15 staggering facts about Saudi Arabia

Saudi arabia camels selfieReuters/Mohamed AlhwaityA man takes a ‘selfie’ with camels.

Saudi Arabia has been front and center over the past few months as oil prices plunged in late 2014 and then saw a mild recovery in 2015.

But it’s worth taking a step back and looking at its unique economy as a whole and what that might mean for its future.

“The oil boom of the past decade has transformed Saudi Arabia into a major global economy with a young population and large wealth that offer great potential,” writes HSBC economist Razan Nasser, “but with lower oil prices, the Kingdom’s structural challenges are ever more pressing.”

We’ve taken a closer look at some of the numbers behind Saudi Arabia young, oil-driven economy.

The Kingdom's Ghawar oil field has enough reserves to fill 4,770,897 Olympic swimming pools.

The Kingdom's oil reserves are huge.

Saudi Arabia's Ghawar field is the largest in the world. It has an estimated 75 billion barrels of oil left.

An Olympic-size swimming pool can hold 660,253.09 gallons of liquid.

Source: US Energy Information Administration

Saudi Arabia's petroleum sector makes up 45% of GDP, which makes it bigger than the total GDPs of Iraq, Morocco, Rwanda, and Tonga combined.

Ali Al-Naimi, Minister of Petroleum, with a falcon.

Saudi Arabia's petroleum sector is 45% of the country's total GDP -- which puts it at around $US335,372 billion.

Iraq's GDP is $US222.879 billion, Morocco's GDP is $US104.4 billion, Rwanda's GDP is $US7.451 billion, and Tonga's GDP is $US466 million.

Source: CIA Factbook, HSBC

Saudi Arabia's population is slightly bigger than Texas's, but Texas's GDP is nearly 2 times as large.

Saudi Arabia's population around 28.8 million in 2013, which is slightly above to that of Texas' 26.5 million. However, Saudi Arabia's GDP in 2013 was around $US750 billion, while Texas' was approximately twice that amount at $US1.4 trillion.

Plus, Saudi Arabia has the 19th largest GDP -- but if Texas were its own country, it would have the 13th largest GDP (just below Australia and right above Spain).

Overall, this suggests that Texas is more productive than Saudi Arabia.

Source: Business Insider, World Bank

Saudi Arabia's growth has been fuelled by increased resources, NOT by increased productivity.

HSBC's chart to the right suggests that Saudi Arabia's recent growth is largely attributed to increased resources, rather than increased productivity or increased labour.

Source: HSBC

Saudi Arabia is erecting the world's tallest building, which will be one kilometer tall -- AKA taller than 492 LeBron James' standing on top of one another.

Saudi Arabia is building Kingdom Tower, which will be the world's tallest building in 2018. It's going to stand one kilometer tall.

China is also planning on building a one-kilometer-tall building. So, technically speaking, the two will be tied for first.

LeBron James stands at 6-foot-8, or 2.03 m.

Source: CNN

47% of the Kingdom's population is under the age of 24, while only 5% are over 60.

A man holds an Uromastyx lizard.

Saudi Arabia's young demographic really stands out against the backdrop of major economies with ageing populations such as Japan.

'Saudi Arabia's young and growing population has hard-wired strong consumption growth in the Kingdom for decades to come,' writes HSBC's Nasser. 'However, in the long term, meeting the demands of this growing population will become more of a challenge.'

Source: CIA Factbook and HSBC

Almost 60% of the labour force in Saudi Arabia is foreign.

A Yemeni worker.

There's been some structural improvement in the Kingdom's labour force, but ultimately it remains heavily reliant on foreign labour.

'Saudi nationals continue to work largely in the public sector with little incentive to join the private sector or to improve productivity,' writes HSBC's Nasser.

Notably, most of the people who work in oil and service sectors in Saudi Arabia are foreigners.

Source: HSBC and CIA Factbook

Saudi Arabia's female labour force participation rate was roughly 20%, the 8th lowest in the world.

By comparison, the US's female labour force participation rate is around 47%, Germany is around 54%, and Japan is at 49%.

Bill Gates criticised the Saudi Arabia's female employment at the World Economic Forum in 2007.

When one person asked him if Saudi Arabia might become a major, competitive economy by 2010, Gates responded, 'Well, if you're not fully utilising half the talent in the country, you're not going to get close to the top.'

Source: HSBC, The Washington Post, World Bank

On a related note, this is the only country where women are forbidden to drive.

Women aren't allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.

'The conservative Islamic state has no written ban on women driving, but Saudi law requires citizens to use a locally issued licence while in the country. Such licenses are not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive,' according to Reuters.

Source: Reuters

Saudi Arabia may end executions by beheading because there's a shortage of swordsmen in the country.

'This solution seems practical, especially in light of shortages in official swordsmen or their belated arrival to execution yards in some incidents; the aim is to avoid interruption of the regularly-taken security arrangements,' said a Saudi committee made up of representatives of the ministries of interior, justice, and health.

Source: Ahram Online

Saudi Arabia is building six 'economic cities' that are expected to add an amount 3.5 times as large as Kenya's total GDP to Saudi Arabia's GDP

In an effort to diversify its economy (instead of only having a huge oil sector), Saudi Arabia is building 'six economic cities' that are expected to add $US150 billion to the country's GDP.

The cities are spread around the country and are expected to add 1.3 million jobs and raise the GDP per capita from $US13,000 to $US33,500.

Kenya's GDP is $US44.1 billion.

Source: OECD

Massive oil revenues enabled Saudi Arabia to get away with inefficient spending. But with lower oil prices, it's becoming apparent that this model isn't sustainable.

'The boom in oil prices over the past decade has brought with it large fiscal revenue growth that has allowed for a massive ramp-up in expenditure providing little incentive for fiscal discipline,' writes Nasser. 'This has been very expensive and has not always been directed effectively... often providing for inefficient consumption.'

'Such spending habits, along with the inability to generate non-oil revenue, have led to higher dependency on oil. Hence, the drop in oil prices has had a transformative impact on Saudi Arabia's as well as the entire GCC...' he adds.

Consequently, Saudi Arabia's had to tap into its resources following the price drop, which has been an ok strategy so far...

Source: HSBC

Saudi Arabia's annual military expenditure is 4 times the GDP of Afghanistan.

Saudi special forces.

Saudi Arabia's military expenditure increased to $US80.8 billion in 2014 up from 2013's $US67 billion, which puts them in fourth place for military expenditure, behind the US, China, and Russia.

However, it's notable that Saudi Arabia's military expenditure is 10.4% of its GDP -- which is huge. Most countries are around 2-4%, with the US around 3.5%.

Afghanistan's GDP was $US20.7 billion in 2013.

Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

And now... how about an closer peak inside at the Hermit Kingdom.

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