Is the Dubai economy turning the corner?

As the 2020 Expo approaches, the Dubai economy is showing signs of rebounding. (AP)
Updated 21 June 2018
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Is the Dubai economy turning the corner?

  • Expo 2020 expected to boost GDP
  • Relaxation of residency rules helps real estate

LONDON: Is the Dubai economy finally turning the corner? At least one major international bank thinks so.

It follows a move by the emirate's leadership to reboot an economy that has been hit hard by corporate job losses, the introduction of VAT and a slowing real estate sector.

The UAE’s non-oil economy is likely to “turn a corner” next year with Dubai’s Expo 2020 infrastructure projects, changes to visa rules and increased government spending set to boost growth, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BofAML) research note.

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company’s (ADNOC) downstream expansion plans are also expected to drive the country’s non-oil GDP growth, said the note compiled by Middle East and North Africa (MENA) economist Jean Michel Saliba.

The Gulf country’s real GDP growth is estimated to rise to 3.5 percent in 2019 from a forecast 2.8 percent increase this year and a 1.9 percent increase in 2017, said the note published on Thursday.

Buoyed by a recovery in oil prices, Abu Dhabi approved a 50 billion dirham ($13.6 billion) three-year stimulus package in early June, which BofAML estimated could add 0.4 percentage points to non-oil GDP growth.

ADNOC’s $45 billion five-year downstream investment plan — revealed in May — is estimated to add a further 1.1 percentage point to the emirate’s non-oil growth, the report said.

The Expo 2020 event in Dubai could drive up GDP growth by 2 percentage points between 2020 and 2021, the report said, by boosting job creation, consumption and tourist numbers.

Given the improvement in oil prices, the cost of Abu Dhabi’s stimulus spending is considered “financeable” by BofAML, while Dubai’s spending plans are said to be “modest.”

Recent structural reforms, including plans to introduce long-term expatriate visas for up to 10 years, could help to boost the UAE’s population and consumer demand, the note said.

“The new UAE long-term and temporary visa system should facilitate retention of white-collar expatriates,” it said.

“As we expect longer-term visas not to be linked to continued employment, this may increase expatriate incentives to acquire property and support real estate demand.”

The UAE announced in May that it would allow 100 percent foreign ownership of UAE companies in specific industries by the end of the year, a move that could give a welcome boost to foreign direct investment in the country.

A new UAE-wide insurance scheme may provide a one-time boost to corporate profits, the note said.

The UAE cabinet approved plans in June for the insurance scheme to replace the previous system whereby employers had to provide a monetary guarantee to cover each of their workforce.

The move is likely to free up capital that companies could choose to sit on or to reinvest, BofAML said.

“Should corporates invest, we estimate this could lead to a one-off 0.1percentage point boost to UAE non-hydrocarbon real GDP growth,” the report said.


Asia’s refining profits slump as Mideast exports surge

Updated 23 February 2019
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Asia’s refining profits slump as Mideast exports surge

  • Since 2006, the Asia-Pacific has been the world’s biggest oil-consuming region, led by industrial users South Korea and Japan along with rising powerhouses China and India
  • However, overbuilding of refineries and sluggish demand growth have caused a jump in fuel exports from these demand hubs

SINGAPORE: Asia’s biggest oil consumers are flooding the region with fuel as refining output is exceeding consumption amid a slowdown in demand growth, pressuring industry profits.
Since 2006, the Asia-Pacific has been the world’s biggest oil-consuming region, led by industrial users South Korea and Japan along with rising powerhouses China and India.
Yet overbuilding of refineries and sluggish demand growth have caused a jump in fuel exports from these demand hubs.
Compounding the supply overhang, fuel exports from the Middle East, which BP data shows added more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of refining capacity from 2013 to 2017, have doubled since 2014 to around 55 million tons, according to Refinitiv.
Car sales in China, the world’s second-biggest oil user, fell for the first time on record last year, and early 2019 sales also remain weak, suggesting a slowdown in gasoline demand.
For diesel, China National Petroleum Corp. in January said that it expected demand to fall by 1.1 percent in 2019. That would be China’s first annual demand decline for a major fuel since its industrial ascent started in 1990.
The surge in fuel exports combined with a 25 percent jump in crude oil prices so far this year has collapsed Singapore refinery margins, the Asian benchmark, from more than $11 per barrel in mid-2017 to just over $2.
Combine the slumping margins with labor costs and taxes and many Asian refineries now struggle to make money.
The squeezed margins have pummelled the stocks of most major Asian petroleum companies, such as Japan’s refiners JXTG Holdings Inc. or Idemitsu Kosan, South Korea’s top oil processor SK Innovation, Asia’s top oil refiner China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. and Indian Oil Corp., with some companies dropping by about 40 percent over the past year. Jeff Brown, president of energy consultancy FGE, said the surge in exports and resulting oversupply were a “big problem” for the industry.
“The pressure on refinery margins is a case of death by a thousand cuts ... Refinery upgrades throughout the region are bumping up against softening demand growth,” he said.
The profit slump follows a surge in fuel exports from China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Refinitiv shipping data shows fuel exports from those countries have risen threefold since 2014, to a record of around 15 million tons in January.
The biggest jump in exports has come from China, where refiners are selling off record amounts of excess fuel into Asia.
“There is a risk for Asian market turmoil if (China’s fuel) export capacity remains at the current level or grows further,” said Noriaki Sakai, chief executive officer at Idemitsu Kosan during a news conference last week.
But Japanese and South Korean fuel exports have also risen as demand at home falls amid mature industry and a shrinking population. Japan’s 2019 oil demand will drop by 0.1 percent from 2018, while South Korea’s will remain flat, according to forecasts from Energy Aspects.
In Japan, oil imports have been falling steadily for years, yet its refiners produce more fuel than its industry can absorb. The situation is similar in South Korea, the world’s fifth-biggest refiner by capacity, according to data from BP.
Cho Sang-bum, an official at the Korea Petroleum Association, which represents South Korean refiners, said the surging exports had “triggered a gasoline glut.”
That glut caused negative gasoline margins in January.