STEADY SHIP

Abu Dhabi 2016 | DIPLOMACY | YEAR IN REVIEW

Abu Dhabi's ambitious Vision 2030 is already beginning to show signs of bearing fruit, with 8.8% non-oil GDP growth in 1Q2016 offering up a glimpse of a life after oil.

Abu Dhabi is tightening up its budget in the face of low hydrocarbons prices, leveraging its substantial reserves to maintain spending in core areas while encouraging growth in the non-oil economy. The UAE economy grew 4% in 2015, up from 3.1% in 2014. A slight slowdown is expected in 2016, with the IMF predicting growth of 2.3%, followed by 2.5% in 2017. Elsewhere on the national macro scene, inflation is expected to get back on the decline, a result of a strengthened dollar in the global markets, as the dirham is linked to the US dollar at a rate of AED3.67:USD1. CPI in the UAE over 2015 came in at 4.1%, up from 2.3% in 2014 and 1.1% in 2013. Over 2016, CPI is expected to come in at 3.3%, and then slow to 2.8% in 2017. For Abu Dhabi-specific indicators, the first stop is the Statistical Centre-Abu Dhabi (SCAD). SCAD figures show that oil value-added as a contribution to GDP came in at $25.58 billion in 1Q2016, or 48.3% of the total, up 8.8% YoY. Back in 2012, oil and gas represented 56.7% of economic activity, suggesting that the recent increase in the non-oil sector's contribution to GDP is attributable to more than the fall in oil revenues. For Abu Dhabi specifically, the IMF estimates growth of 1.7% for 2016, down from 4.4% in 2015, citing fiscal belt tightening.

Even as Abu Dhabi prepares for the day it pumps the last drop of oil, today the UAE remains a hydrocarbons giant and a key member of OPEC. Abu Dhabi accounts for 95% of the UAE's proven reserves of 97.8 billion barrels of oil and 6.1 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. And it is ramping up production. A major drilling program by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) will see production hit 3.5 million bpd by end-2017, the target being not exports but growing demand in the domestic market. Steps in this direction will support the ending of fuel subsidies and lead to regularly updated prices at the pump

In the broader energy picture, Abu Dhabi is gearing up, in 2017, to turn on its first nuclear power reactor, the first of four 1,400 MW reactors it hopes will guarantee the energy independence of the Emirate and counter a fast-growing population coupled with a thirst for AC and high power consumption by water desalination plants. The Emirate also issued a tender in April 2016 for a 350 MW solar power plant based on reverse osmosis desalination.

A number of sectors have continued to grow strongly despite falls in oil revenues, with banking a clear standout. Indeed, despite commodities challenges, Abu Dhabi's banks managed to improve nearly ever key metric and posted across the board growth in 2015. The financial market development of the UAE was ranked number 20 in the world by the World Economic Forum's 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Report, with banks based in Abu Dhabi leading the charge. The biggest development in the sector over the last year was the announcement of a merger between the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) and First Gulf Bank (FGB). The total assets of NBAD at end-2015 were $110.690 billion, nearly twice the asset levels of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and First Gulf Bank (FGB), which at $62.147 billion and $61.937 were the second and third largest banks, respectively. The merger, once complete, will give the new entity an estimated market cap of $29 billion and $175 billion in assets, surpassing Qatar National Bank (QNB) as the largest in the region.

Standout developments in other key sectors include a draft law to ensure strengthened competition in the electronics and telecoms sectors, where Etisalat remains king with 9.7 million mobile subscribers, 0.9 million landline users, and 1.1 million fixed-broadband subscribers. Currently Etisalat's only competitor is the Dubai-based du. And the government is not just eyeing better competition across its IT networks, but also its transport networks, with $20 billion worth of projects set to be awarded between 2015 and 2017 in line with the Surface Transport Master Plan (STMP). By 2030, the STMP aims to have established a multi-integrated transport system of regional rail, metro rail, trams, buses, taxis, park and ride, and highways.

But why work so hard if there is nobody around to see all you achieve? In that vein, the government is developing a stronger tourism offering. Last year, the Emirate hosted a record 4.1 million tourists, up an unexpected 18% on 2014. One-third of incoming tourists come from other parts of the UAE, while India, the UK, China, Saudi Arabia, and Germany represent the next largest sources. To prepare for greater demand, the Midfield Terminal is under development at Abu Dhabi Airport and will boost capacity to over 30 million passengers a year.