UAE economy steers clear of global woes

24 April 2023

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The UAE economy is expected to maintain a course of robust economic growth in 2023, avoiding the effects of the creeping global economic slowdown.

The Washington-based IMF projects a growth rate of 3.5 per cent for the country in 2023 – a rate of expansion well clear of the 2.8 per cent global average amid what has become a worldwide slowdown. The forecast is also ahead of the projected 3.1 per cent growth rate for the Middle East and North Africa.

Though a step down from the 7.4 per cent growth in 2022, and a modest downgrade of 0.7 per cent from the projection in October of a growth rate of 4.2 per cent this year, the UAE’s economic activity remains firmly buoyant. Its growth is forecast to rise again to 3.9 per cent in 2024.

The minor slowdown in the UAE’s economic growth is primarily due to Opec+ cutting oil production quotas, which is reversing some of the past year’s increases in oil production across the region. However, despite the cuts and the weakening of oil prices, the UAE’s oil sector revenues are expected to remain healthy, maintaining a government budget surplus of approximately 3.7 per cent of GDP this year.

Inflationary pressures have also eased since the peak of last year. Disinflation is expected to continue in the coming months, reaching 2.1 per cent this year, down from 4.8 per cent in 2022.

In light of such considerations, the Central Bank of the UAE has also put out a more optimistic projection of a sustained GDP growth rate of 3.9 per cent in 2023. 

More positive still is Issam Abu Suleiman, regional director for the GCC at the World Bank, who has forecast that the UAE economy will continue to grow by 4.1 per cent despite the challenging global economic conditions.

More limited projections also exist, including a report by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales and Oxford Economics that estimates that the growth will slow to 3.2 per cent in 2023, as weaker oil growth weighs on the more buoyant 3.9 per cent growth in the non-oil sector.

Positive sentiment

For businesses on the ground, the projection of close to 4 per cent non-oil growth remains cause for optimism. 

This has been reflected in the S&P UAE Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI), which rose yet higher from 54.3 in February to 55.9 in March (with a value over 50 indicating growth).

S&P’s report noted a pick-up in new order growth to a five-month high, as well as a rise in capacity pressures that has seen the fastest increase in employment since July 2016. The construction sector was particularly active in hiring amid a slew of new project launches led by off-plan real estate schemes.

The UAE aims to double the size of its economy by 2031 as it continues to diversify away from oil and gas

The UAE’s rebounding real estate market is more generally a key driver of the country’s sustained non-oil growth. House prices are on the rise in Abu Dhabi and property sales in Dubai have hit decade highs in recent months. 

Tourism is also recovering, with Dubai regaining its spot as one of the world’s busiest aviation hubs. International visitors are forecast to increase by 20 per cent in 2023.

Ipsos’ Primary Consumer Sentiment Index ranked the UAE second in the world in terms of consumer perceptions of the strength of the economy, with 63 per cent of respondents believing it to have a strong economy. Of those polled, 81 per cent also reported being comfortable with investing in the future and 86 per cent expecting the local economy to be stronger in the next six months.

Ratings agency Moody’s has also reaffirmed the UAE’s long-term local and foreign currency issuer ratings at Aa2 with a stable outlook, citing exceptionally low credit risk with its well-balanced budget targets and limited federal spending requirements. 

The introduction of corporate income tax, effective 1 June 2023, will result in further government revenue growth starting from 2025.

Moody’s also pointed to the UAE’s ongoing economic diversification. The country’s progress to date in this area remains well ahead of its GCC peers in terms of the expansion of its non-hydrocarbons revenue, private sector development and overall international attractiveness to foreign businesses and talent.

Future outlook

Looking ahead, the UAE aims to double the size of its economy by 2031 as it continues to diversify away from oil and gas. To achieve this, it needs an average of 7 per cent GDP growth a year, which it hopes to achieve by forging trade agreements and investing in global growth sectors such as green hydrogen.

The UAE’s foreign trade rose by 17 per cent year-on-year to reach AED2.2tn ($599.1bn) in 2022. In the decades ahead, the country aims to attract AED550bn in foreign direct investment by 2031 and AED1tn by 2051.

Abdullah bin Touq al-Marri, the UAE’s minister of economy, has noted that the UAE’s active business environment, which is supported by both national and foreign private sectors and an attractive labour market for international talent, has contributed to the growth of the economy.

By 2030, the government aims to increase the number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to 1 million and raise the contribution of SMEs to the country’s non-oil GDP to 63.5 per cent.

In January this year, Dubai also launched its D33 economic agenda, which aims to grow the emirate’s economy to AED32tn by 2033 through a combination of transformative projects and a doubling of foreign trade to AED25.6tn by expanding trade links with Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

This month's special report on the UAE includes: 

> GOVERNMENT: Abu Dhabi strengthens its position at home

> ECONOMY: UAE economy steers clear of global woes

> BANKING: UAE lenders chart a route to growth

> UPSTREAM: Strategic Adnoc projects register notable progress

> DOWNSTREAM: Gas takes centre stage in Adnoc downstream expansion

> POWER: UAE power sector shapes up ahead of Cop28

> WATER: UAE begins massive reverse osmosis buildup

> CONSTRUCTION: Dubai construction needs major project launches
John Bambridge
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