Welcome to Zawya Markets. Each Sunday we will be featuring an interview with a different analyst or markets expert from around the region.

If you would like to participate please email gerard.aoun@refinitiv.com.

1) How does Brexit impact Gulf countries?

There is very little direct impact.  To the extent that the pound is weaker due to Brexit uncertainty, investment from the Gulf into the UK becomes may increase, and imports from the UK become cheaper. 

2) What is your view for oil prices in 2019?

Emirates NBD’s official forecast is for Brent oil to average $65 per barrel in 2019, slightly lower than last year’s average of $71 per barrel.  However the volatility of oil prices is likely to remain high, with both supply and demand side risks, so we expect to see a wide range around that $65 per barrel average. 

3) What are your expectations for Expo 2020?

Expo 2020 has already helped to support Dubai’s economic growth over the last few years, with GDP growth in Dubai averaging of 3.6 percent per annum from 2014-2017, while GCC growth averaged 2.4 percent over the same period.  Investment in Expo-related infrastructure was a key contributor to this outperformance.

The increase in visitor numbers during the Expo should benefit the broader economy (travel, hospitality, retail and other services), and the event will showcase everything Dubai has to offer as a leisure and tourism destination in the region. 

4) What is your view for the real estate sector in the UAE?

Most real estate analysts expect increased supply to continue to weigh on residential real estate prices through 2019.  Lacklustre jobs and wage growth and relatively high interest rates are likely to weigh on demand.   However, any decision by the authorities to lower deposit requirements or reduce transaction fees would be positive for the market.

5) If you were to pick one regional sector that you think will outperform over the next six months, which one would it be (and why)?

Construction sector activity in Dubai has recovered over the last couple of years, on the back of infrastructure investment as well as new real estate projects.  This is likely to remain the case this year as most Expo2020 projects need to be completed by the end of this year.  In the wider GCC region, governments have announced new infrastructure projects and allocated substantial budget allocations towards these as well. 

6) How would a global trade war affect bilateral trade between the UAE and China? would there be an effect on the UAE’s GDP?

The UAE is a trade hub, so anything that would affect the volume of global trade would have an impact on the UAE’s economy.  Increased protectionism generally results in less trade, so we are watching the talks between the US and China closely. 

In addition, China’s economy is still very export-oriented, so a decline in exports from China (due to increased tariffs and barriers) would be negative for China’s overall economic growth – we have already seen GDP growth slow in H2 2018 as a result of the trade dispute with the US.  Slower GDP growth would also mean weaker Chinese demand for oil and other commodities.  This would impact global oil prices, as well as the volume of oil exports from the GCC to China.  So yes, a China-US trade war would have an impact on the UAE’s economy.

7) How do you think the Saudi non-oil economy will perform this year? Is there much evidence of Vision 2030 policies filtering through in terms of economic growth yet?

We expect the non-oil sectors in Saudi Arabia to see faster growth this year compared to 2017 and 2018, mainly on the back of higher government spending and investment.  A number of big infrastructure projects and initiatives have been announced, and we also expect some progress on privatisation, which should boost investment and activity.

Much of the Vision 2030 reforms implemented so far have related to the budget (cutting energy subsidies, raising fuel prices, introducing new taxes) and changes to the legal framework to open up the economy to foreign investment.  We are already seeing the results of these measures in the growth of non-oil budget revenues, the fact that several privatisations are close to being completed and social reforms that are making it easier for women to work in the Kingdom.  

8) What’s your view on the prospects for Bahrain’s economy over the next 12 months?

Bahrain’s economy has actually growth much faster than the rest of the GCC over the last couple of years, despite its budget and debt concerns.  While the GCC aid package agreed at the end of 2018 provides some near-term relief, it seems to be contingent on Bahrain implementing fiscal reforms to bring its budget into balance by 2022.  Implementation of these reforms is likely to result in slower economic growth in Bahrain.  

9) What is your view on Egypt? How successful have they been in their multi-year reform program?

The government has made substantial progress on economic reforms over the last couple of years, allowing the currency to depreciate, building up foreign exchange reserves and implementing subsidy cuts.  Although the pace of reforms appears to have slowed, we expect faster GDP growth in fiscal year 2019/2020 on the back of increased investment (particularly in the energy sector), growth in tourism and further interest rate cuts by the central bank this year. 

10) What are the biggest risk factors both for MENA markets and global markets in the coming weeks?

Oil price shocks are always the main risk for the GCC, as they have an immediate and direct impact on regional budgets and the willingness of governments to spend, as well as business and consumer sentiment. There are several risks facing global markets this year, including slower global growth, US-China trade issues, US domestic policy (in particular the risk of another government shutdown) and Brexit.  

Any opinions expressed here are the author’s own.

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