IMF Executive Board Concludes 2011 Article IV Consultation with KuwaitPublic Information Notice (PIN) No. 11/93
July 19, 2011
Public Information Notices (PINs) form part of the IMF's efforts to promote transparency of the IMF's views and analysis of economic developments and policies. With the consent of the country (or countries) concerned, PINs are issued after Executive Board discussions of Article IV consultations with member countries, of its surveillance of developments at the regional level, of post-program monitoring, and of ex post assessments of member countries with longer-term program engagements. PINs are also issued after Executive Board discussions of general policy matters, unless otherwise decided by the Executive Board in a particular case.
On July 15, 2011, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation with Kuwait.1
The 2011 consultation discussions were held against the backdrop of the second year of implementation of Kuwait’s Development Plan, recovery in non-oil economic activity, tension between government and parliament, regional unrest, and higher global oil prices.
Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2010 is estimated at 3.3 percent, comprising oil growth of 3.2 percent and non-oil growth of 3.4 percent. Activity has been driven mostly by an expansionary fiscal stance. Government Expenditure in Fiscal Year (FY)2010/11—excluding energy-related subsidies and recapitalization of social security—is estimated to have increased by 21½ percent. Half of this growth was attributed to the recent Amiri grant, which included a cash transfer of about $3,600 to each Kuwaiti citizen (equivalent to almost 3 percent of 2010 GDP) and free essential food items from February 2011 through March 2012. The increase in bank lending to the private sector was small, with higher lending of 3.3 percent to the productive sectors (industry, services, and trade) partially offset by a reduction in credit to the real estate and financial sectors.
Headline inflation increased in 2010, primarily due to higher international food prices. Average food inflation reached about 8.2 percent in 2010 (and 9.8 percent at end-April 2011), compared to 3.4 percent in 2009, but its impact on Kuwaiti citizens has been mitigated by the Amiri grant. Non-food inflation remains subdued at around 3.6 percent as of April 2011, reflecting moderate increases in rents. Similar to other countries in the region, the regional unrest has weighed down on stock market prices, which declined by over 8 percent in 2011 through May 25. At the same time, Kuwait has increased its oil production to assist in the effort to stabilize the global oil market.
Banks’ profitability and capitalization have improved but the Investment Companies (ICs) sector continued to post losses. Profits of local banks increased by 70 percent in 2010 and the sector’s capital adequacy ratio increased to 19 percent in 2010 from 17 percent in 2009. ICs continued to struggle and posted losses on average in 2010—although at a lower level than average losses in 2009—and the debt restructuring of some ICs remains unresolved. The performance of the nonfinancial corporate sector has improved in 2010, notwithstanding the continued drag by the real estate sector.
Executive Board Assessment
Executive Directors noted that Kuwait’s economy has recovered from the impact of the global financial crisis on the back of a strong fiscal stimulus and an ambitious development plan. The outlook is however subject to external and internal risks and policy will need to be implemented flexibly in the period ahead. To secure sustainable broad-based growth and address the challenges ahead, Directors also stressed the need for further fiscal, financial, and institutional reforms.
Directors endorsed the currently accommodative mix of macroeconomic policies, but recommended that support be withdrawn if signs of overheating emerge. They agreed that the basket peg regime remains broadly appropriate and took note of the staff’s assessment that the exchange rate is broadly in line with medium-term fundamentals.
Directors considered that the authorities’ 2010–14 Development Plan rightly targets much needed investment, including in human capital, with a view to better preparing Kuwaiti nationals for private sector employment. They underscored the importance of implementing this plan carefully, with special regard to project viability, the business environment, and absorptive capacity, while avoiding the buildup of vulnerabilities in private sector’s balance sheets.
More broadly, Directors emphasized the importance of further reforms to improve the fiscal framework, reduce distortions, and ensure intergenerational equity in the sharing of oil wealth. Priority should be given to tax reforms, including the introduction of a value-added tax and a comprehensive income tax system, better targeted subsidies and social benefits, and a reallocation of public expenditure toward investment. A fiscal rule could also strengthen fiscal management.
Directors recognized important advances in financial sector stability. They welcomed improvements in banks profits and balance sheets and progress in implementing the recommendations of the 2010 Financial Sector Assessment Program. Directors cautioned, however, that many investment companies remained in fragile financial positions and urged the authorities to monitor their situation closely. In this regard, developing of a special resolution regime for financial institutions would facilitate efficient restructuring and exits. The effectiveness of financial oversight would also be boosted by further empowering the newly established Capital Market Authority and the adoption of a new AML/CFT law.
Directors welcomed improvements in Kuwait’s statistical system but considered that more work is needed. They encouraged the authorities to provide additional support to the Central Statistical Office and give priority to the compilation of timely national accounts.