Muscat corniche
The Muscat corniche aglow in the night. Borrowing is expected to cover 86 per cent of Oman’s 2.8 billion-riyal shortfall, with the balance to be drawn from reserves. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Oman’s government, whose budget deficit is among the largest of all the sovereigns tracked by Fitch Ratings, will tap capital markets for a fourth straight year to plug a fiscal gap vulnerable to lower oil prices.

The Gulf nation is looking to raise 2.4 billion Omani riyals (Dh22.8 billion, $6.2 billion) internationally and at home, according to a state budget plan published on the Oman News Agency. Borrowing will cover 86 per cent of the country’s 2.8 billion-riyal shortfall, with the remaining 400 million riyals to be drawn from the country’s reserves.

After ending a two-decade absence from international capital markets three years ago, Oman has grown increasingly reliant on borrowing. Debt as a share of gross domestic product more than tripled to near 50 per cent.

The focus on foreign borrowing last year was to “avoid crowding out the private sector in meeting its financing needs, as well as to enhance foreign currency cash flows and reserves,” the Finance Ministry said in the budget statement. The remainder of the 2018 deficit was covered from reserves, it said.

The yield on Oman’s debt due 2028 has soared to about 7.5 per cent, the most since the securities were sold in January 2018.

Raising funds in the future may get even more expensive after Oman’s sovereign rating was downgraded last month to one level below investment grade by Fitch, which warned that fiscal deficits are leading to a sharp deterioration in its sovereign and external balance sheets. It expects government debt to continue climbing and reach 58 per cent of GDP by 2020 from 48 per cent in 2018.

S&P Global Ratings has Oman two levels into junk with a stable outlook, while Moody’s Investors Service puts it at the lowest investment grade with a negative view.

The sultanate, which was expected to raise $7.5 billion from debt sales in 2018, ended up only borrowing $6.5 billion in January as higher oil prices helped boost revenue. The country has raised $18 billion from the sale of dollar bonds since the start of 2016, data compiled by Bloomberg show.