First with Financial Comment from Arabia

GCC benefits from China, US stimulus packages

with 2 comments

Oil SectorYesterday UAE Central Bank governor Sultan bin Nasser Al Suwaidi told a joint meeting of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the business community that the Chinese stimulus package had given oil prices and therefore the regional economies a huge boost.

But this has come at the price of a devaluation of the US dollar which has made local imports more expensive, while boosting the value of exports like oil. On the other hand, local housing costs have plummeted with the fall in expat numbers, as shown by the 80,000 net loss of subscribers by UAE phone operator Etisalat in the second quarter.

Stimulus benefit

However, there is no doubt that the economic crisis that has afflicted the Gulf Oil States would have been far worse without the global stimulus packages. Oil prices are presently more than double the $34 reached at the nadir last December.

At the same meeting IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said that the Gulf States needed to diversify their economies further to protect themselves from future global economic shocks. That is harder to implement than to suggest.

Should regional economies go in for a mad rush for growth like the recent Dubai real estate and construction boom, or try for a more phased development plan such as that seen in Qatar or Abu Dhabi?

There are actually good arguments on both sides. Dubai might look in a sorry state now with its stalled construction sites but without a boom you do have to wonder how much would have actually got built. Its boom-to-bust model is a state-led version of the free market at work.

Even more government dominated economies like Qatar and Abu Dhabi can also over build, and are always open to the charge that developments are not commercially viable and more matters of local prestige.

True diversification means arriving at an economy more like Dubai with its minimal oil sector and huge trade, aviation and logistics facilities allied to a strong banking, tourism and service sector.

Bust consequences

That ought to support a solid real estate and construction sector. But this diversification has been clearly overdone for the time being, and the debts left over from the bust will now weigh on other sectors, to their competitive disadvantage.

But for the moment the US government’s response to the economic crisis has provided another gift every bit as valuable as higher oil prices, namely ultra-low interest rates.

Local credit conditions in the UAE – principally due to over borrowing during the construction boom – mean that this bonus is not filtering down to the private sector. But it does at least enable the huge Dubai public sector to refinance its massive debts at low cost and this will be a considerable help in the recovery process.


Written by Peter Cooper

October 19, 2009 at 9:10 am

2 Responses

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  1. Oct. 21 (Bloomberg) — China’s stimulus-induced lending binge probably propelled growth in the third quarter to its fastest pace in a year. Now, policy makers have to figure out how to wean the economy off state support.

    The country’s rebound has been powered by 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) of spending on railways, roads, power plants and public housing. The program ends next year, forcing Premier Wen Jiabao to find new ways to sustain the expansion with increased consumer spending and the financing of small businesses.

    “This has been growth on steroids,” said Michael Pettis, a Peking University finance professor and former head of emerging markets at Bear Stearns Cos. “The question now is how to stop pumping so much money into the system without a sharp reduction in growth.”

    State-directed support will make up more than four-fifths of growth this year, says the World Bank, spurring record iron- ore production at Rio Tinto Group and car sales in China at Volkswagen AG. An exit from the stimulus won’t be easy without unnerving investors: A plunge in July loan growth sent the Shanghai Composite Index down more than 20 percent in August.

    Extending the stimulus for too long risks the diversion of funds into stocks and real estate, an erosion of bank asset quality and inflationary pressures, the Asian Development Bank said in a report last month.

    “Such a scenario might trigger a round of severe monetary tightening in the medium term that would pull growth down again,” the lender said.

    Cars and Property

    The state-driven credit boom, which led to a record $1.27 trillion in new loans in the first nine months, the stimulus plan and resulting growth in car and property sales will help the economy expand 11.2 percent in the fourth quarter, according to Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank AG. That follows a 7.9 percent expansion in the second quarter of this year, the first acceleration in growth since the last three months of 2006.

    Industrial output probably grew 13.2 percent in September and investment in properties and factories surged 33.1 percent in the first nine months, pushing gross domestic product growth to 9 percent in the third quarter. It was the fastest pace since the third quarter of last year, according to the median estimate of 34 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. The data are due for release tomorrow.

    Figures this week will probably show no signs of inflation, allowing the People’s Bank of China to keep in place what it calls its “moderately loose” monetary policy. China will stick to that policy, guide reasonable loan growth to boost domestic demand and further cement the nation’s economic recovery, the central bank said Sept. 29.

    Consumer Prices

    Consumer prices dropped an estimated 0.8 percent in September, according to the survey.

    Retail sales rose 15.5 percent last month, the fastest pace since January, according to the data survey. Car sales surged 84 percent to more than 1 million units for the first time, putting China on course to overtake the U.S. this year as the biggest market for sales of new cars.

    The stimulus, record lending, tax cuts and subsidies may help push China’s imports 30 percent higher to $313 billion this quarter, according to Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group AG. Iron ore imports jumped to a record 64.6 million metric tons last month while copper imports rose 23 percent.

    China’s demand for goods from overseas can play “a critical role in some locomotive way for the world,” Jim O’Neill, chief economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in London, said in a Sept. 2 research note.

    Loan Growth

    The lending boom, equivalent to about 50 percent of China’s GDP in the first half, drove public and private investment in factories and properties 33 percent higher in the first eight months, helping restore investor confidence in stocks and property after the start of the financial crisis.

    The Shanghai index has soared 69 percent this year as government-influenced spending helped growth rebound from 6.1 percent in the first quarter, the slowest pace of expansion in almost a decade.

    Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen, the biggest overseas carmaker in China, sold 150,000 cars last month, a monthly record, as sales for the first nine months surged 37 percent. Car sales were buoyed after the government halved sales taxes and announced 5 billion yuan in subsidies to help rural residents to buy vehicles. Volkswagen is investing 4 billion euros ($5.9 billion) to expand capacity in China through 2011.

    Rio Tinto

    “China is the steam engine of the world economy,” Volkswagen sales chief Detlef Wittig said in a Sept. 25 interview in Frankfurt. “The lust for mobility there seems almost bottomless. We’re very well positioned there and will keep investing to secure our share of the market.”

    Iron-ore production at London-based Rio Tinto, the world’s third-largest mining company, rose 12 percent in the third quarter to a record 47.5 million tons on demand from steelmakers in China, the company said in an Oct. 14 statement.

    The effect of stimulus spending will taper off starting in mid-2010; the overall impact will be less than half what it was this year, said Wang Tao, a UBS AG economist in Beijing.

    On the World Bank’s list for measures to reduce dependence on investment-led growth are: boosting spending on health, education and social welfare to aid low-income earners and reduce their reluctance to consume; providing greater funding for small- and medium-size enterprises; and allowing more flexibility for the yuan to appreciate, making imports cheaper.

    Avoiding Instability

    “Keeping the Chinese economy growing is very important for employment generation and to avoid social instability,” said Yolanda Fernandez Lommen, chief China economist at the ADB in Beijing. “The easy part has been done. The real challenge is ahead.”

    By developing service industries and ensuring easier access to consumer products and credit, China can boost domestic consumption by $2.2 trillion, or more than France’s annual output, by 2025, the McKinsey Global Institute said in an Aug. 21 report.

    Some areas of the economy may emerge as new drivers of growth even as stimulus and new lending slow. Net exports may contribute 0.5 percentage point to next year’s expansion after slashing more than 3 percentage points from this year’s GDP rise, said UBS’s Wang.

    A rebound in property construction, which contributes about a quarter of urban fixed-asset investment, will also pick up some of the slack in 2010, said Wang. Property sales jumped 73.4 percent in the first nine months of 2009 from a year earlier to 2.75 trillion yuan.

    China may still have to get used to a lower average annual growth rate as reduced demand from Western nations slows exports. The World Bank estimates 2 percentage points may be shaved off the average 10 percent yearly growth recorded over the past decade, the ADB envisions a trajectory of 8 percent to 9 percent and Pettis says the economy may have to adjust to a trend growth rate of 5 percent to 7 percent.

    “The government has been postponing the difficult and painful reforms,” said Fernandez Lommen. “It’s a huge task ahead.”

    Peter Cooper

    October 21, 2009 at 3:48 pm

  2. “80,000 net loss of subscribers by UAE phone operator Etisalat in the second quarter.”

    Yet reports of thousands of cars left at the Dubai airport were grossly over exaggerated? Assuming 1/2 the etisalat subscribers had cars (which is conservative given dubai’s car-centric design) where did the 40,000 cars go? Did they turn to dust that quick?


    October 20, 2009 at 4:31 am

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