When Kazakhstan abandoned its dollar peg in the wake of China’s shock yuan devaluation it warned other oil-producing countries would have to do the same as the world enters a “new era” of low oil prices
They’re small, devoted to oil and at risk of dropping their currency pegs.
Meet Equatorial Guinea, Libya, the Republic of Congo and Oman.
When Kazakhstan abandoned its dollar peg in the wake of China’s shock yuan devaluation it warned other oil-producing countries would have to do the same as the world enters a “new era” of low oil prices. Here’s a quick look at the economies in those four nations.
The second-smallest economy in the Gulf happens to be the biggest Middle East oil producer outside Opec. Its currency is pegged to the dollar. That’s not unusual. So is Saudi Arabia’s. Interestingly, Kuwait was the first country in the region to drop the peg in 2007 in response to spiralling inflation.
Again, it’s the combination of a smallish economy and dependence on oil that could send the rial into a freefall. After years of comfortable surpluses, the country last year reported a budget deficit of 600mn rials ($1.56bn). That will widen to 8% of GDP if oil prices average $75 a barrel, the government predicts. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg are far more pessimistic, anticipating the deficit will widen to 13% of GDP. Between May and July, expenditure soared by 40%.
The economic fortunes of Equatorial Guinea changed overnight with the discovery of oil in the mid-1990s. The former Spanish colony the size of Massachusetts was transformed into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, yet also left dangerously reliant on a single source of revenue at a time crude price are tanking. Energy accounts for nearly 90% of its gross domestic product and virtually all of its exports.
What could tip Equatorial Guinea over the edge is that the Central African CFA franc it shares with five other countries is pegged to the euro, preventing them from weakening enough to offset the oil decline.
“Options for relief include a departure from the monetary union, an adjustment of the rate at which the single currency is hitched to the euro, or a break of the peg altogether,” writes David Powell, an economist at Bloomberg Intelligence in London.
The resource curse strikes again with the Republic of Congo, which is also latched on to the CFA franc. Oil rents — the profits from that industry — totalled 56.8% of GDP at the end of 2013 — the second-highest in the world, after Kuwait, according to Powell. What gives Congo a veil of protection is hefty international reserves, among the highest in Africa.
Since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, oil-rich Libya has descended into a state of lawlessness that has drawn comparisons to Somalia. It’s part of a club dubbed the “fragile five” reserved for Opec members mired in political turmoil that are slashing social spending in response to lower crude prices. The collapse in oil revenue is forcing Libya to deplete foreign currency reserves — a quarter of it just last year — to keep the country running.
After a 2002 devaluation aimed to boost its competitiveness, Libya pegged the dinar to the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights to give it stability. Will that be enough?
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