Arab states work with the world but not with each other, Davos hears

Alain Bejjani said, ‘This region (MENAP) doesn’t work together. It works with the world but not with each other.’ (Courtesy WEF)
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Updated 21 January 2020

Arab states work with the world but not with each other, Davos hears

  • Majid Al Futtaim CEO Alain Bejjani: I think you’ll be surprised when I tell you that only 16 percent of the trade in the MENAP region is within the region
  • Alain Bejjani: We forget sometimes employment is a result of economic growth — you can’t create jobs without economic growth

LONDON: Arab economies need to break down barriers and start to work together if they are to stand any chance of creating the millions of jobs they need to grow, the World Economic Forum in Davos heard.
Regional economies are estimated to have grown by just 1 percent for 2019 as a weaker oil price, geopolitical threats and the impact of global trade wars have hurt output.
But a panel of Middle East business leaders and ministers called for more efforts to break down barriers and slash red tape in order to create the sort of economic growth needed for meaningful job creation.
“We forget sometimes employment is a result of economic growth — you can’t create jobs without economic growth,” said Alain Bejjani, the CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Holding, the Dubai-based retail conglomerate that operates malls across the Middle East.
He said that most global growth was creates through regional trading blocs but that this model had not yet worked successfully in the Middle East.
“If you look at the ASEAN region as an example — it has 56 percent of its trade happening within the region. I think you’ll be surprised when I tell you that only 16 percent of the trade in the MENAP region is within the region. If you take oil out it is less than 5 percent. So in reality this region doesn’t work together. It works with the world but not with each other.”
Bureaucratic processes have also stymied growth according to Majid Jafar, the CEO of UAE-based Crescent Petroleum.
“Registering a company can take more than a year in some countries,” he said. “So how can we make that quicker? Look at what is standing in the way and how can we improve it.”
The Middle East and Central Asia is expected to record 2.8 percent growth in 2020, the IMF said on Monday. That was slightly lower than its October outlook and reflecting the latest move by the OPEC+ group of oil producers to extend supply cuts. It expects the region to pick up speed in 2021 with growth of 3.2 percent.


S&P cuts Australia’s sovereign outlook, affirms AAA rating

Updated 08 April 2020

S&P cuts Australia’s sovereign outlook, affirms AAA rating

  • S&P affirmed Australia’s prized rating but said a downgrade was possible within the next two years
  • Australian long-dated bonds sold off after S&P’s outlook downgrade

SYDNEY: Global ratings agency S&P on Wednesday lowered its outlook on Australia’s coveted ‘AAA’ rating to “negative” from “stable” in anticipation of a “material” weakening in the government’s debt position as it splashes out a large fiscal stimulus package.
S&P affirmed Australia’s prized rating but said a downgrade was possible within the next two years if the economic damage from the COVID-19 outbreak is more severe or prolonged than it currently expects.
Australia is among a handful of countries in the world to boast the best ranking from all three major ratings agencies.
But it has come under a cloud as the pandemic has dealt Australia a severe economic and fiscal shock, with S&P predicting the A$2 trillion ($1.23 trillion) economy would plunge into recession for the first time in nearly 30 years.
This would cause a “substantial deterioration of the government’s fiscal headroom at the ‘AAA’ rating level,” S&P said in a statement.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the outlook downgrade was “a reminder of the importance of maintaining our commitment to medium term fiscal sustainability.”
The government has pledged A$320 billion ($197.73 billion) in fiscal spending, or 16.4 percent of annual economic output, to backstop the economy and prevent a crisis as the pandemic shuts companies and leaves many unemployed.
Some fund managers said Wednesday’s outlook downgrade was unlikely to raise the government’s borrowing costs by much though it could hurt Australian companies whose ratings are dependent on the sovereign rating.
“A large proportion of credit funds are mandated to maintain funds in a specific ratings bucket,” said Asmita Kulkarni, Director Investment Strategy at FIIG.
“With potential widespread downgrades we could see funds being forced to sell-down investment which would result in a widening of credit spreads.”
Australian long-dated bonds sold off after S&P’s outlook downgrade with 10-year yields jumping to 0.967 percent from 0.909 percent at Tuesday’s close.
Economists said they do not expect a rating downgrade prior to the federal budget due on Oct. 6.
It was only in September 2018 that S&P upgraded Australia’s outlook to “stable” from “negative” as the budget came close to balance. The government had even projected a surplus for the current fiscal year and next.
While all those predictions are now under water, Australia’s public debt is still in good shape, S&P noted.
“While fiscal stimulus measures will soften the blow presented by the COVID-19 outbreak and weigh heavily on public finances in the immediate future, they won’t structurally weaken Australia’s fiscal position,” S&P said.
“This expected improvement is a key supporting factor of our ‘AAA’ rating.”