Saudi rating to be judged on ‘reform progress’ not oil price warns Moody’s

Higher oil revenues may persuade GCC countries to slow down economic diversification programs and non-oil sector development. (Shutterstock)
Updated 16 May 2018
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Saudi rating to be judged on ‘reform progress’ not oil price warns Moody’s

  • “A simple reversion to oil price strength” will not result in an automatic strengthening of Saudi Arabia’s or any other GCC state’s sovereign ratings
  • Development of non-oil economies increasingly important when assessing sovereign credit quality, agencies caution

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s future sovereign credit rating will be judged on the success of its reform program rather than its oil revenues, rating agency Moody’s has told Arab News.
The global credit rating agency’s Managing Director of Global Sovereign Ratings, Alastair Wilson, said he attached importance to institutional determination to implement change and would also look at efforts made to diversify the economy to make it less reliant on fossil fuels.
He said “a simple reversion to oil price strength” would not result in an automatic strengthening of Saudi Arabia’s or any other GCC state’s sovereign ratings, “hence this was a wake-up call and the authorities recognized this.”
“In other words, structural weakness … based on hydrocarbon dependence needs to be corrected. That’s not going to go away.”
The successful implementation of the Kingdom’s plans over the next 10-12 years would be “challenging” but by no means impossible, he said.
Wilson said he was expecting “some success” over time, but no one anticipated “transformation overnight.”
Moody’s would take into account a number of factors before assigning a revised rating for KSA, he said. These would include the success of efforts to diversify revenue streams in order to insulate the government from “further oil price shocks.”
There were four cornerstones to credit ratings, he said — “accounts’ strength, institutional strength, fiscal strength and the ability to withstand exposure to shocks.”
“Institutional strength is linked to effective implementation of policies, the way policy reforms are articulated, and the attainment of stated objectives. All this, we will feed through our analysis … to help us to assess institutional fortitude.”
He explained that Moody’s wasn’t necessarily looking at metrics based on quantity, so there would be an element of judgment linked to quality (of institutional oversight) in the short to medium term.
“Over time we will see the benefits of reforms that the governments expect to see. Perhaps we will get higher growth because we will get higher growth in the non-oil economy.”
Wilson said an important indicator of a more resilient fiscal position was the non-oil balance sheet. “The non-oil fiscal deficit in most of these (GCC) countries is very high. We expect to see this coming down. We would expect to see lower volatility in economic growth over a period of time, say during a five, 10 or 15-year period.”
Over the next few years Moody’s would deliver “essentially a qualitative judgment” on reform efficacy, said Wilson. Although the oil price would be largely ignored, he agreed that a high price could buy time for GCC governments.
But he warned: “The supply and demand drivers in the market are not a great deal different from where they were a year or so ago… Yes, oil could go to $100 per barrel, but we don’t think that’s sustainable …. we think GCC countries have learnt from the oil price shock that what has been happening is structural in nature. The oil price can alleviate pressure, but is not central to our analysis,” he said.
David Staples, managing director and head of emerging EMEA corporates, said at a London emerging market forum that GCC governments had been clear about what they wanted to achieve, so “in a way we are measuring them against their own (stated) goals.”
Rehan Akbar, vice president of Middle East and Turkey corporates for Moody’s, said at the forum that there had been an acceleration of debt issuance in the past couple of years. Growth opportunities for businesses in the GCC were less than average, he said. Scope for businesses to grow organically were slightly subdued as new taxes and the withdrawal of subsidies had constrained consumption.
“We will probably see more cost control, and more M&A both in the region and outside,” said Akbar.
Earlier this month, Moody’s said in its annual credit analysis report on Saudi Arabia that the Kingdom’s (A1 stable) credit strengths included a strong fiscal position, substantial external liquidity buffers, a large stock of proved oil reserves combined with low extraction costs, and prudent financial system regulation.
“The stable outlook reflects our view that risks to Saudi Arabia’s credit profile are broadly balanced. The government’s reform program, including the plans to balance the fiscal budget by 2023, could over time offer a route back to a higher rating level,” said Moody’s.


Sony buys EMI Music Publishing in $1.9 billion deal

The agreement is Sony’s first major deal under new CEO Kenichiro Yoshida, who noted the music business has enjoyed a ‘resurgence’ in recent years. (AFP)
Updated 50 min 39 sec ago
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Sony buys EMI Music Publishing in $1.9 billion deal

  • The deal adds a catalogue of more than two million songs — including some of the greatest hits from the first half of the 20th century — to Sony’s already huge repertoire
  • Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” continues to be a top-10 money-spinner even today, more than 75 years after its initial release

TOKYO: Japanese entertainment giant Sony on Tuesday unveiled a $1.9-billion deal to buy industry titan EMI Music Publishing, which has the rights to songs by the likes of Queen and Pharrell Williams.
The deal adds a catalogue of more than two million songs — including some of the greatest hits from the first half of the 20th century — to Sony’s already huge repertoire.
The agreement is Sony’s first major deal under new CEO Kenichiro Yoshida, who noted the music business has enjoyed a “resurgence” in recent years due to streaming services provided by companies such as Spotify and Apple.
With this purchase, Sony “is becoming one of the biggest music publishing companies, both in name and reality,” Yoshida told reporters.
“We are thrilled to bring EMI Music Publishing into the Sony family and maintain our number-one position in the music publishing industry,” Yoshida said in an earlier statement.
“I believe this acquisition will be a particularly significant milestone for our long-term growth,” added Yoshira, who took the Sony helm last month.
Sony said it had signed a deal with Abu Dhabi-based investment firm Mubadala to buy its 60-percent holding, giving the Japanese firm an indirect stake of approximately 90 percent.
The agreement values EMI Music Publishing at $4.75 billion, the Sony statement said, adding that “the closing of the transaction is subject to certain closing conditions, including regulatory approvals.”
Yoshida also Tuesday unveiled Sony’s latest strategic plan, which aims to bolster its content business — pursuing the direction his predecessor Kazuo Hirai had taken to revitalize one of Japan’s best-known firms.
“We are a technology firm, but the technology means not only electronics but also entertainment and content-creation” in today’s world, Yoshida said.
Sony will continue to build up its content services — as shown by Tuesday’s deal — and also invest heavily in cutting-edge technologies including image sensors, he said.
“This is part of Sony’s strategy under Yoshida to beef up its entertainment businesses,” noted Hideki Yasuda, an analyst at Ace Research Institute in Tokyo.
“In the music business, copyrights are crucial. So, the deal is meaningful, and its price appears practical and reasonable,” the analyst said, adding that success would depend on the quality of the content Sony creates in the future.
The electronics and entertainment behemoth last month reported record annual profits of $4.5 billion, a roaring recovery supported by better sales across the board and helped by box office blockbusters like its Jumanji reboot.
Those figures were seen as a fitting send-off for Hirai, who recently stepped down as the firm’s chief executive after spending the past six years pulling the firm out of deep financial troubles.
Hirai led an aggressive restructuring drive at Sony, cutting thousands of jobs while selling business units and assets.
EMI is the second-largest music publishing company by revenue and either owns or administers some two million songs, including classics by the likes of Queen, Sam Smith and Pharrell Williams.
As for Sony, it already owns 2.3 million copyrights, including the Beatles catalogue, as well as being a massive player in IT, communications, film and gaming.
EMI holds a “comprehensive and diverse collection of copyrights for music and lyrics” from a “wide variety of iconic and popular songwriters,” the statement said.
Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” continues to be a top-10 money-spinner even today, more than 75 years after its initial release, it added.
Current songwriters under its banner include Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Drake, Pink, Fetty Wap and Hozier.
Investors appeared dubious about the acquisition and the new strategic plan however, with Sony stock down around 1.2 percent in the afternoon, underperforming the wider Japanese market, which was fractionally weaker.