Saudi, Gulf growth set to slow amid oil output cuts

International Monetary Fund forecasts 0.4% growth in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East's biggest economy

Economic growth in Saudi Arabia and most other Arab oil exporters will slow this year following production cuts aimed at propping up energy prices, the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday.

In its latest World Economic Outlook report, the IMF cut its 2017 growth forecast for the region comprising the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan to 2.6 percent, down from the 3.1 percent projected in January.

"The subdued pace of expansion reflects lower headline growth in the region's oil exporters, driven by the November 2016 OPEC agreement to cut oil production," the Washington-based IMF said.

It "masks the expected pickup in non-oil growth as the pace of fiscal adjustment to structurally lower oil revenues slows," the IMF added, referring to measures to cut budget deficits.

Members of the OPEC cartel of oil exporters, mostly from the region, agreed last year to reduce output by 1.2 million barrels per day from January 1 for six months, to support crude prices that had shed half of their value since mid-2014.

"Growth in Saudi Arabia, the region's largest economy, is expected to slow to 0.4 percent in 2017 because of lower oil production and ongoing fiscal consolidation, before picking up to 1.3 percent in 2018," the IMF said.

It said that growth is likely to dip in most Gulf Cooperation Council member states, which also include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

One bright spot is gas-rich Qatar which is expected to register 3.4-percent growth this year, compared with 2.7 percent in 2016. Kuwait's economy, in contrast, is forecast to shrink by 0.2 percent.

In Algeria, the IMF sees economic growth of 1.4 percent this year, down from 4.2 percent last year.

Growth is also predicted to slow sharply in Iran, to 3.3 percent in 2017, from 6.5 percent last year when the Islamic republic won a boost from the lifting of economic sanctions.

Iraq's economy is expected to contract by 3.1 percent in 2017 after surging by 10.1 percent last year on the back of expanding oil exports after sharp contractions in the previous two years.

The overall figure for the region overshadows a faster pace in many of its oil-importing countries.

Morocco's economic growth is forecast to jump from 1.5 percent last year to 4.4 percent this year, while Tunisia's economy is seen expanding by 2.5 percent compared with just one percent the year before.

On the other hand Egypt, whose currency plummeted in value after authorities floated it in November, will see slower growth of 3.5 percent this year, compared with 4.3 percent last year.

"In Egypt, comprehensive reforms are expected to deliver sizable growth dividends, lifting growth ... to 4.5 percent in 2018," it said.

The IMF, whose forecasts exclude war-torn Syria, noted that "continued strife and conflict in many countries in the region also detract from economic activity."

Meanwhile, a "broad-based recovery is expected to continue at a healthy pace" in Pakistan, the IMF said, forecasting growth of five percent this year, and 5.2 percent in 2018, "supported by ramped-up infrastructure investment."

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