Kuwait flag Kuwait: Economic and Political Overview

The economic context of Kuwait

Economic Indicators

For the latest updates on the key economic responses from governments to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, please consult the IMF's policy tracking platform Policy Responses to COVID-19.

Kuwait is a very rich country and has developed a welfare state for its nationals, who enjoy a very high per capita income. Kuwait's economic growth was negative at -0.6% in 2019 as lower oil output and weaker oil prices offset the steady expansion of the non-oil sector. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it plummeted to -8.9% in 2020 but came back to positive territory at 0.9% in 2021. It was expected to reach 4.3% in 2022 and 2.7% in 2023, subject to the post-pandemic global economic recovery (IMF, October 2021). Government spending, employment and credit growth are expected to support economic activity in the short term; nonetheless, this will depend on stable oil prices and higher oil output.

Kuwait’s public finances were relatively healthy in 2020, with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 11.7% that year. Despite the international context created by the COVID-19 pandemic the ratios decrease to only 7.9% in 2021. It is expected to increase to 10.8% in 2022 and 21.6% in 2023. Government spending is also expected to increase in the coming years amid plans to boost credit, employment and wages. At the same time, tax collection remains low as the government has delayed the introduction of a VAT and an excise tax on tobacco and sugary drinks. The excise tax and the VAT are set to be introduced in 2023. Low fiscal revenues combined with reduced oil export earnings, due to falling global oil prices and OPEC oil production in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, haven't put pressure on the current account surplus: it went from 16.3% of GDP in 2019 to 16.7% in 2020 and 15.5% in 2021. The current account balance is estimated to decrease to 13.3% in 2022 and 10.7% in 2023 (IMF, October 2021). Inflation ticked up to 1.1% in 2019 from 0.6% a year earlier, and then 2.1% in 2020 and 3.2% in 2021. It should stabilise at 3% in 2021 and 2022 (IMF, 2021). Kuwait's plans to introduce a new debt law continues to be delayed, with the Parliament expected to review the law proposal in 2022. Contrary to most countries, Kuwait can’t borrow money on international markets, for lack of legislation. A lack of debt law means that the government has been unable to issue debt since October 2017 and had to resort to General Reserves Fund for financing purposes. The continued drawdown from the Fund also weighed on Kuwait Investment Authority's assets - manager of the said fund - despite mandatory transfers from the government to its Future Generations Fund.

Persian Gulf nations, among the world’s richest at the turn of the century, have lost ground as the oil price receded. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia are all dropping out of the global top 20 as living standards stagnate or decline. Most of the country's wealth is concentrated in the hands of local citizens, while the majority of workers (especially from Asia) live in poor conditions. Unemployment rate is almost non-existent.

The Kuwait Investment Authority’s assets (estimated at US$690 billion) will continue to act as a fiscal backstop. As oil export earnings recover in the medium term, underpinned by improvements in global demand conditions, and as concerns over the pandemic wane, the current account balance will continue to expand. A downside risk to this is economic recovery in China, which constitutes 25 percent of Kuwait’s exports (World Bank, 2022).

 
Main Indicators 20202021 (e)2022 (e)2023 (e)2024 (e)
GDP (billions USD) 105.95e135.76183.57172.59172.01
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change) -8.91.38.72.62.6
GDP per Capita (USD) 2228383534
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP) 11.78.77.16.96.5
Inflation Rate (%) 2.13.44.32.42.4
Unemployment Rate (% of the Labour Force) 1.31.30.00.00.0
Current Account (billions USD) 3.4122.1453.3339.6134.12
Current Account (in % of GDP) 3.216.329.123.019.8

Source: IMF – World Economic Outlook Database, October 2021

Note: (e) Estimated Data

Main Sectors of Industry

Agriculture is very limited in the country due to lack of water and fertile land. The agricultural sector is constituted mainly by fishing activities and contributed only 0.4% to the GDP, employing 2% of the workforce in 2021 (World Bank).

With 102 billion barrels of oil in reserve (i.e. 6% of the world's total and representing 100 years of production), the country's industry is based on oil exploitation. This sector accounts for nearly half of Kuwait’s GDP, around 95% of exports, and approximately 90% of government revenue.(OPEC, 2022). By 2030, Kuwait is planning to invest more than USD 87 billion in the oil sector, especially in creating new oil refineries. Overall, the industrial sector contributed more than half of GDP (45.4%) and employed 22% of the total workforce in 2021 (world Bank).

The services sector represented around 54.2% of the GDP and employed 76% of the active population in 2021 (world Bank). The most important sub-sectors are mostly real estate and financial services, which were recently recoverd from the global financial crisis.

 
Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 1.8 22.1 76.1
Value Added (in % of GDP) 0.4 58.4 54.7
Value Added (Annual % Change) -2.7 -1.8 1.2

Source: World Bank, Latest Available Data. Because of rounding, the sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

 

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Indicator of Economic Freedom

Definition:

The Economic freedom index measure ten components of economic freedom, grouped into four broad categories or pillars of economic freedom: Rule of Law (property rights, freedom from corruption); Limited Government (fiscal freedom, government spending); Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom); and Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom). Each of the freedoms within these four broad categories is individually scored on a scale of 0 to 100. A country’s overall economic freedom score is a simple average of its scores on the 10 individual freedoms.}}

Score:
64,1/100
World Rank:
74
Regional Rank:
8

Economic freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Index of Economic Freedom, Heritage Foundation

 

Business environment ranking

Definition:

The business rankings model measures the quality or attractiveness of the business environment in the 82 countries covered by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Country Forecast reports. It examines ten separate criteria or categories, covering the political environment, the macroeconomic environment, market opportunities, policy towards free enterprise and competition, policy towards foreign investment, foreign trade and exchange controls, taxes, financing, the labour market and infrastructure.

Score:
6.38/10
World Rank:
47/82

Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit - Business Environment Rankings 2021-2025

 

Country Risk

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Sources of General Economic Information

Ministries
Ministry of Finance (in Arabic)
Statistical Office
Kuwait Central Statistics Bureau
Central Bank
Central Bank of Kuwait
Stock Exchange
Boursa Kuwait
Economic Portals
Economic Arab portal
 

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Latest Update: November 2022