Fitch sees 'solid' growth for GCC oil exporters

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Oil exporters in the Gulf will enjoy another "solid economic performance" in 2013, according to a new report by Fitch Ratings.

The ratings agency said a broadly stable outlook for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in 2013 will "mask continued divergence between oil exporters and oil importers".

Fitch said Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and the UAE will see oil production levels slightly down on 2012, reducing overall GDP growth rates, but non-oil growth will remain healthy.

High oil prices and production will allow further government stimulus alongside large twin budget and current account surpluses, its report said.

Fitch added that oil exporters' fiscal positions will "weaken modestly" in 2013 owing to slightly lower oil revenues and continued spending growth.

It said the political situation for oil exporters should be more stable, but warned that "current tensions in Bahrain and Kuwait will remain and further local stresses are possible".

Although inflationary trends will vary, in general Fitch said it believes price pressures will remain subdued in line with global trends.

"Governments will try to limit the impact of higher international food prices on domestic prices, and efforts to rein back petroleum subsidies in North Africa will be gradual. Fitch does not expect any hikes in interest rates," the report said.

Growth prospects are much weaker for the oil importers rated by Fitch and especially for Egypt and Tunisia, which are the only two countries with negative rating outlooks.

It said continued political unrest is putting pressure on creditworthiness.

"Two years into the Arab Spring, their transitions are proving to be complex and bumpy while the weak eurozone economy weighs more heavily on North Africa," Fitch said.

However, Fitch said it still expects growth to continue to revive slowly in Egypt and Tunisia, though remaining well below the pace needed to reduce unemployment.

In Lebanon, spillover from Syria is clouding prospects, with reduced tourism and business confidence bringing weaker growth while political spillover is exacerbating an already complex political situation.

Fitch added: "Major divergences between the external positions of oil importers and exporters will endure. All the region's oil importers will run current account deficits while all the region's oil exporters will record large surpluses and make further additions to already large sovereign external assets."

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