The revised and further-cut construction output growth forecast for Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for the year 2020 is -1.1%, down from the previous projection of -0.8% (as of mid-April) and 4.6% (Q4 2019 update) due to the soaring COVID-19 cases in the region, and the subsequent curfews and lockdown measures, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
Yasmine Ghozzi, Economist at GlobalData, says: 'The slump in oil prices will dent the sector's growth. GlobalData expects cutbacks in spending and, in particular, cuts to capital spending on infrastructure, especially for oil and gas dependent countries given that investment plans were set on assumptions for oil at US$50-US$80 per barrel. The IMF currently predicts that GDP growth in the MENA region will fall to - 3.3% in 2020 because of its exposure to lower oil prices and the extensive disruption in travel and tourism.'
Governments across the MENA region offered direct support to boost activity in construction and infrastructure. In the case of Egypt, for example, the government guided construction companies operating in public projects are set to resume work in full capacity by early April, following a period of two weeks of reduced business.
For Saudi Arabia, the biggest construction market in the region, the country's finance minister announced plans to make deep cuts to public spending, so any further stimulus to the construction sector would rely on the amount of reserves the government is willing to draw upon, given the limit that lower oil prices have put on government revenues.
It remains to be seen whether governments in the region will lend direct support to companies facing acute financial pressure in the sector.
Ghozzi concludes: 'In addition, construction, real estate, and oil and gas sectors are among the most exposed to the business risks created by COVID-19. Force majeure clauses in contracts are being more widely used by firms needing to scale back or rearrange their business plans amid the pandemic. The issue came under the spotlight when the Iraqi government announced the pandemic as an event of force majeure for all projects and contracts. Although construction sites are generally exempted from the lockdowns imposed in many countries in the MENA region, there is an expectation that legal claims, especially from contractors, will be filed citing the crisis as a justifiable reason for failure to deliver work on time.'