Brightening outlook for GCC countries: UBS

 11 Dec 2017 - 12:16

Brightening outlook for GCC countries: UBS

The Peninsula

UBS Wealth Management foresees 2018 positive on global equities relative to high-grade and developed world government bonds. Global economic growth should continue at the high 3.8 rate witnessed in 2017.

For the six countries that form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the economic outlook is brightening. Oil prices have recovered since June, but are expected to trend sideways next year. Further reforms are needed to diversify GCC members’ economies and attract foreign investment. 

Nevertheless, investors face changing monetary, political, technological, social, and environmental contexts, with three principal risks to the bull market: a significant rise in interest rates; a US-North Korea conflict; and a China debt crisis.

UBS foresees a changing context for portfolios in 2018. The year 2017 has been the strongest for the global economy since 2011. Next year, growth is likely to stabilize at 3.8 percent, providing a benign backdrop for stocks. 

However, investors should be alert to emerging opportunities and risks resulting from monetary tightening, heavy political calendars, technological disruption, and environmental and social change.

Ali Janoudi (pictured), Head of Wealth Management Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, France and Benelux International at UBS Wealth Management, said: “GCC countries are still adjusting to the new economic reality of lower oil prices, despite the recent recovery. Ambitious reform plans across the region are balancing the need for a more broad-based, diversified economy with respect for local traditions. We think the progress achieved so far brightens the region’s outlook and expect GDP growth to rebound to 2.3 percent in 2018 from 0.6 percent this year.”

Mark Haefele, Global Chief Investment Officer at UBS Wealth Management, commented: “Periods of high economic growth often sow the seeds of their demise. But there is little evidence today of an impending recession. Historically, recessions have been caused by one or more of: capacity constraints, oil price shocks, excessively tight monetary policy, contractions in government spending, or financial crises. None look likely to materialize in 2018. In this environment, we remain positive on equities relative to high-grade and government bonds.”

Central banks will tighten monetary policy and in some cases raise interest rates in 2018. In certain areas, especially financial services, this will bring opportunities, except in the unlikely event of significant hikes. 

But amid rising rates, investors will also need to prepare for higher volatility, higher dispersion of returns from individual stocks, and in some cases higher correlations between equities and bonds. Conversely, this may benefit alternative and other active asset managers.

Extreme political scenarios, principally a US-North Korea conflict, remain a low-probability risk for markets. However, politics may have a significant local impact. 

Investors can either hedge this by diversifying their portfolios globally or by treating it as an opportunity, particularly in the case of longer-term trends such as emerging market infrastructure development.

Likewise, extreme financial outcomes, principally a Chinese debt crisis, are unlikely to materialize in 2018 but worth monitoring. Total bank assets in China are 310 percent of GDP, nearly three times higher than the emerging market average. However, China’s high growth rate, powerful state, and closed capital account make it less susceptible to debt crises. Our base case is for 6.4 percent growth versus 6.8 percent in 2017. 

Social, environmental, and technological change continue to present both opportunities and risks. For the stock market, we see the most important long-term tech themes as digital data, automation and robotics, and smart mobility. Investors can also put capital to work in a variety of social and environmental fields across the growing field of sustainable investing, including multilateral development bank bonds and impact investing as well as listed equities.