LONDON: Gulf states already hurt by a weak oil price could reap further economic pain from the impact of the coronavirus on their exports, S&P Global Ratings warned on Monday.
The ratings agency believes there is a risk that the economic impact of the virus could increase unpredictably with implications for overall economic growth, the oil price and the creditworthiness of some companies. Still, its base case scenario anticipates a limited impact for now.
“Given the importance of the Chinese economy to global economic activity, S&P Global Ratings expects recent developments could weigh on growth prospects in the GCC, already affected by low oil prices and geopolitical uncertainty,” it said in a report.
Although the rate of spread and timing of the peak of the new coronavirus is still uncertain, S&P said that modeling by epidemiologists indicated a likely range for the peak of between late-February and June.
Notwithstanding the spread of the virus, S&P expects oil prices to remain at $60 per barrel in 2020 and decline to $55 from 2021.
It sees the biggest potential impact on regional economies to be felt in terms of export volumes. S&P estimates that GCC countries send between 4 percent and 45 percent of their exported goods to China, with Oman being the most exposed (45.1 percent) and the UAE the least exposed (4.2 percent).
Beyond the trade of goods, the Gulf’s hospitality sector could also feel the effect of reduced tourist arrivals with hotels and shopping malls likely to suffer. The impact could be further amplified because of the high-spending nature of Chinese tourists.
On-location spending by Chinese tourists is the fourth largest in the world at $3,064 per person, according to Nielsen data. About 1.4 million Chinese tourists visited the GCC in 2018 with expectations of that figure rising to 2.2 million in 2023, and with the UAE as the main destination.
Chinese passengers also accounted for 3.9 percent of passengers passing through Dubai International Airport in 2018.
S&P said that if the effect of the new coronavirus is felt beyond March, the number of visitors to Expo 2020 in Dubai could be lower than expected.
The ratings agency expects the impact on the banking sector to be low, with little direct exposure to Chinese companies.