Middle East

Algeria

MENA and the Omicron risks

The Middle East and North African economies are potentially among the most vulnerable to the fallout from the Omicron strain of COVID-19. The North African economies as well as Lebanon and Jordan have low vaccination rates and large tourism sectors, leaving them exposed to the risk of tighter restrictions and curbs on international travel. In the Gulf, vaccination rates are much higher and, Dubai aside, tourism sectors are relatively small. But the fall in energy prices could prompt governments to hold off loosening fiscal policy. And producers may raise oil output more slowly, which would weigh on economic growth.

30 November 2021

What do higher oil prices mean outside of the Gulf?

The Gulf countries will be among the biggest winners globally from the recent rally in energy prices but most other parts of the Middle East and North Africa are net oil importers and are likely to be negatively affected. Higher energy prices will push up inflation or, in those countries with subsidy systems, add to pressures on public finances. Meanwhile, all else being equal, current account deficits could widen by an average of nearly 2%-pts of GDP next year if oil were to remain at $85pb. This could lead to downward pressure on currencies and make it more costly to service external debts – this could prove to be the most damaging in Tunisia and force the government to default on its debts.

27 October 2021

Gulf to outperform

Economic recoveries in the Gulf will continue to gather pace over the coming year on the back of successful vaccine rollouts and higher oil output, and our GDP growth forecasts lie above the consensus. Outside the Gulf, though, recoveries are likely to be slower, particularly in the more tourism-dependent economies. We think a sovereign default in Tunisia is more likely than not, and we have long-standing worries about public debt in Bahrain and Oman as well as Dubai’s corporate debts.

19 October 2021
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Egypt and UAE inflation, OPEC+, austerity in Algeria

Inflation figures for Egypt showed the headline rate jumped to a 20-month high in September and we think that this will delay a turn towards interest rate cuts. Elsewhere, the UAE emerged from deflation in August amid signs that the property sector has turned a corner. But disappointing news on the number of visitors to the World Expo reinforce our bearish view on the sector. Meanwhile, the rally in oil prices has ratcheted up the pressure on the OPEC+ to raise output quotas, which would most likely involve higher quotas for the Gulf. Finally, Algeria’s turn to fiscal austerity is unlikely to be enough to prevent a sharp devaluation in the coming years.

OPEC Monthly Oil Market Report (Aug.)

OPEC’s oil production soared in July as Saudi Arabia unwound the bulk of its voluntary output cut. Although OPEC left its demand forecast unchanged, we think that the near-term demand outlook has deteriorated, which may mean that the group adjusts down its supply plans at its next meeting.

A two-speed recovery

Strong COVID-19 vaccine rollouts in most of the Gulf and Morocco mean that remaining virus restrictions should be lifted by the end of this year, providing a boost to recoveries that, in the Gulf, will be turbo-charged by the recent OPEC+ deal to raise oil output. Elsewhere, though, vaccination programmes are progressing more slowly and fresh virus outbreaks will remain a key threat to the outlook. At the same time, many of these economies will suffer as international tourists return only slowly and officials turn back to fiscal consolidation in order to address high public debt-to-GDP ratios.

Higher oil prices to help narrow twin deficits

The price of oil has continued to rise and will help to improve balance sheets in the Gulf. With oil prices at $75pb, all Gulf economies with the exceptions of Bahrain and Oman are likely to be running current account surpluses, having run deficits in 2020. Budget deficits will have narrowed too and this may open the door to looser fiscal policy. Indeed, there have been signs recently that policymakers in Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia are moving in this direction. However, we expect that the price of oil will fall later in the year, meaning that the window to raise spending may be limited.

The latest on COVID-19 and vaccines in MENA

Virus numbers have fallen in the past few months in the MENA region and a rapid vaccine rollout should allow most of the Gulf economies, as well as Morocco, to lift restrictions further over the second half of the year. Elsewhere in the region, where the vaccine rollout is much slower, containment measures will stay in place for longer and the key summer tourist season will be lost for the second year in a row.

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