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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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IMF Has Bad News For The Middle East And Oil Is To Blame

Heightened volatility in oil prices as well as political instability will combine to pressure economic growth in the Middle East, the International Monetary Fund warned in the latest edition of its Regional Economic Outlook Update for the region.

Inflation in the Middle East will remain high, at about 10 percent, according to the report, with economic growth declining from some 2 percent last year to 1.5 percent this year. Yet these are the average figures. In reality, the countries in the Middle East face rather different challenges.

Iran is the country that will suffer the most from the trends the IMF talks about because of the U.S. sanctions. According to Jihad Azour, the fund’s department director for the Middle East and Central Asia, the recession already gripping Iran will deepen to 6 percent this year from 4 percent in 2018. Since Tehran has signaled it has no intention to give the U.S. what it wants—a new nuclear deal as Washington has stated—chances are this scenario is the one we will see play out in one of the Middle East’s largest countries.

Yet even sanction-free U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are not going to have it too easy this year, if the IMF’s analysts are right. The Saudi economy will grow more slowly this year, with the growth rate declining from 2.2 percent in 2018 to 1.8 percent. Related: Oil Soars On Venezuela Coup Attempt

On a wider scale, the members of the Gulf Economic Council, which include, besides Saudi Arabia, also the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait, will see GDP growth relatively unchanged at an average 2 percent but they would need to double down on their diversification efforts. The six countries need to create about a million new jobs annually over the next five years at least in order to maintain unemployment rates where they are, the IMF said.

However, the diversification efforts are beginning to pay off even if they are burdening state budgets: the IMF said non-oil revenues for these countries will rise moderately this year, although this will be accompanied by an increase in budget deficits as well.

The news isn’t good for the energy importing countries in the region. Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and others in this club, will also see slower economic growth and higher inflation than the rich oil boys’ club, although the average inflation rate will remain relatively unchanged on 2018.

Besides the overall trend of slowing economic growth, which echoes the slowdown on a global scale, the Middle East and North African countries have another reason for worry: political unrests in Algeria, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen, along with the simmering tension in the Middle East, always there and ready to flare up.

Investors have been traditionally wary of the political dynamics in the region, but recent events are likely to make them even warier and less willing to put their money there regardless of ambitious economic diversification plans. “This may feed back into further oil price volatility and regional uncertainty,” the report’s authors said.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on May 01 2019 said:
    If the IMF sees weaker economic growth in the Middle East echoing a slowdown in the global economy, then it shouldn’t blame it on oil but on the United States’ discredited “America First Policy” as exemplified by the trade war on China, withdrawal from UN-agreed treaties such as the nuclear deal with Iran, sanctions on countries the United States doesn’t see eye to eye with, regime change as happening now in Venezuela and manipulation of oil prices.

    It was not China that started the trade war which has cast uncertainty over the global economy, it was the United States.

    It was not Iran that violated the clauses of the nuclear deal, it was the United States that walked away from it under the influence of Israel and imposed sanctions on Iran.

    It is the United States that is inciting a regime change in Venezuela with its eye on Venezuela’s huge proven oil reserves, the world’s largest.

    And it was the United States’ manipulation of oil prices that is affecting the economic outlook of the Middle Eastern countries and other oil-producing nations.

    If as a result of US policies, the global economy is not glowing as fast as it should be, this impacts on the global demand for oil and its prices on which the economies of the Middle Eastern countries depend.

    The oil-producing countries of the Middle East should accelerate the diversification of their economies, eliminate the subsidies and invest heavily in solar and nuclear energy and food production.

    Still, Qatar is a shining example of an economy growing fast against all odds and diversifying with an astute and far-sighted global investment strategy.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

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