Qatar: A Powerhouse in the Making

Things are looking up in Qatar; not only the skyscrapers rising from its desert sands. Index provider MSCI recently announced it would reclassify Qatar from frontier market to emerging market status.

The most significant potential benefit of this reclassification could be the dose of added confidence it will give investors.

I think Qatar’s future looks very bright for a number of reasons.

For ease of doing business, Qatar is one of the best in the region.

1.  The World Bank’s 2014-2015 Global Competitiveness index ranks it 16th among 189 countries in this regard. Qatar is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), along with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, a grouping which I believe could surprise on the upside in terms of growth rates in the years ahead.

2. The IMF said growth in the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states is projected to remain strong at an average 4.5% in 2014 and 2015.

3.  Qatar and the UAE are among the three most attractive markets in the world for investment in infrastructure, according to a new report by EC Harris, the global built asset consultancy firm.
Qatar was ranked second and the UAE third globally for their strong business environment, healthy pipeline of development work and growing economic, making them attractive countries for investors including pension funds and banks. The findings, which come from the second Global Infrastructure Investment Index which ranks 41 countries by their attractiveness to investors in infrastructure, also revealed that Saudi Arabia was placed 12th.

4. Tax rates are generally low in the GCC, and Qatar is a standout in this regard. In Qatar, income tax is zero and profits are taxed at zero which makes things very attractive not only for individuals but for companies. Each of these countries pegs its currency to the US dollar except Kuwait, which pegs to a basket or group of currencies, so the impact of the US Federal Reserve’s slowing or ending of its longstanding asset-purchasing program on these currencies should be more muted than in some other emerging markets.

5.  The country’s control of an estimated 14 per cent of the world’s known reserves of natural gas has bought it a seat at the very highest levels in global diplomacy.

6. Qatar has also set its sights on becoming a global center for Islamic finance, which features Shariah-compliant investment vehicles. I think this development is only in its infancy, as there is much interest in these products globally.

7.  Last, despite the state’s uncomfortable embrace of extremist movements in the Middle East, its love of Western trophy assets remains undiminished. Late summer, it swooped upon the Paris-based Le Grand hotel, paying Britain’s InterContinental Hotel group £264million. Constellation Holdings, part of Qatar Holdings, bought the InterContinental in Park Lane for £400million last year.

The best known symbol of its power and influence in London is the Harrods department store, bought from the Egyptian Al-Fayed family in May 2010 for £1.5billion.

That is just the tip of an iceberg of Qatari funds flowing into London. The London Stock Exchange is 15 per cent owned by the Qatari Investment Authority. Qatar Holdings is a 26 per cent shareholder in the £6billion Sainsbury’s grocery group and is seen as a potential future owner.

Qatari investors also have been hugely active in British property. At the height of the financial crisis Qatar stepped in to bail out the Shard in the City of London. It partnered with Delancey estates in redeveloping the Olympic Park at Stratford and financed the Candy Brothers in developing One Hyde Park at Knightsbridge.

Qatari investors also own the Chelsea Barracks site in West London and a huge property development off Oxford Street in conjunction with Land Securities.

Although their property speculations have aroused some hackles and their attempts to win control of three prestigious London hotels, Claridges, the Connaught and the Berkeley has brought them head to head with the Barclay Brothers, owners of the Daily Telegraph group…. they haven’t slowed down a bit.

However controversial this tiny but powerful country and astute investors can be, I think it should see even more visitors, and investors, as it rises in importance on the global stage in the years to come.

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