The Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (APICORP) published its annual MENA Energy Investment outlook, which forecasts that the MENA region will see a number of critical energy projects pushed through over the next five years, despite the uncertain geopolitical backdrop.
Around $345 billion has been committed to projects under execution while an additional $574 billion worth of development is planned.
The overall economic outlook remains similar to the forecasts estimated this time last year, with growth of around 3.2 per cent forecast for both 2018 and 2019. Global investment in the industry is expected to pick up and parts of the MENA region are expected to see a corresponding improvement in investment.
Saudi Arabia is expected to lead the way, but the uncertainty over the possible re-imposition of sanctions on Iran mean that it may struggle to attract the foreign investment it needs to develop its industry. Iraq is also facing challenges, despite the improving security situation.
APICORP’s report also predicts the recovery in oil prices in 2017 will have only a modest impact on the growth prospects over the medium term, as prices are expected to remain in a narrower range in the medium term. Further energy price reforms, and the introduction of a five per cent VAT in some of the GCC countries will also contribute to inflation and put downward pressure on consumer spending, but these measures will also alleviate fiscal pressures and allow governments to increase spending in key industries and on critical projects.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE represent 38 per cent of planned investments, with $149 billion and $72 billion respectively, over the outlook period, as both countries look to boost their upstream oil and gas sectors. For Egypt, the main concern is the ramp-up of gas production and rising power demand. Planned investments in the country are $72 billion, with the power sector making up over 50 per cent of the total.
Elsewhere planned projects in Kuwait stand at $59 billion over the same period, with over 50 per cent in the oil sector. More specifically, the country intends to increase oil output to 4m b/d within the next few years. Similarly, in Algeria planned projects stand at around $58 billion with the Hassi Messaoud Peripheral Field Development accounting for a significant portion of investments in upstream oil. The country will seek to invest in upstream oil and gas to meet its target of increasing production by 20 per cent.
Other major investment in the oil and gas sector will be made in Iran, with an estimated $67 billion in planned projects in the coming period, and Iraq, at $47 billion. Oil investments account for $27 billion with the ENI-led Zubair and the PetroChina-led Halfaya, two of the largest upstream development projects in the country. However, the outlook for those countries is much less certain, with a significantly higher degree of political risk.
There are three main challenges that could potentially hinder the growth of investment in the region. The first is that the global investment in the oil and gas sector are closely interlinked with oil prices, and though the situation as a whole is improving, prices are not expected to return to the high levels seen prior to the sharp drop in 2014.
Another challenge to growth is the rising cost of capital, as some governments will find it harder to attract foreign investment. However, supported by its high reserves, and low debt to GDP ratios, the GCC was successful in issuing record debt of over $50 billion in 2017, surpassing the previous year’s record of $37 billion. Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia represents the bulk of this, with over $21 billion of debt raised, followed by Abu Dhabi and Kuwait with $10 billion and $8 billion respectively. Oman ($8 billion) and Bahrain ($3 billion) also tapped the international market.
Finally, the regional geopolitical environment remains fragile, and persistent conflicts in the region are creating instability that deters investors and causes them to become cautious in investing in the entire region.
2017 certainly saw improvements and rebalance in the region. The period of weakest economic growth and oil prices seems to have passed, but the recovery phase will take longer and is not without its challenges. GCC governments have announced expansionary budgets following a few years of tightening expenditures because of lower oil revenues and will prioritise critical investments in their energy sectors.