Saudi Foreign Assets Rise for First Time Since May Last Year

Saudi Arabia’s central bank reserves rose for the first time in over a year, even as low oil prices hinder government efforts to overhaul an economy dependent on energy exports.

Net foreign assets at the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency increased to $493.2 billion in June from $491.7 billion in the previous month, according to a monthly report published on its website. It was the first increase since May 2016, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The rise is surprising, “especially given that the government’s deposits with the central bank continued to fall in the month,” said Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. The increase “could be linked to investments strategies of the government and related flows,” she said.

The International Monetary Fund fund on Friday lowered its forecasts for Saudi economic growth this year to “close to zero” due to lower crude prices and austerity measures. The economy contracted in the first quarter for the first time since 2009, illustrating the scale of the challenge facing the country’s new heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as he implements his blueprint for a transition away from oil dependency.

Saudi foreign assets climbed as high as $737 billion in August 2014 before beginning a steady decline as the kingdom’s revenue from oil sales dropped.

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