Kazakhstan Country Report Jan17 - January, 2017

February 8, 2017

The commodity-dependent Kazakh economy is experiencing one of its toughest years in over a decade as a result of low oil prices, slowing demand from China and the ongoing recession in Russia.

Following the plunge in oil prices the Kazakh economic growth eased sharply to 1.2% in 2015 from 4.3% in 2014. The government expects the slowdown to reach 0.5% in 2016. International observers such as the World Bank see growth slowing down to 0.2% in 2016.

But after nearly two years of economic slowdown, Kazakhstan is widely expected to turn the corner  in 2017. Such projections are visible in both outlooks by international observers and the Kazakh government’s expectations. Following OPEC’s push to raise world oil prices, the hydrocarbon-reliant Central Asian country’s growth is mainly contingent on gradually ramping up its oil production to its previous levels, especially at the costly multibillion dollar Kashagan project, which finally resumed its operations in October.

Succession speculation started again in Kazakhstan after Uzbekistan’s president Islam Karimov died this summer. Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev said he would not let his children take over but failed to name a successor perpetuating the uncertainty.

Over 9m16, the current account deficit reached $5.2bn. For the fourth quarter of 2016, bankers  expect exports to continue improving thanks to the launch of production at the Kashagan oil field at end October, as export revenues from the field will support the balance of payments.

Sberbank  projects a current account deficit of $5.5bn-$6.0bn for the full year and a $1.5bn deficit in 2017, based on the assumption of a mild rise in oil prices.

Oil production in 2015 declined by 1.7% to 79.6mn tonnes and is expected go down further to 75mn tonnes in 2016, accounting for Kashagan. However, the government expects Kashagan to add between 4mn-7mn tonnes of oil to the country’s production, bringing up the country’s overall production plans to approximately 85mn tonnes.

Doubts in the viability of a Kashagan re-launch in 2016, have driven some of the international observers, such as the IMF to expect a 0.8% contraction in 2016. Yet, annual growth might to be heading towards the government-expected 0.5% or the Asian Development Bank-projected 0.1% in 2016.

Growth stood at 0.4% in January-September and a narrow gauge of GDP, which accounts for 60% of the economy, saw 0.2% growth in January-October. These figures, however, reflect conditions in the oil industry before Kashagan’s launch at end-October - within a month of its operations Kashagan produced over 480,000 tonnes of oil, bringing Kazakhstan’s daily output to approximately 234,000 tonnes in November.

Continued acceleration in production, of course, hinges on Kazakhstan’s participation in a joint oil cut of 558,000 barrels per day by 11 countries as OPEC’s request. While Kazakhstan agreed to cut its output, several factors imply the agreement largely won’t interfere with the country’s production forecasts. Kazakh Energy Minister Kanat Bozumbayev told media the cut will “likely” amount to 20,000 tonnes from the November-level. Moreover, the output-cut deal will only stand for six months starting from January. While the deal is renewable, it still remains to be seen if Kazakhstan will maintain its commitment in the second half of 2017.

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