US Federal Reserve officials signaled on Wednesday an interest rates raise starting March, with the decision driven by high inflation, a tightening labor market and the fast rebound of the economy as pandemic restrictions are eased.
Although international investors are nervously watching the Fed’s next move, Gulf financial researchers remain positive on the region’s prospects.
Soaring oil prices are shielding Gulf economies from the US’s tightening of monetary policies, as they provide them with high liquidities.
A strong banking sector and commodities market are to also profit positively from the Fed’s next moves, according to Jaap Meijer, head of research at Arqaam Capital.
“While we are cautious about the US equity market, as high valuations for technology shares unwind, we remain constructive on GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) equity markets,” he said, adding: “We expect GCC monetary policymakers to reflect US Fed rate hikes entirely (such as in Saudi or the UAE which currencies are pegged to the dollar) or at least partially (in other GCC countries).”
“However, GCC banks, which comprise 40 percent of the region’s indexes, will enormously benefit from higher net interest margins, particularly Saudi banks.” he underlines, as banks' profitability tends to increase with high interest rates, boosting their net margins.
Meijer warns nonetheless that he is cautious about Egypt’s equity markets.
“Egypt runs at a low single-digit current account deficit and has a high USD dependency, despite strong foreign exchange reserves. We expect fiscal and monetary policy to be managed very tightly and could see a rate hike by the end of the year, which will likely weigh on equity valuations, as T-bills remain an attractive alternative for local investors,” adds Meijer.
Regarding regional commodities, higher commodity prices, particularly Aluminum and Urea, will remain supportive for the Gulf commodity sector, explains Meijer. Urea has important uses as a fertilizer and feed supplement. It is also a starting material for the manufacture of plastics and drugs as well as batteries.
This would result in higher index weights that should continue to support Qatar and Saudi Arabia valuations.
“We see M&A arbitrage and further economic reforms being a tailwind,” he added.
While international bond markets will be negatively affected by the interest hike, the GCC will be able to mitigate the impact.
Bonds markets are fixed income instruments used by corporations and governments as a borrowing tool.
“Liquidity will most likely become less abundant as the asset purchases will end in early March, while the balance sheet run-off will begin after rates have started to rise. Nonetheless credit spreads in the GCC should remain tight on strong liquidity, with almost all governments running large fiscal surpluses as oil prices remain high,” emphasizes Meijer.
The region’s local sovereign wealth funds will continue internationalizing and diversifying their holdings.
“They can afford a risk-on approach, reaping benefits from potential market locations as the US. Fed tightens its monetary policy,” he concludes.