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Not everything in the garden is rosy in Qatar

Qatar's growth rate is the envy of the world, but a decline in profitability in its service sector ought to remind investors that the country's growth story is not gold-plated.

Who could possibly doubt Qatar?

The recently appointed host of the 2022 Fifa World Cup and poster child for liquefied natural gas (LNG) development has been on a roll, and its stock market has largely shrugged off the ill-effects of unrest elsewhere in the Middle East.

But wait: Global Investment House reports this week that profits at listed Qatari companies were an average 9 per cent lower last year than 2009, led by Qatar's service sector, where profits fell 39.3 per cent.

That will make disappointing reading for a country where the IMFestimates an increase in GDP of 18.6 per cent, the highest in the world. While banks and industrials performed well, other companies reported poorer results. Ezdan Real Estate reported a plunge in profits of 98.6 per cent to 121.3 million Qatari rials in 2010 from 2009.

Vodafone Qatar reported a loss of 456.8m rials for the last nine months of 2010, although this was reduced from495.6m rials in the year-earlier period.

Andrew Gilmour, an economist at Samba Financial Group, said the country's boom was largely in the hydrocarbons sector, and with the last of the country's LNG projects coming online, those double-digit growth increases could soon fall.

"They don't employ a huge amount of people in [service] industries. Qatar suffered along with everyone else [during the global financial crisis] and would have suffered a sharper slowdown if it wasn't for the fact that the government has very deep pockets and has been pumping money away into development programmes," he said.

He added that once the rapid growth starts to slow, Qatar's investment profile may end up looking like Luxembourg's. "You'll have a small, extremely wealthy, well-managed economy, but not one generating the sparkling growth you saw before," he said.

Mohammed Ali Yasin, the chief investment officer of CAPM Investment, said the outlook for investors was still a good one.

 

ghunter@thenational.ae

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