at best at par and more likely to stray behind Saudi Arabia in the 5G mobile networking, a field they were once the only one dominating in. What a massive set back that will be for the old USA. In this Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could have the forefront by preferring the Polytechnic sciences over Politics. In his role he cannot avoid politics, but by focussing on Science and technology he has the option to propel Saudi Arabia beyond what others thought possible. So even as it has its issues with deficits and treasury needs, can we rely on the Business Insider that it is so much worse than we expect? I for one am not convinced that this is the case. I might be wrong, but the fact that the larger players are still willing to sell their first born for a seat at that table makes me think that there are a lot more opportunities for investors than many perceive. the question becomes does the House of Saud feel safe letting these opportunities go beyond the national borders to other players? It is always a rocky road to travel. In the end I do believe that it is more about the speed of growth and less about who owns the growth. that should keep plenty of investors tallying their optional profits for some time to come.