B&E | MENA Economic Outlook for 2016

B&E | MENA Economic Outlook for 2016

By World Bank

Despite low oil prices—assumed to be $49 per barrel in 2016, broadly at 2015 levels—and several major conflicts, growth in developing countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as a group is expected to rebound to 5.1 percent in 2016, and to 5.8 percent in 2017 (Figure 1). The predominant reason for the improvement is an expected growth spurt in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the largest developing economy in the region, from 1.9 percent in 2015 to 5.8 in 2016 and 6.7 percent in 2017. The outlook also reflects slightly higher growth among other oil exporters, especially Iraq and Algeria, and a more modest medium-term improvement among oil importers, from 3.5 percent in 2015 to an average of 4 percent in 2016–18. The forecasts assume stabilization of oil prices and an improvement in the security situation in some countries.

Source: World Bank, Haver Analytics. C. Foreign reserves include gold. On left axis, an increase denotes real appreciation.

Source: World Bank, Haver Analytics. C. Foreign reserves include gold. On left axis, an increase denotes real appreciation.

FIGURE 1: Exchange rates, inflation, and current account balances Low commodity prices have helped keep inflation subdued in oil-importing countries except Egypt, where rising prices are reflected in an appreciating real exchange rate. Low oil prices are contributing to adjustments in external balances, worsening deficits in oil-exporting countries and narrowing them in oil importers.

Source: World Bank, Haver Analytics. C. Foreign reserves include gold. On left axis, an increase denotes real appreciation. 

Crude oil production in the Islamic Republic of Iran is expected to increase rapidly following the removal or suspension of sanctions, by an estimated 0.5–0.7 million barrels per day (mbd) in 2016 (World Bank 2015o), up from the 2015 level of 2.8 mbd. The potential increase in capital inflows in the post-sanctions environment could help expand exploitation of proven natural gas reserves, which are the largest in the world. The release of frozen Iranian assets currently overseas will also boost the economy. The ramping up of oil production over time, contingent upon significant infrastructure repair and investment, could help keep global oil supply high, and prices low, over the medium term.

A rebounding Iranian economy will affect neighboring countries within the Middle East and North Africa to varying degrees. A rapid rise in Iranian oil production would dampen growth prospects in oil-exporting countries and improve them in oil-importing countries (Ianchovichina, Devarajan, and Lakatos forthcoming). If pre-2010 -sanctions trade patterns are a guide, the export opportunities for other developing countries in the region from a rapidly growing Iranian economy may be limited, but perhaps greatest for Lebanon. Lebanese banks have already indicated that they are interested in operating in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Among other oil exporters, growth in Iraq and Algeria should be lifted in 2016 and 2017 by a recovery in the non-oil sector, in addition to continued oil sector growth. The baseline assumes that the impact of ISIL/ISIS on Iraq’s economy will slowly become more limited. In Libya, a UN sponsored political agreement reached at the end of 2015 should allow oil production and GDP growth to recover.

Growth should also strengthen in most oil importing countries. In Tunisia, growth should rise to 2.5 percent in 2016, predicated on a better security environment and progress on reforms. In Jordan, implementation of a new 10-year economic and social development plan is anticipated to lift confidence and push growth to 3.5 percent. The exceptions are Morocco and Egypt.

In Morocco, growth is expected to revert to 2.7 percent in 2016, around the same as in 2014, as rainfall patterns reduce agricultural output from an exceptionally high level in 2015. 

In Egypt, growth is forecast to moderate to 3.8 percent in fiscal year 2015/16 as the tourism sector weakens following the October plane crash in the Sinai and a foreign currency shortage persists for at least part of the year. Growth in FY2016/17 should rise to 4.4 percent, driven by an uptick in investment. Rising growth in Egypt would have only a modest impact on the rest of the region, however Fiscal deficits among oil-exporting countries, although still large in some cases, will begin to narrow in 2016. The improvement reflects fiscal consolidation following the oil price drop. Iraq’s 2015 budget contained spending cuts (merging of some ministries, government job cuts, and reduction in construction spending) that will help shrink the deficit in 2016. The deficit will remain wide, however. Lending from official sources will fill a large financing gap. The Algerian government intends to reduce spending by 9 percent in 2016, with cuts in utility subsidies and infrastructure projects but not in health, education, or housing. The expected budget adjustments among oil exporters are, however, unlikely to be sufficient to stabilize government debt in the absence of a significant rise in oil prices.

Fiscal deficits are expected to fall or remain broadly stable in oil-importing countries other than Djibouti. In Egypt, consolidation reflects lower energy subsidy spending and announced increases in electricity tariffs, among other things. In Lebanon, the expectation that the fiscal deficit will not fall substantially during the forecast period will contribute to a continued rise in government debt, already at approximately 145 percent of GDP at the end of 2015.

Current account deficits are expected to narrow in most countries in the region in 2016. With external financing conditions expected to tighten, however, some countries, such as Iraq, could have difficulty attracting enough foreign capital to finance their deficits. Oil-importing countries will continue to benefit from low oil prices over the medium term, while North African countries with deep trade ties with Europe (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) may receive an export boost as the Euro Area economy improves (Figure 2). In the medium term, Tunisia’s agricultural sector may also benefit from a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union, on which negotiations began in October. Successfully boosting services exports, in particular through tourism, could contribute to further narrowing of current account deficits in several countries. Tourist arrivals are below pre-Arab-Spring levels across the region. 

Source: IMF DOTS database, Haver Analytics, Lebanon Central Administration of Statistics, World Bank. B. Tourist arrivals for 2015 are the average of January-August for Egypt, January-September for Jordan, and January-October for Lebanon and Tunisia.

FIGURE 2.Trade North African countries may experience a boost to growth through exports as Euro Area growth rises during the forecast period. Security risks weigh on the tourism industry in several countries, and tourism arrivals remain below pre-Arab-Spring levels.  

Source: IMF DOTS database, Haver Analytics, Lebanon Central Administration of Statistics, World Bank. B. Tourist arrivals for 2015 are the average of January-August for Egypt, January-September for Jordan, and January-October for Lebanon and Tunisia. 

Source: Global Economic Prospects 2016 / Download The Report - LINK
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