Saudi Arabia is set to use surplus oil revenues to bolster the financial firepower of its $230bn sovereign wealth fund, shifting additional billions into the vehicle spearheading Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic modernization efforts. Mohammed Al Tuwaijri, the kingdom’s minister of economy and planning, said the change would allow oil revenues to fund the Saudi budget, in order to keep it in balance, and any excess would then be funnelled into the Public Investment Fund (PIF). Once a placid backwater in global investing, the PIF has been transformed by the crown prince into an aggressive acquirer of stakes in foreign companies, including the ride-hailing group Uber.
The shift puts the young Saudi heir — who has launched wide-ranging efforts to transform the oil-dependent economy even as he courted controversy by using unorthodox measures to crack down on corruption — more directly in control of funds that have historically been managed by the central bank. “Whenever oil is above our break-even point, this will all go to the PIF,” Mr Al Tuwaijri said in an interview, without disclosing how much oil revenue would balance the kingdom’s annual budget. “So in that sense they will have a lot of funding, hopefully.”
The International Monetary Fund said last year that Saudi Arabia needed oil prices to be at $70 a barrel in 2018 to break even, which is above today’s price of $65 a barrel. Although Prince Mohammed’s efforts to transform the Saudi economy have been well publicised, while his moves to overhaul governance within the kingdom have been shrouded with secrecy. The effort to steer oil profits away from the cental bank, known as the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, to the PIF sheds light on how the crown prince is moving to take away influence from some of country’s entrenched power centres.