Business activity in the Arab world’s three largest economies returned to growth, with Egypt seeing its first expansion in 14 months.
After a deterioration in August, the non-oil private sectors improved last month despite continuing job losses as companies adjusted to the economic challenges of the global pandemic while governments eased restrictions put in place to stop the coronavirus.
A measure of non-oil private sector activity in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates rose last month above the threshold of 50 that separates growth from contraction, according to Purchasing Managers’ Index surveys compiled by IHS Markit. Qatar’s Financial Center PMI fell sharply but stayed above the critical 50 mark.
- The IHS Markit Egypt PMI rose to 50.4 from 49.4 in August as consumer demand and export sales rebounded
- Saudi Arabia’s PMI had its first monthly expansion since February, advancing to 50.7 from 48.8
- The headline reading for the UAE climbed to 51 in September from 49.4, with business conditions improving for the third time in four months
- Qatar’s index was at 51.4 last month, the third consecutive month of expansion but down from 57.3 in August
“The latest Egypt PMI data offered more optimism for businesses,” said David Owen, economist at IHS Markit. “The non-oil economy is seeing a modest turnaround after the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The recovery has been fragile in much of the Middle East and faces a further test in the UAE because of a sharp pick-up in new coronavirus cases. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. expects economies in the Gulf to see a slower rebound than elsewhere because of lower oil prices that have forced a fiscal adjustment by governments.
The recent spike of contagion in the UAE “could lead to lockdown restrictions being reimposed in the future,” Owen said. “Given the weak nature of the current rebound, any further measures could lead to a ‘double-dip’ in business activity.”