A series of events in the final weeks of 2017 provide a strong indication of what we can expect in the year ahead.
From an economic perspective, the most significant was the 30 November agreement between Opec and non-Opec oil producers to extend the oil production cap to the end of 2018. The move aims to rebalance global oil supply and demand, and remove damaging volatility in the energy markets.
The strategy is working. Oil prices are climbing and the improved outlook gives a degree of fiscal flexibility that will help governments to push ahead with difficult economic reforms.
An initial public offering (IPO) of shares in the fuel distribution arm of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company in December was the first of several listings planned in the region. This will be followed in 2018 by the Saudi Aramco IPO, which could be the biggest share sale in history. These sales pave the way for the more challenging privatisation of the region’s utilities and other state entities.
There is huge investor appetite to buy into the region’s prime assets, and as well as delivering substantial windfalls to governments, the privatisations will have a transformational effect on the region.
Set against this is rising political risk. The ongoing Qatar crisis, the anti-corruption arrests in Saudi Arabia and the missiles fired at the GCC from Yemen, all in December, could undermine investor confidence.
The coming year will continue to deliver shocks. But companies must not lose sight of the powerful, long-term fundamentals driving the region – a fast-growing, young population, an expanding middle class, ambitious and well-funded diversification programmes, and the world’s most abundant energy supplies.