S&P affirms Abu Dhabi's credit rating on strong asset base and fiscal buffers

The government has proactively implemented fiscal reform measures since the fall in oil prices in 2015

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, March 27, 2020.   
  Sanitation workers from Tadweer spraying the pedestrian crossing on Hamdan and Fatima Bint Mubarak Street.  Emiratis and residents across the UAE must stay home this weekend while a nationwide cleaning and sterilisation drive is carried out.
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Haneen Dajani
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S&P Global Ratings affirmed Abu Dhabi's "AA/A-1+" long- credit rating and said the emirate's strong fiscal buffers, its healthy net asset position and proactive policymaking, "comfortably cushions" it from the sharp fall in oil prices and other external shocks such as the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

The stable outlook of the emirate "reflects our expectation that Abu Dhabi's fiscal position will remain strong over the next two years", S&P said on Saturday. Abu Dhabi's net asset position exceeds 250 per cent of the emirate's gross domestic product, it noted.

“Against oil price volatility, the government [of Abu Dhabi] has accumulated one of the largest net asset positions of all sovereigns we rate,” S&P said. “This cushions Abu Dhabi from the effect of oil price swings on economic growth, government revenues, and the external account, as well as increasing geopolitical uncertainty in the Gulf region.”

The government, it said, has proactively implemented fiscal reform measures since the fall in oil prices in 2014 that allowed an almost balanced central government budget in 2018 and 2019.

Oil prices have slumped sharply after the Opec+ group of oil producing nations failed earlier this month to agree on extending output cuts to help support oil prices battered by the demand concerns in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has forced major economies including the US, China, Japan, the UK and eurozone to shut their borders and for nearly $7 trillion (Dh25.7tn) in stimulus packages being rolled out by governments worldwide to shore up their economies.

The lockdown has battered international trade and brought the travel and tourism sector to a grinding halt globally, putting around 75 million jobs at risk. Abu Dhabi has already rolled out an economic stimulus programme to soften the blow of the outbreak on its economy.

“We anticipate that authorities will increase capital expenditure, [through] its stimulus program announced in 2019 [Ghadan 21 initiative], and contributions to the federal authorities to manage the economic and social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” S&P said.

Recently announced stimulus initiatives in Abu Dhabi include Dh5 billion ($1.36 billion) for water and electricity subsidies for citizens, 20 per cent rental rebates for restaurants and tourism-related businesses, and exemptions in registration fees for real estate, among others, it said.