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As Moody Downgrades Saudi Arabia, Kuwait Calls For Freeze

The Gulf states of Bahrain, Oman and the world’s largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, have seen had their credit ratings downgraded by Moody’s as low oil prices and the persisting glut spark economic woes and fears of financial instability.

Saudi Arabia’s ratings were downgraded by one notch to A1, but the kingdom the ratings agency gave the kingdom a stable outlook based on the major economic reforms unveiled last month, which could help to stabilize the budget.

The agency downgraded Oman by one notch to Baa1 with a stable outlook, and cut Bahrain by one notch to Ba2, with a negative outlook. Neither has the significant financial reserves the Saudis can fall back on.

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Outlook for crude exporters including Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Kuwait were negative, but the three kept their Aa2 ratings.

Referring to Saudi Arabia, the agency said: "A combination of lower growth, higher debt levels and smaller domestic and external buffers leave the Kingdom less well positioned to weather future shocks. The stable outlook indicates that, at this lower rating level, risks are broadly balanced. In the absence of further fiscal and economic reform, the pressures on the government's balance sheet would continue to rise."

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The new classification comes as crude prices fell from more than $100 in mid-2014 to under $30 a barrel in February, now stabilized into the mid-$40s. Benchmark international crude settled on Friday at $47.83 a barrel.

Amid these worrisome figures, Kuwait warned that the only solution in sight for the oil producing countries is output freeze. "There is no option but to freeze output," the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Suleiman Al-Jarallah told Japanese media during a visit to Tokyo.

The proposal will again be tabled at OPEC’s next meeting early June, he added.

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By Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com

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