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Can the Middle East oil the wheels of an economic recovery?

Byline: (Staff Writer)

Continued investment spending by Middle Eastern oil exporters is cushioning the impact of the global financial crisis on the entire region, IMF Middle East and Central Asia Department Director Masood Ahmed said.

Discussing the economic outlook for the economies of the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (MENAP), he noted that the impact in terms of growth is being seen but it is more muted, thanks also to a stronger starting position in some countries.

The IMF expects the MENAP oil exporters, including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, to grow at 3.6 per cent in 2009, down from 5.6 per cent in 2008.

"For the oil exporters, the decline in oil prices and OPEC production cuts are projected to reduce oil export receipts by almost 50 per cent in 2009. This implies a loss of government revenue to the tune of $300 billion compared to 2008," Ahmed said. "Nevertheless, most governments-especially those in the GCC-have so far indicated that they will maintain their spending and investment plans."

"As a result, oil exporters' current account surplus of around $400 billion in 2008 is expected to turn into a deficit of $30 billion in 2009. For most countries, this deterioration is from a position of significant strength, and thus can comfortably be sustained by the large stock of reserves that these economies have built up," Ahmed said.

"Thus, by continuing to spend, oil-exporting countries are contributing substantially to supporting global demand and are acting as stabilisers during the global downturn" he added.

The IMF said that emerging markets and developing countries in the region areprojected to slow to 3.6 per cent in 2009, from 6.3 per cent in 2008. It believes that the global slowdown will clearly have a significant impact on growth through lower exports, tourism, remittances, and a higher cost of credit. However, it also insists that spending by oil exporters will soften this impact on countries that have strong trade and investment links with them.

Because of the relatively high public debt ratios and the much more difficult financing outlook, the scope for counter-cyclical policies is limited for most of the emerging market countries, it claimed.

"Risks to the outlook are tilted to the downside," Ahmed said. "The global economy is going through its most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression with global growth projected to be only 0.5 per cent during 2009. Against this background, the risks to the outlook for the countries in the region include the following: First, if oil exporters cut their long-term oil price expectations and, consequently, their spending, growth prospects would be weaker for the entire region."

"Second, a more prolonged global recession would imply even weaker exports, tourism, and remittances for most MENAP emerging markets and developing countries. Finally, if asset price corrections deepen and the impact of asset price corrections feed through to corporate and, ultimately, bank balance sheets, some financial institutions in the region may be under stress," Ahmed admitted.

2009 CPI Financial. All rights reserved.

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Publication:CPI Financial
Date:Feb 9, 2009
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