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|12 December, 2018

Fitch says Khashoggi's death unlikely to affect Saudi rating

The kingdom is one of main issuers of foreign debt across emerging markets, having sold $52billion in U.S. dollar-denominated bonds since it started tapping debt markets in 2016.

Cars drive along the New Corniche seafront development on June 23, 2018 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Cars drive along the New Corniche seafront development on June 23, 2018 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Getty Images/Sean Gallup

DUBAI- Rating agency Fitch said the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul is unlikely to affect its assessment of the kingdom’s credit risk.

Khashoggi, a royal insider turned critic of Saudi policy, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. He was a U.S. resident and columnist for The Washington Post and his death has provoked a political crisis in Saudi Arabia as well as a deterioration of its relations with Western allies.

Yields on Saudi bonds have risen since early October and the cost of insuring Saudi debt against default has increased by around 30 basis points.

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The United States last month imposed economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials for what it said was their role in the killing, and the Senate is considering a resolution condemning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing, a move which could lead to further sanctions. 

Despite this, events in Turkey “didn’t change the situation too much,” said Jan Friederich, head of sovereign ratings, Middle East and Africa at Fitch Ratings.

Speaking at a conference in Dubai on Wednesday, he said that – barring any radical change – the fallout of Khashoggi’s murder is unlikely to have an impact on Fitch’s rating.

Saudi Arabia has said the prince had no prior knowledge of the murder. After offering numerous contradictory explanations, Riyadh later said Khashoggi had been killed and his body dismembered when negotiations to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed. 

The kingdom is one of the main issuers of foreign debt across emerging markets, having sold $52 billion in U.S. dollar-denominated bonds since it started tapping the international debt markets in 2016.

Fitch last month affirmed its A+ rating of the country, but said political risks remained high, as “highlighted by Saudi Arabia's recent diplomatic rows with Canada and Germany, the international reaction to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Kingdom's consulate in Istanbul and the ongoing dispute with Qatar.”

(Reporting by Davide Barbuscia) ((Davide.Barbuscia@thomsonreuters.com; +971522604297; Reuters Messaging: davide.barbuscia.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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