Saudi Arabia leads in regional infrastructure investment |
Saudi Gazette - 25 July, 2012
Saudi Arabia is set to take the lead in regional infrastructure investment and construction spending, a new medium-term outlook by BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research Report titled "GCC 2020: Time to Shift Gears" said Tuesday.
Over the next 15 years, the MENA construction sector will be a key beneficiary of the implementation of structural reforms to raise productivity of the non-oil sector and the economy's potential output, the report noted.
"Due to many years of underinvestment, we expect Saudi Arabia to take the lead in terms of construction spending in the MENA region as the Kingdom responds positively to pressing social needs such as labor, housing and education," said Philip Southwell, Bank of America Merrill Lynch president and country executive, Middle East and North Africa.
The MENA infrastructure and construction market is among the world’s most attractive given its sheer size, according to the report. Forecasting figures predict a total of $ 4.3 trillion will be invested in construction projects across the MENA region by 2020, representing an increase of almost 80 percent from today’s spend in the sector. To put these projections in a broader context, the region is expected to account for 12 percent of the global emerging markets and 4.4 percent of the world construction markets within the next decade. Saudi Arabia is expected to continue leading the way.
Although MENA contract awards have been somewhat disappointing for the period January to May 2012, declining by 41 percent from a year earlier, the main reasons for this decline can be primarily attributed to delays in awarding petrochemicals projects in Egypt and delays in awarding construction and infrastructure contracts in the UAE, Kuwait and Iraq.
"The construction and infrastructure sub-sectors in Saudi Arabia, however, remain strong, growing by 177 percent over the same period, and currently accounting for 46 percent of the 2012-2013 MENA project pipeline totaling $ 448bn," said Mutashar Murshed, Merrill Lynch Kingdom of Saudi Arabia CEO.
"It is a trend we expect to continue," Southwell said. "With its young and expanding population, Saudi Arabia should remain the most buoyant market, in line with its overall economic development plan. Furthermore, the recent approval of the mortgage law should help to drive growth in residential construction in response to the current housing shortage."
On long-term view, Saudi banks seem best placed among GCC peers to produce loan growth and improved ROEs.
The Kingdom should be able to maintain a similar pace of growth compared to the previous seven years at around 14 percent CAGR playing on both the consumer as well as infrastructure themes.
A long-term normalization of interest rates from historical lows will support their ROEs given their franchise deposit base.
The remaining GCC banking systems will be more of a play on the infrastructure theme given their greater skew toward corporate lending while ROEs are unlikely to materially change.
With credit to GDP averaging 58 percent within emerging countries credit penetration is not enticingly low within most of the GCC even after accounting for the higher per capita income.
However, looking more closely, Saudi Arabia and Oman stand out as having more room for growth.
The two countries, along with Qatar (which is preparing for the World Cup 2022), are expected to produce 14 percent CAGR growth in lending between now and 2020, the report said.
Beyond 2020, the Kingdom is likely to have further room to grow especially on the mortgage lending side.
One example of structural improvements in credit penetration is mortgage lending in Saudi Arabia. Home finance loans currently stand at 1.4 percent of GDP, 12 percent of retail loans and 4 percent of total loans.
They averaged CAGR of 25 percent 2003 to 2011and current pace is 7 percent QoQ and 31 percent YoY in March 2012.
The government has recently passed the countries first mortgage law which will allow banks to provide longer duration loans backed by the underlying asset.
Growth is expected to accelerate to 38 percent CAGR in 2011-14 with penetration around 4.5 percent of GDP by 2016, it noted.
The reform is driven by the government’s need to alleviate housing shortage and strong population growth, the report said.
Current spending trends will likely mean that, in the absence of fiscal reforms, the Saudi government starts running deficits from the next decade onwards and accumulate domestic debt.
Assuming crude oil production increases by 1.6 percent annually, this would lead the oil breakeven fiscal price to rise to $ 125/bbl by 2020.
"Unless the pace of current spending is reined in, the introduction of structural reforms (lower subsidies, higher non-oil revenues) will need to be contemplated to avoid turning fiscal dynamics into a binding constraint on growth," the report said.
Three trends related to crude oil production, consumption and fiscal spending underpin the assessment of a steady move higher in the breakeven price:
1) Future oil production increases could be more limited (4 million bpd to 2035 vs. 7.8 million bpd increase from 1965 to 2012), and entail a need for investments in additional productive capacity (plans for which are not drawn for the time being);
2) Domestic crude oil consumption is increasing at a pace of 4.1 percent yoy (2002-2011 average), eating away at export capacity (because oil is sold domestically at subsidized rates, this has the effect of decreasing the budgetary fiscal oil intake and raising the fiscal breakeven oil price. Note that crude oil exports stood at 7 million bpd in 2011 and domestic oil consumption at 2.3 million bpd); and,
3) Recent increases in budgetary spending, while broadly prudent, are eventually unlikely to be matched by concomitant increases in revenues in the event oil production gains could be more restrained. Fiscal spending has increased by an average of 12.4 percent yoy in 2000-2012f, slightly below the long-term average of 13.5 percent yoy in 1970-2012. This compares to a slight contraction in spending (an average of -3.8 percent yoy) in 1980-1999 and to a more buoyant increase of 16.1 percent in 2005-2011. Revenues increased by 23 percent yoy on average over 1970- 2011, though this figure masks inherent volatility, it added.