Downturn After Boom: Slow Credit Growth in Middle East, North Africa


By Masood Ahmed

In the midst of an early and uncertain economic recovery from the global crisis, countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been experiencing a sharp slowdown in the growth of credit to the private sector, by about 30 percentage points on average relative to precrisis peak rates.

For many sectors, firms, and households that depend on bank financing, this slowdown may be forcing them to scale back their spending plans, or to resort to scarce or costly alternative avenues for financing. Slow credit growth may therefore be constraining the strength of the recovery in the short run, in addition to limiting prospects for longer-term growth. Policymakers are understandably concerned.

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Mideast Oil Exporters Face the Crisis Head On


By Masood Ahmed

Middle East oil exporters are squarely facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression head on. Despite the sharp drop in oil prices last year, the oil exporters rightly decided to maintain spending by drawing upon reserves amassed during the boom years.

High public spending and exceptional anticrisis financial measures have not only cushioned oil exporters’ own economies but are also contributing to sustaining global demand. They have also helped the interlinked economies of neighboring oil importers. 

Facing this boom-bust cycle 

Between 2004 and 2008, Middle East oil-exporting countries grew by about 6 percent a year and accumulated $1.3 trillion in foreign assets. With the striking drop in oil prices—from a peak of $147 per barrel in mid-2008 to around $30 per barrel at the beginning of 2009—the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been hardest hit. Iraq and Saudi Arabia are expected to see the most pronounced drops in oil GDP growth—8 and 15 percentage points, respectively—this year.

Despite sharp drop in oil prices last year, oil exporters rightly decided to maintain spending by drawing on reserves amassed during boom years (photo: Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images)

Despite sharp drop in oil prices last year, oil exporters rightly decided to maintain spending by drawing on reserves amassed during boom years (photo: Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images)

During the precrisis boom years, banks had lent substantial amounts for real estate and equity purchases and made large profits. With the onset of the crisis, asset values fell sharply and the global deleveraging led to a severe tightening of credit conditions, especially in the GCC. Banks’ balance sheets have come under pressure credit growth has slowed sharply—up to 40 percentage points in Qatar.

 

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