21 July 2016

UAE dealing well with lower oil prices: IMF

On July 20, 2016, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation* with the UAE.

According to the IMF persistently lower oil prices continue to weigh on economic sentiment and fiscal and external positions, but large buffers built over time have provided ample policy space, limited negative inward spillovers and contained the weakening of investor appetite.

Non-oil economic activity has slowed to 3.7% in 2015, driven by a contraction of public investment in the context of fiscal consolidation, and lower contribution from domestic private demand. Negative effects on overall growth were partially offset by the increase in oil production. Despite the strong fiscal policy response to adjust to lower oil prices, the fiscal balance turned to a deficit of 2.1% of GDP, while the current account surplus declined to 3.3% of GDP. Banks remained well-capitalised and liquid, though pressures on profitability are emerging as asset quality weakens due to the economic slowdown and rising funding costs.

The IMF expects economic activity to moderate further in 2016, before improving over the medium term. Non-hydrocarbon growth is projected to slow to 2.4 % in 2016 due to fiscal consolidation, the stronger dollar, and tighter monetary and financial conditions. Over the medium-term, non-hydrocarbon growth is forecast to increase to above 4% as the dampening effect of fiscal consolidation is offset by improvements in economic sentiment and financial conditions due to oil price rises, a pickup in private investment in the run-up to the Expo 2020, and stronger external demand.

Executive Board Assessment**

Executive Directors welcomed the United Arab Emirates’ resilience to the oil price shock. Directors commended the authorities for their prudent policies, which helped build large fiscal and external buffers and strengthened the economy. Nevertheless, persistent lower oil prices continue to pose challenges. Directors underscored the need for sustained sound macroeconomic policies to reduce fiscal vulnerabilities, safeguard financial stability, and promote long-term growth.

Directors welcomed the authorities’ commitment to pursue fiscal consolidation. For the near term, in light of the ample buffers, they generally considered a gradual adjustment effort to be appropriate in order to minimise the negative impact on growth. However, stronger fiscal consolidation will be needed over the medium term to ensure inter-generational equity.

Directors encouraged the authorities to diversify revenues and rationalise current spending, while further strengthening public financial management. They welcomed the plans to introduce a VAT and increase excise taxes, which could be followed by a corporate income tax. Directors also recommended phasing out remaining energy subsidies, while protecting the vulnerable. Priority should also be given to curb other current spending, while preserving public investment and enhancing its efficiency. Directors noted that developing a consolidated forward-looking medium-term fiscal framework would assist the authorities in setting direction for fiscal policy, and in aligning resource allocation with the UAE 2021 vision. They encouraged the authorities to strengthen the debt management framework to better account for contingent liabilities from government-related entities and public-private partnerships.

Directors noted that the dirham peg to the US dollar remains an appropriate anchor for price and financial stability. They supported continued efforts to enhance the monetary framework, particularly by improving liquidity management. Directors encouraged further steps to develop domestic debt markets and reduce private sector foreign exchange exposure. They also encouraged the authorities to tap into sovereign wealth funds and international capital markets to finance the deficit.

Directors welcomed the ongoing revision of the central bank and banking law and plans to strengthen banking regulation and supervision. They emphasised that the new law should further enhance central bank independence and governance, align the macroprudential institutional framework with best practices, upgrade banking sector regulation and supervision in line with global standards, strengthen safety nets, and improve the resolution framework. Directors encouraged the authorities to implement their plans to phase in the Basel III capital framework, enforce loan concentration limits, strengthen corporate governance, and move toward risk-based supervision. They supported ongoing efforts to strengthen the anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) framework and address de-risking.

Directors commended the efforts to further diversify the economy away from oil. They encouraged continued action to increase productivity and foster competitiveness. Efforts should continue to improve the business environment, ease restrictions on foreign direct investment (FDI) in the new investment law, and spur competition. In addition, priority should be given to upgrading the quality of education, promoting innovation and entrepreneurship, and facilitating SMEs’ and startups’ access to finance, notably through an approval of the bankruptcy law and further broadening the credit bureau’s coverage.

*Under Article IV of the IMF's Articles of Agreement, the IMF holds bilateral discussions with members, usually every year. A staff team visits the country, collects economic and financial information, and discusses with officials the country's economic developments and policies. On return to headquarters, the staff prepares a report, which forms the basis for discussion by the Executive Board.

**At the conclusion of the discussion, the Managing Director, as Chairman of the Board, summarizes the views of Executive Directors, and this summary is transmitted to the country's authorities. Read the qualifiers used in summaries.