UAE economy maintains robust growth

25 October 2023

 

UAE economic growth is largely on track as projected in 2023, with the growth estimates and forecasts remaining much as they were earlier in the year.

The latest estimates from the Washington-based IMF indicate a 3.4 per cent real GDP growth rate for the year, down only 0.1 per cent from the 3.5 per cent projected in April 2023, and still comfortably ahead of the global growth forecast of 3 per cent. The economy is then projected to pick up tempo in 2024 to a growth rate of 4 per cent.

The growth of the UAE’s non-oil economy has been higher than its oil growth over the course of 2023, with the IMF expecting the non-oil growth rate for the year to exceed 4 per cent, benefitting from strong domestic activity. It also projects a repeat of this performance in 2024.

The repeated extensions of the Opec+ production cuts have affected the country’s oil sector growth. However, the UAE’s oil output is set to accelerate next year with the UAE’s 2024 Opec+ production quota increase.

Consumer price inflation in the country is expected to have eased to an annual average of 3.1 per cent by the end of the year, compared to 4.8 per cent in 2022. This is then forecast to ease further to about 2.3 per cent in 2024, or roughly baseline levels.

Ali al-Eyd, the leader of an IMF team that visited the UAE in September, noted that “fiscal and external surpluses remain high on the back of high oil prices. The fiscal balance is expected to be around 5 per cent of GDP in 2023, driven by oil revenue and strong economic activity”.

Speaking to the broader fiscal and structural reforms under way in the UAE, Al-Eyd added: “The phased introduction of a corporate income tax that began in June 2023 will support higher non-oil revenue over the medium term.

“Public debt is projected to continue to decline, falling firmly below 30 per cent of GDP in 2023, including with the benefit of the Dubai emirate reducing its public debt by AED29bn ($7.9bn) in line with its Public Debt Sustainability Strategy. The current account surplus is expected to be notably above the medium-term level in 2023 and 2024.”

Surge in activity

In the latest assessments of business activity in the country, measured through the S&P Global purchasing managers’ index (PMI) survey, the UAE has shown an uptick in September, with the index rising to 56.7, where a value over 50 denotes growth. 

This is up from 55 the previous month and is the most significant leap for the index since June, indicating a positive turn for the country’s non-oil private sector.

The index performance was driven by a rise in new orders, the sub-index for which reached 64.7 in September in a significant jump from 57.6 in the preceding month. This reflects a level of new order growth not witnessed since June 2019, and the evidence of rising demand came from across both domestic and external markets. 

According to S&P, “the rate of new order growth was sharp and faster than the trend observed since the survey began in August 2009”. 

The output sub-index also climbed to 62.8 in September, up from 61.9 the previous month, reflecting the influx of new orders, while there was also a knock-on boost to hiring, with non-oil firms reporting an increase in employment.

Below the country level, the PMI index for Dubai reached its highest level in three months, rising to 56.1 in September, up from 55.0 in August. 

According to S&P, the index has averaged 55.5 over the first three quarters of the year, paralleling the first nine months of 2022, and this consistency aligns with a forecast of 4.0 per cent real GDP growth for Dubai in 2023.

There was a surge in new orders in Dubai, similarly to the fastest rate since mid-2019. According to Daniel Richards, senior Middle East and North Africa economist at Emirates NBD, this in turn “also boosted business confidence, which rose to the highest level since March 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic crisis took hold”. 

Despite rising input costs, which saw the most substantial increase since July 2022, “the strong orderbook outweighed the impact of rising costs on sentiment”, notes Richards.

Growth areas

In terms of the sectors of growth, both the construction sector and wholesale and retail trade exhibited robust performances. The construction index reached a three-month high, rising to 54.5, and the wholesale and retail trade index reached 56.5, helping to lead the overall index score for Dubai. 

The positive outlook in retail resulted in the fastest employment growth in that sector since May 2019.

Looking ahead, the UAE is addressing the central issues of energy transition through the lens of its UAE Energy Strategy 2050 and UAE Net Zero 2050 in the lead up to the UN Cop28 climate summit in November, while other areas of strategic focus for 2050 remain economic diversification, trade partnerships, digitalisation and green initiatives.


MEEDs November 2023 special report on the UAE includes: 

> COMMENT: UAE eyes global leadership role
> POLITICS: Abu Dhabi networks on the global stage
>
ECONOMY: UAE economy maintains robust growth
> BANKING: UAE banks enjoy the good times
> UPSTREAM: Hail and Ghasha galvanises UAE upstream market
> DOWNSTREAM: Adnoc spurs downstream gas expansions
> POWER: UAE closes ranks ahead of Cop28

> WATER: UAE ramps up decarbonisation of water sector
> PROJECTS: Top 10 UAE clean energy projects

> CONSTRUCTION: UAE construction sector returns to form
> TRANSPORT: UAE aviation returns to growth

 

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John Bambridge
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