Tarnished: How "golden" is the current era of GCC economies?

Published March 9th, 2014 - 07:37 GMT
The GCC economies have thrived in large part due to the fact that they control nearly 40 percent of the world's crude oil reserves (File Archive)
The GCC economies have thrived in large part due to the fact that they control nearly 40 percent of the world's crude oil reserves (File Archive)

The Gulf economies retain a high profile on the global economic landscape and for good reason. This is evidenced by the size of the individual gross domestic product (GDP) as well as the scale of their sovereign wealth funds (SWF).

Saudi Arabia ranks 19th worldwide in terms of nominal GDP growth. That the kingdom is the biggest exporter of crude oil only partly explains the global nature of its economy.

Ostensibly, this also explains why Saudi Arabia is the sole Arab country in the Group of 20 nations, an exclusive club of the world’s top economies. The Saudi GDP is a gargantuan $711 billion, just behind Netherlands but ahead of Switzerland and many of the EU member countries. Among Muslim nations, the top economies are Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and in this order.

Much to its credit, the UAE ranks as the second largest economy among Arab countries with a quite substantial nominal GDP of $385 billion. Based on this estimate, the UAE occupies the 30th rank worldwide. The status of the second largest GDP among Arab states was once reserved for Egypt...not anymore. It is now placed third.

Qatar commands a GDP of $192 billion, which translates into the 50th ranking and fourth among Arab economies. Qatar has overtaken Kuwait, with the latter’s GDP pegged at $183 billion. That of Oman stands at $64 billion and which places it 64th in the global positioning. At $30 billion, Bahrain has the smallest GDP and 90th in the league of nations.

When it comes to another vital area, that of sovereign wealth funds (SWF), GCC countries continue to flex considerable clout. According to the Sovereign Wealth Funds Institute, an authoritative source, the combined value of SWFs of the six-nation grouping stood at $2.3 trillion at the start of this year.

This is a considerable in that it accounts for 36 per cent of the global SWF holdings. The latest figures confirm that the majority of SWF assets in the MENA region are generated by GCC countries.

The value of the various funds owned by the UAE, and notably those of Abu Dhabi, are collectively valued at $975 billion, which places it at 15th spot among global SWF heavyweights. In fact, the SWF operated by Abu Dhabi Investment Authority ranks second in the world after the Norwegian pension fund.

Other GCC countries possess sizeable exposures, notably Saudi Arabia and Kuwait with SWFs of $680 billion and $410 billion respectively.

Suffice to say that Kuwait financed the war of liberation following the Iraqi invasion in 1990 by drawing on its sovereign wealth. The Kuwait Investment Authority or KIA is the oldest SWF of its kind in the GCC region, reflecting the outward outlook of Kuwaiti investors.

Qatar possesses some $170 billion in SWFs and stands out for making international headlines through some investments such as Harrods, the UK luxury department store in 2010 for $2.3 billion.

GCC countries continue to be global leaders in the oil business, together producing nearly 25 per cent of crude and controlling 40 per cent of proven reserves, as per the Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 issued by BP.

Clearly, this is the golden age for GCC economies.

By Jasim Ali

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