S&P affirms Bahrain’s credit rating with positive outlook

Gulf country's economy grew by 4.9 per cent in 2022, the highest rate since 2013

FILE PHOTO: General view of Bahrain's financial district in Manama, Bahrain, June 20, 2019. REUTERS/ Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo
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S&P Global Ratings affirmed Bahrain’s credit rating and maintained the kingdom’s positive outlook on government reforms and continued financial sector stability.

The rating agency affirmed Bahrain’s long- and short-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings at 'B+/B', which indicates the country will be able to meet its financial commitments.

“Bahrain's fiscal and debt positions strengthened in 2022 on the back of higher oil prices and budget consolidation measures,” the rating agency said.

“We expect the government will continue pursuing reforms to boost non-oil revenue.”

Bahrain's economy grew by 4.9 per cent last year, the highest rate since 2013, underpinned by a robust performance in the country's non-oil sectors that were targeted under its economic reform plan.

The Gulf nation's growth was led by a 6.2 per cent jump in non-oil real gross domestic product (GDP), state-owned Bahrain News Agency reported in March.

It was the highest rate since 2012 and more than the 5 per cent annual target set by the economic reform plan.

The non-oil sector's contribution to the real GDP reached an all-time high at 83.1 per cent last year. Higher oil prices following Russia's military assault on Ukraine also supported its economy.

Bahrain posted a record current account surplus of 15.4 per cent of GDP in 2022, bolstered by high oil prices and a boost in aluminium production. In tandem, the Central Bank of Bahrain's foreign exchange reserves rose to $5 billion in February this year, their highest level since the oil price slump in 2014-2015.

“Bahrain's net asset position could improve further should the government continue to develop its non-oil sector and oil prices and global demand remain sufficiently buoyant,” S&P said.

The rating agency also expects Bahrain to receive full disbursements under a $10.2 billion GCC support package, and "there remains potential for additional financial support beyond the programme’s expiration at year-end 2024”, it said.

Bahrain received $7.5 billion in GCC funds from 2018 to 2022, including about $700 million last year, with an additional $2.7 billion to be disbursed in 2023-2024.

To strengthen its economy, Bahrain unveiled a major economic reform plan in 2021 that seeks to invest about $30 billion in strategic projects to drive post-coronavirus growth, boost employment for citizens and attract foreign direct investment.

As per the multiyear plan, the government adopted cost rationalisation measures and aims to create more than 20,000 jobs for citizens annually until next year and train 10,000 people more through its Tamkeen programme.

Bahrain also launched a Golden Licence initiative this year to attract new investment projects and create jobs in the country.

Companies with strategic projects that will create more than 500 jobs in Bahrain, or those with an investment value exceeding $50 million, will be eligible for the licence.

"We could raise the ratings over the next 12 months if widening current account surpluses support a significant and sustained improvement in Bahrain's external position," S&P said.

Updated: May 30, 2023, 9:03 AM