International Monetary Fund. Middle East and Central Asia Dept.
The COVID-19 pandemic is having far-reaching consequences for the global economy. Measures to contain the spread of the virus have led to sharp declines in economic activity across the globe, particularly in 2020Q2. The hardest hit sectors have been those requiring intensive human contact, such as tourism, transportation, services, and construction, while, in general, IT-intensive activities have fared better. The economic contraction is most significant in advanced economies. The GCC countries face a double impact from the coronavirus and lower oil prices. GCC authorities have implemented a range of appropriate measures to mitigate the economic damage, including fiscal packages, relaxation of monetary and macroprudential rules, and the injection of liquidity into the banking system, and there are recent signs of improvement. Low oil prices have caused a sharp deterioration of external and fiscal balances, and fiscal strains are evident in countries with higher debt levels.
Mr. Olumuyiwa S Adedeji, Mr. Sohaib Shahid, and Ling Zhu
This paper examines real and financial linkages between Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries. Growth spillovers from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain are found to be sizeable and statistically significant, but those to other GCC countries are not found to be significant. Equity market movements in Saudi Arabia are found to have significant implications for other GCC countries, while there is no evidence of co-movements in bonds markets. These findings suggest some degree of interdependence among GCC countries.
"Financial systems in the GCC have developed significantly over the last couple of decades, but there appears to be further room for progress. The development of bank and equity markets has been supported by a combination of buoyant economic activity, a booming Islamic finance sector, and financial sector reforms. As a result, financial systems have deepened and, overall, the level of financial development compares well with emerging markets. However, it still lags advanced economies and, other than for Saudi Arabia, appears to be lower than would be expected given economic fundamentals, such as income levels.
Financial development in the GCC has relied to a large extent on banks, while debt markets and nonbank financial institutions are less developed and access to equity markets is narrow. The non-bank financial institutions—pension funds, asset management and finance companies, and insurance—remain small. Domestic debt markets are underdeveloped. While equity markets appear to be well developed by market size, they are dominated by a few large (and often public-sector) companies.
GCC countries have made progress on financial inclusion, but gaps remain in some important areas. Access to finance for SMEs, women, and youth, in particular, appears relatively low. This may partly reflect social norms, low levels of participation of women in the labor market and private sector activity, and the high level of youth unemployment.
Further financial development and inclusion is likely to be associated with stronger economic growth in the GCC countries. While there is uncertainty surrounding the empirical estimates in the paper, further progress with financial development and/or inclusion is likely to go hand-in-hand with stronger growth. The growth benefits, however, are likely to vary across countries depending on the current level of financial development and inclusion.
To realize these growth benefits, reforms to strengthen access to finance for SMEs, women, and youth are needed. Addressing institutional weaknesses and promoting financial sector competition would help boost access to finance for SMEs. Reforms to enhance financial literacy and improve SME governance structures and insolvency frameworks are critical. Other reforms encouraging female and youth employment and the use of emerging technologies in finance also appear promising.
Additional reforms to foster financial development should focus on developing debt markets and making stock markets more accessible to a larger pool of companies and investors. To grow domestic debt markets, the authorities should develop a government yield curve, seek to increase market liquidity through secondary market trading, and ensure requirements for private issuance are not onerous. Stock market reforms should focus on enhancing corporate governance and investor protection, removing restrictions on foreign ownership, and encouraging financial market competition. The latter would also help the development of non-bank financial institutions."
"Diversification of the GCC economies, supported by greater openness to trade and higher foreign investment, can have a large impact on growth. Such measures can support higher, sustained, and more inclusive growth by improving the allocation of resources across sectors and producers, creating jobs, triggering technology spillovers, promoting knowledge, creating a more competitive business environment, and enhancing productivity.
The GCC countries are open to trade, but much less so to foreign direct investment (FDI). GCC foreign trade has been expanding robustly, but FDI inflows have stalled in recent years despite policy efforts taken to reduce administrative barriers and provide incentives to attract FDI. Tariffs are relatively low; however, a number of non-tariff barriers to trade persist and there are substantial restrictions on foreign ownership of businesses and real estate.
The growth impact of closing export and FDI gaps could be significant. In most countries, the biggest boost to growth would come from closing the FDI gap—up to one percentage point increase in real non-oil per capita GDP growth. Closing export gaps could provide an additional growth dividend in the range of 0.2-0.5 percentage point.
Boosting non-oil exports and attracting more FDI requires a supportive policy environment. Policy priorities are to upgrade human capital, increase productivity and competitiveness, improve the business climate, and reduce remaining barriers to foreign trade and investment. Specifically, continued reforms in the following areas will be important:
• Human capital development: continue with investments made to raise educational quality to provide knowledge and skills upgrade.
• Labor market reforms: aim to improve productivity and boost competitiveness of the non-oil economy.
• Legal frameworks: ensure predictability and protection; efforts should include enhancing minority investor protection and dispute resolution; implementing anti-bribery and integrity measures.
• Business climate reforms: focus on further liberalizing foreign ownership regulations and strengthening corporate governance; and on further reducing non-tariff trade barriers by streamlining and automating border procedures and streamlining administrative processes for issuing permits."