Saudi Finance Ministry welcomes positive IMF report on Kingdom’s economic health

Main entrance to the Saudi Ministry of Finance headquarters in Riyadh. (MOF photo)
Updated 24 July 2019
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Saudi Finance Ministry welcomes positive IMF report on Kingdom’s economic health

  • The IMF said it expects non-oil real growth in Saudi Arabia to rise to 2.9 percent in 2019

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Finance on Tuesday welcomed a statement issued by the executive board of the International Monetary Fund in which it commended the progress made by the Kingdom in the implementation of financial, economic and social reforms.

It followed the IMF’s latest Article IV consultations with Saudi Arabia, which concluded on July 10. These regular, usually annual, consultations are carried out to assess a nation’s economic health and development, and identify any potential problems that could cause instability.

The IMF said it expects non-oil real growth in Saudi Arabia to rise to 2.9 percent in 2019 thanks to increased government spending and growing confidence in the economy. The organization said the government’s continued commitment to prudent economic policies and structural reforms will be key factors in promoting non-oil growth, job creation and achieving the goals set out in Vision 2030.

The board in particular welcomed reforms aimed at improving the management of public finances, including a new government procurement system that will help to make government spending more efficient and reduce the risk of corruption. It also praised the efforts being made to enhance the transparency of public finances, and the reforms adopted by the government to develop the non-oil economy. It stressed the need to rebuild fiscal surpluses and reduce the risks to public finances in the medium term, and emphasized that containment of the government wage bill and an increase in capital expenditure in a systematic manner could help to generate financial savings for this year.

The board also highlighted the Kingdom’s strong financial sector and ongoing reforms in the Saudi financial markets. It praised the ongoing efforts to strengthen the Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) framework, and its recent accession to full membership of the anti-money laundering watchdog the Financial Action Task Force. The Saudi Government’s commitment to joining the IMF Standards for Data Dissemination by the end of this year was also commended.

“The statement affirms that Saudi Arabia has made good progress in implementing economic and structural reforms and that these reforms are bearing fruit and are reflected in economic performance,” said Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan. “The Board sees that the outlook for the Saudi economy is positive.”

He added that the IMF board’s assessment reflects the ambitious reform efforts being made by the Kingdom at all levels, and stressed that the government is working to achieve financial and economic targets in accordance with the aims of Vision 2030 to maintain financial stability, achieve high economic-growth rates and support economic diversification through special initiatives, programs and projects that contribute to these objectives.

Al-Jadaan also welcomed the board’s endorsement of the government’s reforms, including measures to support financial sustainability, the financial markets, the expansion of financial services and the implementation of AML/CFT legislation and procedures at all levels in institutions.

He added that the new competition and procurement system will help to improve transparency, regulation and governance of procedures related to government procurement, in accordance with the best global practices.


Japanese utilities start selling uranium fuel into depressed market

Updated 8 min 48 sec ago
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Japanese utilities start selling uranium fuel into depressed market

  • Sales by Japanese utilities “are definitely showing up more in the market”

TOKYO: Japan’s nuclear operators are starting to sell some of their huge holdings of uranium fuel, as chances fade of restarting many more reactors eight years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The sales so far have been small, but were made at values well below their purchase price and are likely to further depress the already beaten-down uranium market, say two senior market specialists.
They could also focus attention on the balance sheets of the country’s utilities, bolstered by holdings of nuclear fuel valued at 2.5 trillion yen ($24 billion), a figure that market experts say is highly unrealistic.
“Given the extended shutdown of our reactors, we are selling uranium as well as canceling long-term contracts where necessary,” Japan Atomic told Reuters in a statement.
The company, which is yet to receive all the regulatory approvals needed to restart reactors at either of its two nuclear stations, declined to provide further details.
Before the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima plant in March 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami, Japan was the world’s third-biggest user of nuclear power behind the United States and France, operating 54 nuclear reactors.
It is permanently shutting 40% of its facilities and just nine of the 33 remaining have restarted. With reactors also being closed in the United States, Germany, Belgium and other countries, traders and specialists say the market is likely to remain depressed for years.
Unlike other commodities such as crude oil, most of the nuclear fuel market is privately traded, generally on long-term contracts, although CME Group’s NYMEX has a futures contract for uranium oxide (U308).
The contract is settled on prices supplied by US-based UxC LLC and is currently trading at about a third of where it was before Fukushima. US based UxC, LLC also calculates prices for converted and enriched uranium.
Sales by Japanese utilities “are definitely showing up more in the market,” said one US-based market specialist, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the industry.
“Some are selling uranium, some are selling more upstream products or services,” such as enriched uranium, he said. “Japanese inventory is a big overhang in the market.”
A senior fuel trader told Reuters his company had purchased nuclear fuel from a Japanese utility but declined to give details.
Japan Atomic was responding to a Reuters survey of 10 Japanese utilities that have operated nuclear plants. All the other utilities declined to comment on whether they had sold any nuclear fuel.
One said it adjusts supplies for optimal inventory levels and three said they have delayed deliveries of fuel.
Tepco in 2017 canceled a supply contract with Canadian uranium fuel producer Cameco, which was awarded $40.3 million in damages last month by an arbitration panel.
“Tepco has made efforts to reduce its holdings of nuclear fuel, such as by partly reducing uranium purchase contracts,” the company told Reuters, without giving further details.
Unlike in Europe and the United States, Japanese utilities are not required to mark to market their fuel holdings. They are booked on Japanese operators’ balance sheets as fixed assets at the purchase price, the utilities told Reuters.
“If the utilities are not going to use the fuel, and it is unlikely they will get many more reactors going, then at some point they will have to take losses on their holdings,” said Tom O’Sullivan, the founder of energy consultancy Mathyos Japan.
Company accounts for the financial year ended in March showed that nuclear fuel valuations ranged from nearly two times market capitalization in the case of Hokkaido Electric Power to 16 percent for Chubu Electric Power.
Sector-wide the nuclear fuel valuation is nearly 50 percent of the market value of the nine publicly traded utilities, calculations by Reuters showed.
Japanese utilities also count spent fuel that is being reprocessed into highly toxic plutonium for future use in reactors as an asset on their balance sheets.
The country has the world’s biggest inventory of plutonium held by a state without nuclear weapons, but experts say it may be more of a liability than an asset.
“That is not something they can sell and get paid for,” said Tomas Kaberger, energy and environment professor at Chalmers University of Technology and a board member of Swedish nuclear operator Vattenfall.
“It is something they will have to spend a lot of money on to build a repository for that can last a few hundred thousand years,” Kaberger said.