x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Gloomy outlook for 2013 paints mixed picture for region

We are all still living in the shadow of the great crisis of 2008, and it look as though it will continue to cast a pall for a very long time.

Graffiti in Athens depicts
Graffiti in Athens depicts "the monster of capitalism". Recession-hit Greece is on the brink of exit from the euro union. Orestis Panagiotou / EPA

We are all still living in the shadow of the great crisis of 2008, and it look as though it will continue to cast a pall for a very long time.

The IMF's gloomy prognosis of a lost decade ahead is perhaps an outlier, but well into the final quarter of a difficult year for the global economy, the experts are starting to work on their forecasts for next year, and it does not look cheery.

After the recession of 2009, the big fear has been of a double dip, with the global economy heading back into negative figures. The good news is that the world most likely has managed to have avoided that fate this year.

The bad news is that growth will probably slow again in 2013, and some parts of the world will remain doggedly in the negative then and maybe well into 2014.

For the Middle East, the message is largely more positive, but with the caveat that external events could easily knock the region off its recovery path.

The United States is still the most important economy in the world, and growth appears to be recovering at a modest rate, according to forecasts from the London-based consultancy Capital Economics.

Back where it all began in 2007 - property and credit markets - things have been improving slowly and painfully, with households and banks deleveraging savagely and some sort of property price recovery under way.

The euro zone is still the biggest of the world's financial problems and will be into 2014.

Radical action by the European Central Bank continues to shore things up, but it still seems impossible to halt the slide towards some kind of break-up of the euro union.

Greece is still on the brink of exit; others on the periphery may follow quickly. Whatever happens, a contraction of at least 2 per cent is the consensus of most economists for next year.

The world's two big island economies - the United Kingdom and Japan - will continue to have even more in common next year, with low growth, austerity and high levels of public debt. Both might shade into positive territory, but are well within margin of error levels and could slip into the red.

China and India, which got the world out of the mess of 2009, appear to be on divergent paths with regard to economic growth.

The former, assuming its change of leadership passes smoothly, could be back in the 8 per cent growth range for next year and 2014, which would be good for the rest of us, especially an increasingly eastern-orientated Middle East.

India appears stuck on 5 per cent growth levels for the foreseeable future, well off the rates in the boom years of the last decade but at least well in the positive. However, the consensus among many is that it needs at least 8 per cent growth to begin to reverse the entrenchment of poverty across the nation.

Most other parts of the world are patchily dependent on the fortunes of the dominating big powers of the region. South East Asia looks good but vulnerable to any downturn in world trade, eastern Europe locked into the fate of the euro zone, and Latin America dependent on the progress of the US and, increasingly, Brazil.

The situation in Africa, long the laggard of the global economy, has largely reversed. Strike-torn South Africa is looking down, while Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya appear increasingly dynamic.

In this global scenario, the Middle East is a mixed story. The repercussions of the Arab Spring are still washing across many states, especially in North Africa. Balancing the books on public debt and some help from the IMF appear essential.

For the GCC states, the near term outlook is good, with growth at perhaps 4 per cent this year, which is good in the circumstances but still short of the boom years by a couple of percentage points.

The stimulus-induced economic "miracle" of Saudi Arabia will probably slow, but it has done its job.

As ever, the big threats to GCC growth remain, roughly in order of priority: the price of oil; the Arab Spring (especially in Syria); and the threat of geopolitical uncertainties in the Arabian Gulf.