Saturday, 22 January, 2022

UAE’s economic recovery to continue in 2022

DUBAI: The UAE enjoyed a strong economic finish to 2021, with Expo 2020 Dubai and rebounding tourism boosting domestic demand.

While the tourism sector is likely to take some time to fully recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, the latest data from the Department of Economics and Tourism shows that international visitor numbers to Dubai in November rebounded to almost 76 per cent of 2019 levels and the December data is likely to show further improvement, report agencies.

Hotel occupancy and revenue per available room, a key performance metric calculated by multiplying a hotel’s average daily room rate by its occupancy rate, have also improved significantly from 2020 despite the challenges posed by new variants of the coronavirus.

The recent survey data for the UAE supports this view: even with a slight decline in the December Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) reading, the average PMI for the fourth quarter of 2021 was the highest since the second quarter of 2019.

This indicates that the UAE economy probably posted faster gross domestic product growth in the final quarter of last year. Emirates NBD estimates non-oil GDP grew 3.5 per cent in 2021 after a sharp Covid-related contraction in 2020.

While the near-term outlook is clouded by the surge in coronavirus case numbers, the UAE’s high vaccination rate and relatively young population places it in a strong position to withstand the current wave of infections without needing to reimpose the strict measures implemented in the second quarter of 2020.

Although growth may slow somewhat in early 2022, the non-oil sectors are expected to expand by about 4 per cent this year.

Oil prices recovered sharply in 2021, rising more than 60 per cent on average compared with 2020, boosting sentiment and allowing GCC governments to narrow their 2020 budget deficits significantly.

The UAE probably recorded a budget surplus in 2021 and with oil prices expected to average about $70 per barrel again in 2022, there is fiscal space for increased public sector investment in strategic growth sectors.

With Opec+ expected to continue increasing oil production in the coming months, the hydrocarbon sector should contribute positively to the UAE’s GDP growth in 2022 for the first time in three years. Emirates NBD expects headline GDP growth to accelerate to 4.6 per cent this year from an estimated 1.9 per cent in 2021.

While the outlook for 2022 is broadly constructive, uncertainty persists because of the evolution of the coronavirus pandemic.

The recently identified Omicron variant appears to be much more easily transmitted and has led to a surge in Covid-19 cases globally that far exceeds previous peaks. This has led to renewed travel restrictions and lockdowns in some countries, mainly in Europe and parts of Asia, which will probably weigh on economic growth in the near term.