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Thu 19 Mar 2020 06:15 PM

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Gulf stock markets hit multi-year lows as virus, oil weigh

Since early March, all seven bourses in the Gulf region have suffered some of their most tumultuous performances

Gulf stock markets hit multi-year lows as virus, oil weigh

Gulf stock markets have plunged to multi-year lows despite massive stimulus spending as the region has suffered the double blow of plummeting oil prices and sweeping coronavirus shutdowns.

Since early March, all seven bourses in the Gulf region have suffered some of their most tumultuous performances, with UAE markets in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as in Kuwait shedding over a third of their value.

The Saudi Tadawul market -- the biggest bourse in the region and among the world's top ten -- has slumped about 18 percent since the start of the month.

Saudi energy giant Aramco, the largest listed company in the world, has dipped 12 percent since March 1 and its market value has dropped to $1.57 trillion.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman have announced stimulus measures worth some $85 billion in total to support their economies, with some of the cash targeted to shore up sagging stock markets.

Moody's ratings agency said the $27.2 billion stimulus by the Emirates would be helpful in that it would "limit the UAE banks' likely material asset quality deterioration from the coronavirus outbreak".

All six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE -- heavily rely on oil as the main source of public revenues.

Gulf stocks fell steeply after the OPEC+ oil producers alliance failed to reach agreement on additional output cuts that ignited a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Oil prices have slid sharply since and crashed on Wednesday to 18-year lows, with Brent crude now priced at $25 a barrel, meaning Gulf states will lose tens of billions of dollars in energy revenues.

The other blow has been the series of unprecedented shutdowns to counter the fast-spreading coronavirus, impacting air travel, closing restaurants and cinemas and shutting down government and business offices in some GCC states.

Capital Economics analysts say the measures to contain the coronavirus will weigh heavily on the non-oil sector in the Middle East and North Africa.

"Dubai is the most vulnerable and this could ultimately ignite fears over the emirate's large debt burden," the London-based think-tank said in a report this week.

The glitzy city-state, which last year received 16.8 million tourists, generates over 90 percent of its revenues from real estate, tourism, aviation and trade, all of which have been curtailed by closures to ward off the virus.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Thursday appealed to governments in the Middle East to provide emergency support to airlines as they fight for survival.

As many Middle East and Africa routes have been suspended, demand also fell by 60 percent on routes still operating, it said.

IATA said the economic contribution of air transport in the Middle East, most of it in the Gulf, was estimated at $130 billion a year, supporting 2.4 million jobs and contributing 4.4 percent to GDP.

Governments are already feeling the pressure.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, said Wednesday it had decided to cut this year's spending by five percent, or $13.3 billion, from the budgeted $272 billion.

This first austerity measure was expected to be followed by other GCC states, which have been posting budget deficits most years since the mid-2014 oil price crash, with Saudi Arabia taking the lead.

Capital Economics said it expected the combined impact of the coronavirus and oil price crash to increase the 2020 Saudi budget deficit from the projected 6.4 percent to 16 percent of gross domestic product.

The reduced outlays come as social and economic pain are likely to deepen.

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia said Arab countries are losing around $550 million daily as a result of the oil price crash, and that the virus crisis could destroy as many as 1.7 million jobs this year.

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