Dying Petrodollar Ripples Through Markets As Asset Managers Bemoan Loss Of Saudi Bid

One of the key things to understand about China’s liquidation of hundreds of billions in US paper is that far from being a country-specific phenomenon, it actually marks the continuation of something that’s been taking place in other emerging markets for some time. 

As we outlined in “Why It Really All Comes Down To The Death Of The Petrodollar,” the forced sale of Beijing’s UST reserves is simply the most dramatic example of what Deutsche Bank has called “quantitative tightening.” For years, reserve managers in the world’s emerging economies worked to accumulate war chests of USD-denominated paper in an effort to ensure that in a crisis, they would have sufficient firepower to guard against speculative attacks on their currencies and/or accelerating capital outflows. Slumping commodity prices and the threat of a supposedly imminent Fed hike have conspired to put pressure on these reserves and outside of China, nowhere is this dynamic more apparent than in Saudi Arabia. Indeed it was the Saudis who dealt the deathblow to the great EM reserve accumulation.

By intentionally killing the petrodollar, Riyadh effectively ensured that the pressure on commodity currencies would continue unabated, but as we’ve documented exhaustively, that was and still is considered an acceptable outcome if it means bankrupting the US shale complex and securing market share. But for Saudi Arabia, this is all complicated by three things: 1) the necessity of preserving the lifestyle of everyday citizens, 2) spending associated with the proxy war in Yemen, and 3) defense of the riyal’s dollar peg. All of those factors have served to weigh heavily on the county’s already depleted petrodollar reserves, and if the “lower for longer” crude thesis plays out, Riyadh may see further pressure on its current and fiscal accounts which are now both squarely in the red. 

Of course all of the above is a drag on global liquidity and as we warned nearly a year ago, the death of the petrodollar means oil exporters are set to become net sellers of assets for the first time in decades.

As FT reports, markets are beginning to feel the effects. Here’s more:

Saudi Arabia has withdrawn tens of billions of dollars from global asset managers as the oil-rich kingdom seeks to cut its widening deficit and reduce exposure to volatile equities markets amid the sustained slump in oil prices.


The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency’s foreign reserves have slumped by nearly $73bn since oil prices started to decline last year as the kingdom keeps spending to sustain the economy and fund its military campaign in Yemen.


The central bank is also turning to domestic banks to finance a bond programme to offset the rapid decline in reserves.


This month, several managers were hit by a new wave of redemptions, which came on top of an initial round of withdrawals this year, people aware of the matter said.


“It was our Black Monday,” said one fund manager, referring to the large number of assets withdrawn by Saudi Arabia last week.


Institutions benefited from years of rising assets under management from oil-rich Gulf states, but are now feeling the pinch after oil prices collapsed last year.


Nigel Sillitoe, chief executive of financial services market intelligence company Insight Discovery, said fund managers estimate that Sama has pulled out $50bn-$70bn over the past six months.


“The big question is when will they come back, because managers have been really quite reliant on Sama for business in recent years,” he said.


BlackRock, which bankers describe as the manager handling the largest amount of Gulf funds, has already reported net outflows from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.


Its second-quarter financial results reported a net outflow of $24.1bn from Emea, as opposed to an inflow of $17.7bn in the first quarter.


Market participants say the outflow is in part explained by redemptions from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf sovereign funds, such as Abu Dhabi.

Of course, as indicated above, this isn't an isolated incident (i.e. it's not confined to the Gulf states and China). The worse things get for EM, the more likely it is that countries will continue to draw down their reserves and indeed, if the situation continues to deteriorate in Brazil, it looks increasingly likely that Copom will become a seller as well. 

Make no mistake, this is now a key factor in the FOMC's decision making process, as EM reserve levels essentially serve as a proxy for trends in global liquidity and thus are one way of measuring the degree to which market conditions are poised to amplify a potential rate hike. We close with the following quote from Goldman, commenting on the above earlier this year:

We estimate that the new (lower) oil price equilibrium will reduce the supply of petrodollars by up to US$24 bn per month in the coming years, corresponding to around US$860 bn over the next three years. The ultimate impact, however, will depend on a number of key current account buffers (goods imports, net factor income and service imports).