GDP growth will remain high
After a rapid gas sector-led expansion (including real GDP growth of +26% in 2006) the economy slowed. Annual gas output appears to have reached a plateau at around 175 bn cubic metres, compared with 77 bn in 2008. With the onset of a period of weaker international energy prices, the economy is now more dependent on the non-hydrocarbon sector. In that respect, growth will continue at a still vibrant level, particularly as construction and transport continue to be spurred by preparations for Qatar to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. In addition, the country’s development plan (over USD100 bn) also includes publicly-funded projects for a national railway system, new international airport, new port and hotels and other associated requirements to host a major international event. Although some projects may now be delayed because of current weaker oil and gas prices (and concerns about the World Cup), EH expects GDP growth will be +5% in 2015 and +6.5% in 2016. Recent discoveries of untapped gas fields suggest continuing high GDP growth rates beyond the forecast period.
Large financial assets
Qatar has a substantial asset base on which to draw if support is needed, with ample internal and external financial surpluses, including a large foreign-asset position. The sovereign wealth fund, Qatar Investment Authority, is estimated to control assets of around USD256 bn.
EH does not expect the exchange rate regime to change in the forecast period to end-2016, with the fixed peg of QAR3.64 = USD1 throughout. Progress towards a full Gulf monetary union has been limited and EH does not envisage the introduction of an effective GCC single currency in this period.
External accounts will remain sound
Export trade is focused on Asia (over 70% of goods shipped out of the country) where economies, to date, have been generally stronger. In addition, demand for energy sources (gas and oil account for over 90% of exports) is relatively inelastic and gas shipments are contracted over lengthy periods.
The current account surpluses in 2012 and 2013 were equivalent to over +30% of GDP. EH expects the current account surpluses will decline over the forecast period but remain strongly positive (+9% of GDP in 2015 and +7% in 2016. FX reserves are currently around USD38 bn and provide an import cover of over six months. In addition, the country controls a substantial sovereign wealth fund (see above).
The external debt service ratio on existing obligations is around 7% of export receipts. As a result, external payments of debt obligations (and, by association, settlement of trade payments) are unlikely to be problematic.