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Rating Action:

Moody's downgrades Oman's rating to Ba1, outlook negative

05 Mar 2019

New York, March 05, 2019 -- Moody's Investors Service ("Moody's") has today downgraded the long-term issuer and senior unsecured bond ratings of the Government of Oman to Ba1 from Baa3. The outlook remains negative.

The key driver of the downgrade is Moody's expectation that the scope for fiscal consolidation will remain more significantly constrained by the government's economic and social stability objectives than it had previously assessed. As a result, in an environment of moderate oil prices, Oman's fiscal metrics will weaken to a level that is consistent with a lower rating.

Notwithstanding Oman's inherent credit strengths that provide some degree of resilience to potential future shocks, persistently wide fiscal deficits will contribute to wide current account deficits, perpetuating Oman's dependence on steady inflows of external financing and denoting material external vulnerability.

The negative outlook reflects Moody's view that the balance of risks to the Ba1 rating is skewed to the downside. In particular, foreign investors' willingness to finance Oman's large deficits at relatively low costs could weaken, exacerbating the sovereign's external vulnerability and raising government liquidity pressures.

Concurrently, Moody's has downgraded the government of Oman's senior unsecured medium-term note program rating to (P)Ba1 from (P)Baa3. Today's rating action also applies to Oman Sovereign Sukuk S.A.O.C, for which the backed senior unsecured ratings were downgraded to Ba1 from Baa3 and the backed senior unsecured medium-term note program was downgraded to (P)Ba1 from (P)Baa3.

Moody's has today also lowered Oman's long-term foreign-currency bond ceiling to Baa3 from Baa2 and its long-term foreign-currency deposit ceiling to Ba2 from Baa3. At the same time, the short-term foreign-currency bond ceiling was lowered to Prime-3 from Prime-2, while the short-term foreign-currency deposit ceiling was lowered to Not Prime from Prime-3. Oman's long-term local-currency bond and deposit ceilings were lowered to Baa3 from Baa2.

RATINGS RATIONALE

RATIONALE FOR THE DOWNGRADE TO Ba1

VERY LIMITED PROSPECTS FOR FURTHER MEANINGFUL FISCAL CONSOLIDATION POINT TO HIGH LIKELIHOOD OF MATERIAL RISE IN DEBT BURDEN

The downgrade to Ba1 reflects Moody's view that prospects for new meaningful fiscal reforms are limited, to a greater extent than the rating agency had previously assessed. This view is underscored by delays of measures that were announced in early 2018 and that Moody's expected would be implemented during 2018-19. More generally, Moody's assessment that the scope for further fiscal consolidation is very limited reflects the challenges faced by the government in introducing new non-oil revenue measures and controlling expenditure, especially in a weak growth environment, given its social stability objectives and the overarching desire to preserve the current level of living standards of the Omani citizens.

Although higher oil prices during 2018 reduced fiscal pressures, narrowing last year's fiscal deficit by more than 5% of GDP according to Moody's estimates, they also reduced the fiscal reform momentum. The special excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco and sugary beverages and the 5% value added tax (VAT) have both been delayed, to no earlier than the second half of 2019 and early 2020 respectively. Moody's estimates that these two measures combined could raise revenues of about 1.7% of GDP, a relatively small share of the government deficits when oil prices are around current levels. These two measures are the only substantive fiscal measures that are being targeted for implementation in the coming years.

The 2019 budget law that was approved by the royal decree in January 2019 contains few new measures that would durably stop or reverse the fiscal deterioration in an environment of moderate oil prices. Other than some further potential revenue from state asset sales and the above-mentioned special excise taxes (up to 0.3% of GDP, depending on when will the new measure be actually implemented), the budget only plans additional revenue from the standardization of municipality fees (up to 0.1% of GDP, again depending on the implementation date).

The 2019 budget aims to cut spending by about 4% relative to Moody's 2018 execution estimate. Although the budget statement contains no specific announcement of spending cuts, the government has previously committed to the government sector employment freeze. Nevertheless, based on the track record of the past six years Moody's expects that government spending will likely exceed the budgeted amount by at least 5%, resulting in broadly unchanged expenditure in 2019 compared to 2018.

Moody's does not expect scope for meaningful fiscal consolidation to emerge beyond this year. As a result, and assuming that oil prices hover around current levels, it projects Oman's fiscal deficits to remain high, ranging from 7% to 11% of GDP in the next three years.

The rise in the government's debt burden may be mitigated by planned asset sales. As the first step, late last year the government-owned Oman Oil Company sold a 10% stake in the Khazzan-Makarem gas field joint-venture to a strategic foreign investor. A significant portion of the proceeds will be transferred to the government and used to finance the 2019 budget. Furthermore, earlier this year, the government sold a portion of the country's gas pipeline network to the state-owed Oman Gas Company (OGC). While OGC borrowed externally to fund this purchase, increasing the debt burden of the broader public sector, the proceed of the sale will likely reduce the government's direct borrowing requirement in 2019.

Overall, in Moody's baseline scenario which assumes the excise tax and VAT implementation by early 2020 in addition to some additional state asset sales over the next three years, Oman's debt metrics will continue to deteriorate in the medium term, reaching around 60% of GDP and more than 170% of revenues by 2021.

FISCAL IMBALANCE CONTRIBUTES TO EXTERNAL VULNERABILITY

Given Oman's pegged exchange rate regime that limits monetary policy autonomy, and the significant role of the public sector in the economy, the wide fiscal imbalance will contribute to current account deficits remaining wide, notwithstanding some narrowing over the medium term related to an increase in non-hydrocarbon exports as the economy diversifies -- especially towards tourism, petrochemicals, commercial fishing and mining.

Moody's expects that Oman's current account deficits will remain around 6-10% of GDP in the next several years, elevating the sovereign's vulnerability to external shocks. Oman will remain reliant on continued access to external debt to maintain an adequate level of foreign exchange reserves.

HIGH PER-CAPITA INCOMES, SOVEREIGN ASSET BUFFERS AND PROSPECTS FOR LONGER-TERM ECONOMIC DIVERSIFICATION WILL CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THE Ba1 RATING

Despite expected further deterioration of government debt metrics in the medium term, the Ba1 rating is supported by Oman's very high per capita income and moderately high, although declining, sovereign asset buffers (equivalent to around 41% of GDP at the end of 2018, including the foreign currency reserves of the central bank and Moody's estimate of the liquid sovereign wealth fund assets), which will provide some resilience to potential future shocks.

The rating is also supported by the government's track record of accessing international capital markets with large size issuances and by Oman's robust banking sector which limits the scope for the contingent liabilities risk to the Omani government due to the conservative regulatory framework in the country, evidenced by strict limits on cross-border exposure, retail lending exposure, debt burden ratios and balance sheet mismatch.

Over the medium term, the rating will also be supported by the ongoing economic diversification efforts and related job creation, which Moody's expects will reduce the economy's reliance on hydrocarbon revenue somewhat.

RATIONALE FOR THE NEGATIVE OUTLOOK

In light of the further weakening of Oman's fiscal metrics and ongoing external vulnerability over the next several years, there is a risk that foreign investors' willingness to finance Oman's large deficits at relatively low costs weakens, exacerbating the sovereign's external vulnerability and creating government liquidity pressures. This downside risk is particularly relevant in the context of potential further shifts in global capital flows which Moody's expect to be volatile in the coming years.

Constraints on Oman's access to low-cost and long-maturity external financing would put pressure on foreign exchange reserves and, if sustained, potentially on the currency peg to the US dollar. More immediately, such constraints would manifest in rising liquidity pressure for the government. In Moody's baseline, which assumes a modest gradual reduction of Oman's fiscal deficit in the medium term, the rating agency estimates that the government's gross financing needs will rise to around 14% of GDP in 2022 from 10% of GDP in 2018. Issuance at higher costs and/or shorter maturity if investors' appetite for Oman government's debt diminishes would raise financing needs further and erode debt affordability.

WHAT COULD MOVE THE RATING UP/DOWN

The negative outlook indicates that an upgrade is unlikely in the near term. Prospects of a significant change in policy priorities pointing to prioritization of measures that would durably reduce Oman's fiscal and external imbalances would likely lead Moody's to change the outlook to stable, and possibly over time, upgrade the rating. Evidence of sustained capacity to access financing at low costs would also likely lead Moody's to change the outlook to stable.

Moody's would likely downgrade the rating should the government's ability to access affordable long-term international financing weaken. Possibly relatedly, a material erosion of the central bank's foreign exchange reserves, or liquid sovereign wealth fund assets, beyond Moody's current expectations would increase the probability of a downgrade. Such developments could result from prospects of even slower fiscal consolidation than currently assumed.

GDP per capita (PPP basis, US$): 46,011 (2017 Actual) (also known as Per Capita Income)

Real GDP growth (% change): -0.9% (2017 Actual) (also known as GDP Growth)

Inflation Rate (CPI, % change Dec/Dec): 1.6% (2017 Actual)

Gen. Gov. Financial Balance/GDP: -12.9% (2017 Actual) (also known as Fiscal Balance)

Current Account Balance/GDP: -15.2% (2017 Actual) (also known as External Balance)

External debt/GDP: [not available]

Level of economic development: Moderate level of economic resilience

Default history: No default events (on bonds or loans) have been recorded since 1983.

On 28 February 2019, a rating committee was called to discuss the rating of the Government of Oman. The main points raised during the discussion were: The issuer's economic fundamentals, including its economic strength, have not materially changed. The issuer's institutional strength/framework, have materially decreased. The issuer's fiscal or financial strength, including its debt profile, has materially decreased. The issuer's susceptibility to event risks has not materially changed.

The principal methodology used in these ratings was Sovereign Bond Ratings published in November 2018. Please see the Rating Methodologies page on www.moodys.com for a copy of this methodology.

The weighting of all rating factors is described in the methodology used in this credit rating action, if applicable.

The local market analyst for this rating is Alexander Perjessy , +971 (423) 795-48.

REGULATORY DISCLOSURES

For ratings issued on a program, series or category/class of debt, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to each rating of a subsequently issued bond or note of the same series or category/class of debt or pursuant to a program for which the ratings are derived exclusively from existing ratings in accordance with Moody's rating practices. For ratings issued on a support provider, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the credit rating action on the support provider and in relation to each particular credit rating action for securities that derive their credit ratings from the support provider's credit rating. For provisional ratings, this announcement provides certain regulatory disclosures in relation to the provisional rating assigned, and in relation to a definitive rating that may be assigned subsequent to the final issuance of the debt, in each case where the transaction structure and terms have not changed prior to the assignment of the definitive rating in a manner that would have affected the rating. For further information please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page for the respective issuer on www.moodys.com.

For any affected securities or rated entities receiving direct credit support from the primary entity(ies) of this credit rating action, and whose ratings may change as a result of this credit rating action, the associated regulatory disclosures will be those of the guarantor entity. Exceptions to this approach exist for the following disclosures, if applicable to jurisdiction: Ancillary Services, Disclosure to rated entity, Disclosure from rated entity.

Regulatory disclosures contained in this press release apply to the credit rating and, if applicable, the related rating outlook or rating review.

Please see www.moodys.com for any updates on changes to the lead rating analyst and to the Moody's legal entity that has issued the rating.

Please see the ratings tab on the issuer/entity page on www.moodys.com for additional regulatory disclosures for each credit rating.

David Rogovic
Asst Vice President - Analyst
Sovereign Risk Group
Moody's Investors Service, Inc.
250 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10007
U.S.A.
JOURNALISTS: 1 212 553 0376
Client Service: 1 212 553 1653

Marie Diron
MD - Sovereign Risk
Sovereign Risk Group
JOURNALISTS: 852 3758 1350
Client Service: 852 3551 3077

Releasing Office:
Moody's Investors Service, Inc.
250 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10007
U.S.A.
JOURNALISTS: 1 212 553 0376
Client Service: 1 212 553 1653

No Related Data.
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