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II Growth and the Saving-Investment Balance: Past Performance and Future Challenges

Author(s):
Volker Treichel, and Ahsan Mansur
Published Date:
November 1999
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Author(s)
Emmanuel K. Martey

Growth and the Saving-Investment Balance: Past Performance and Future Challenges

The economy of Oman experienced substantial growth and domestic price stability over the period 1980–97, during which the overall well-being of the population improved significantly. Liberal trade and payments systems and a stable currency supported this strong performance, notwithstanding marked fluctuations in world oil prices. The performance of the economy was not, however, associated with any significant shift in its structure. Dependence on the oil sector remains overwhelming, but the prospects for further growth of the oil sector have become limited. Moreover, the domestic saving-investment imbalance remained large during this period and contributed to a narrowing of the surplus in the external resource balance. Furthermore, as real economic growth has slowed in recent years and the population growth rate averaged about 2.85 percent a year over 1994—97, the annual increase in real GDP per capita during this period tended to remain subdued at only about 1 percent.

This section reviews the factors underlying Oman’s overall economic performance during 1980–97. It then analyzes Oman’s saving-investment balance and reviews the targets of the FFYP. Next the section assesses the contribution of total factor productivity to Oman’s growth performance and examines the structural issues relating to these experiences. It goes on to identify prospective challenges and assesses the policy directions needed to sustain growth in real GDP per capita over the medium term. The section concludes that Oman’s healthy economic performance has masked a number of structural weaknesses: the economy faces a large, albeit declining domestic saving-investment imbalance; economic growth is largely explained by increased investment and labor, whereas factor productivity has remained stagnant: and the economy’s dependence on oil has fallen only gradually despite a significant shift in relative prices, or the terms of trade, in favor of the non-oil sector over the last decade and a half. Given Oman’s relatively high rate of population growth, sustaining real growth in income per capita will require sustained growth in domestic investment and domestic saving, an improvement in total factor productivity, and substantial foreign capital inflows, preferably private.

Oman’s productive and export bases are monocultural. Oil accounted for 31 percent of real GDP and 95 percent of export receipts in 1967, the earliest date for which relevant data are available. Oil still accounted for 92 percent of export receipts in 1997, and the share of oil in real GDP stood at 36 percent. This monocultural structure exposes the Omani economy to the vagaries of world oil price movements.

Following the rapid increases in real GDP associated with the oil price boom of 1974—78, growth in real GDP per capita decelerated and from 1986 became negative in some years. Fixed capital formation rose sharply through the mid-1970s. Domestic saving averaged 53 percent of GDP between 1967 and 1979, and the government accumulated large external reserves. The weakening of world oil prices in the 1980s posed major macroeconomic challenges for Oman, as the domestic saving rate declined and real GDP per capita contracted.

Growth Performance and Sectoral Transformation

Aggregate Supply

The overall performance of the Omani economy, in terms of growth of real income per capita, alternated over the decade and a half ending in 1997 between sustainable and unsustainable.1 The expansions of 1981–85 and 1990–93, during which growth in income per capita was positive in every year and overall growth averaged 14.1 percent and 7.3 percent a year, respectively, coincided with substantial expansions in the volume of oil production (Table 2.1; Figure 2.1). Similarly, the period of slow, unsustainable growth in 1986–89, when real income per capita declined and the growth rate of GDP averaged 1.6 percent, coincided with a slowdown of oil output. The period 1994—97 was characterized by a relatively low average growth rate of 4 percent, which still exceeded the population growth rate of 2.9 percent. Consequently, growth of real GDP per capita was positive but subdued at 1,1 percent, partly reflecting a slowdown of the expansion of oil output.

Table 2.1.Growth of GDP, the Oil and Non-Oil Sectors, and Real GDP Per Capita

(In percent a year)1

PeriodReal GDPOil SectorNon-Oil SectorReal GDP Per Capita
Rapid-growth periods
1981–8514.112.315.18.2
1990–937.35.08.62.7
Slow-growth periods
1986–891.66.3–0.9–3.8
1994–974.03.34.31.1
Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates.

Data are annual averages

Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates.

Data are annual averages

Figure 2.1.Growth and Composition of Real GDP

(In percent)

Source: Data provided by the Omani authorities.

Results of regression analyses indicate that the growth of the Omani economy during the period 1982–97 is well (almost 90 percent) explained by the contemporaneous rate of change in government real expenditure and the change in the world price of Omani oil in the preceding year (Table 2.2;Figure 2.2).2 Over this period, growth in oil sector real GDP decelerated steadily from an average of 12,3 percent during 1981–85 to averages of 63 percent during 1986–89, 5 percent in 1990–93, and 3.3 percent during 1994–97 (Table 2.1). Non-oil sector real GDP increased at an annual average rate of 15.1 percent during 1981–85, entailing a substantial increase in real income per capita, even though the population increased at an annual rate of 5.4 percent during this period. The non-oil sector recorded no growth on average during the following four years, but growth picked up over the subsequent four years to an average of 8.6 percent, before falling to a level just above the population growth rate in 1994–97. The period 1986–89 witnessed the collapse of the domestic construction boom of earlier years—this factor exacerbated the impact of the substantial declines in oil prices in 1986 and 1988.

Table 2.2Determinants of Growth, Investment, and Saving, 1982–97
Dependent Variable
Independent Variable1Growth in

real GDP

(1)
Growth in non-oil

real GDP

(2)
Private investment

as a share of GDP

(3)
Domestic saving as

a share of GDP

(4)
Constant–3.725.03–1.3918.2
(1.43)2(2.94)(0.77)(7.20)
COPI(lagged one year)0.08
(4.65)
RGCE0.270.65
(5.51)(6.84)
BCPR0.32
3.98
DY0.55
(2.91)
RBY0.67
(3.49)
COYR (lagged one year)−0.08
(0.40)
Summary statistics
R 20.90.80.530.64
Adjusted R 20.870.760.500.58
Durbin-Watson statistic2.292.241.010.73
Standard error of
the estimate1.783.541.563.91
Source: Fund staff estimates based on data provided by the Omani authorities.

Ordinary least-squares estimates. Independent variables are defined as follows:

COPI = percentage change in the export price of crude oil

RGCE = percentage change in real government expenditure

BCPR = banking system credit to the private sector

DY = percentage change in real GDP

RBY = ratio of resource balance to GDP

COYR = percentage change in oil sector real GDP.

Numbers in parentheses are t-statistics.

Source: Fund staff estimates based on data provided by the Omani authorities.

Ordinary least-squares estimates. Independent variables are defined as follows:

COPI = percentage change in the export price of crude oil

RGCE = percentage change in real government expenditure

BCPR = banking system credit to the private sector

DY = percentage change in real GDP

RBY = ratio of resource balance to GDP

COYR = percentage change in oil sector real GDP.

Numbers in parentheses are t-statistics.

Figure 2.2.Growth of Real GDP and of Income Per Capita

(In percent)

Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates.

Developments in the oil sector have tended to support the non-oil sector’s performance; the growth cycles of the non-oil sector were, however, dominated by the government’s fiscal stance. This is also evident from the results of regression analysis (Table 2.2) that show that non-oil real GDP growth was strongly correlated with real growth of current government expenditure (see also Section IV), whereas the impact of the previous year’s oil sector operations on non-oil real GDP growth was negative and statistically insignificant.

Use of Resources

Domestic aggregate demand rose markedly during the first half of the 1980s and by mid-decade exceeded total GDP. At current prices, domestic aggregate demand increased from 77 percent of GDP in 1980 to over 90 percent by 1997. In particular, domestic final consumption rose almost steadily from one-half to over three-quarters of GDP by 1997, contributing to the decline in the domestic saving rate. The ratio of total investment to GDP declined after the mid-1980s, as the ratio of public sector investment to GDP, which had reached a peak of one-third of GDP in the early 1980s, declined substantially (Table 2.3). Private sector investment ranged between 3 percent and 7 percent of GDP during 1980–96 and averaged 5.7 percent of GDP, compared with 15.6 percent for the public sector. In 1997, however, private investment increased substantially, to 13.3 percent of GDP, supported by a major liquified natural gas (LNG) project, while public investment remained close to its average level over 1994–97.3 In real terms, domestic absorption exceeded GDP from 1980 through 1986 and did not fall below 90 percent of GDP for the rest of the period.

Table 2.3.Growth in GDP, Saving, and Investment

(In percent a year)1

Domestic Investment
PeriodReal GDP

Growth
Domestic

Saving
National

Saving
TotalPublicPrivate
1981–8514.18.06.322.310.626.9
1986–891.61.714.7−12.2−17.76.8
1990–937.34.4−1.013.615.313.1
1994–974.011.518.813.2−2.334.2
Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates

Data are annual averages.

Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates

Data are annual averages.

As indicated in Table 2.1 and 2.3, the periods during which Oman experienced positive real growth in income per capita were associated with periods of annual total investment growth exceeding 10 percent. Moreover, whereas in the early 1980s and 1990s public investment dominated total investment in absolute terms and expanded at annual rates ranging between 15 and 27 percent, during 1994–97 this pattern began to change. Public investment declined in nominal terms, and private investment recorded an average growth rate of over 34 percent. Even excluding 1997, when investment was exceptionally large because of the impact of the LNG project, private investment grew at an average annual rate of over 6 percent, and public investment declined by more than 4 percent on average. This provides evidence for the increasing importance of the private sector and the diminishing role of the public sector, as called for in the FFYP.

Sectoral Transformation

Notwithstanding the substantial growth of GDP (averaging 7 percent a year) over the 17-year period through 1997, there was little transformation of the economy in real terms. In fact, the share of the non-oil sector fell from 66.7 percent in 1982 to 64.5 percent in 1997 (Figure 2.1). A slight decline in the share of the oil sector during 1982–85 was followed by a considerable recovery, such that, for the period 1980–97 as a whole, the share of the oil sector in real GDP remained at 36 percent. Within the non-oil sector, the most significant improvement was recorded in manufacturing (whose share rose by 4 percentage points, to 5 percent of GDP), transport and communications (which rose by 1.4 percentage points, to 7 percent), and public administration and defense (rising by 0.5 percentage point, to 13 percent). Significant declines occurred in the shares of construction (by 5 percentage points, to 2.9 percent) and real estate (by 2.1 percentage points, to 7.1 percent). The large fall in the share of construction in GDP reflected the completion of major construction activity in infrastructure projects of the public sector.

Notwithstanding considerable relative price shifts among the principal sectors, the composition of GDP remained relatively unchanged. On average, the price level in the oil sector fell by over one-fourth during the 1980–97 period, while that in the non-oil sector increased by about 40 percent (Table 2.4). As a result, relative prices shifted in favor of the non-oil sector by about 80 percent,4 The relative price shift was greatest in favor of manufacturing, a fact that also contributed to the strong growth performance of the sector and increased its share of GDP. The dominance of the oil sector persisted despite the substantial shift in relative prices; with these relative price shifts, however, the sectoral shares at current prices tended to give a false impression that significant diversification of the economy was being achieved.

Table 2.4.Relative Price Shifts(In percent of GDP except where noted otherwise)
Price Indices (1980= 100)
YearOil sectorNon-oil sectorRelative Price

Index 1
1980100.0100.0100.0
198196.5104.9108.7
198296.2111.5115.9
198388.6121.3136.9
198489.2123.5138.5
198589.2122.1136.9
198665.2153.1234.8
198769.5144.4207.8
198874.0136.0183.8
198964.7152.6235.9
199072.0139.8194.2
199165.4152.1232.6
199266.1151.5229.2
199360.6160.2264.4
199459.8161.5270.1
199562.4137.4252.2
199672.7159.2219.0
199771.2159.3223.7
Average75.7139.5184.1
Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates

In the non-oil sector, relative to the oil sector.

Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates

In the non-oil sector, relative to the oil sector.

Disparate developments in saving and investment underlie the differences between one real growth cycle and the next. Although total investment was for the most part maintained above 20 percent of GDP during 1980–97, the rate of change in total investment was coterminous with the growth cycles (Tables 2.32.6). The high-growth period of 1981–85 was associated with a rapid increase in private investment, averaging 27 percent annually. Similarly, the high-growth period of 1990–93 was associated with annual average private investment growth of 13 percent. By contrast, the slow-growth period of 1986—89 coincided with negative average investment growth of 8 percent. The period 1994—97, characterized by a moderate expansion of real GDP of 4 percent on average, saw an average growth of total investment by more than 13 percent, mainly on account of strong investment growth in 1997. Over the period 1994—96, investment declined on average by 0.8 percent, in line with the subdued growth of real GDP in that period. Domestic bank credit was positively related to private investment and partly explains real GDP growth in this period, as shown in Table 2.2

Table 2.5.Saving-Investment Balances and the Resource Balance(In percent of GDP except where noted otherwise)
YearDomestic Saving-

Investment

Balance
National Saving-

Investment

Balance
National Saving-Investment

Balance as Percent of

Total Investment
Resource

Balance1
198023.113.566.723.1
198125.19.734.625.1
198214.3−1.1−3.514.3
198314.4−1.9−6.314.4
198112.0−0.04−13.0110
198512.2−4.9−15.712.2
1986−1.5−18.2−56.7−1.5
198718.29.862.918.2
19888.7−4.0−26.38.7
198914.83.625.214.8
199019.610.685.619.6
19918.3−1.4−9.28.3
19929.3−3.5−21.69.2
19935.0−8.2−46.85.0
19948.3−7.1−45.48.3
19958.5−5.0−33.18.5
199613.6−0.7−4.913.6
19976.1−7.0−33.26.1
Averages
1980–9712.2−0.9−2.312.2
1980–8516.92.510.516.9
1986–8910.1−2.21.310.1
1990–9310.5−0.62.010.5
1994–979.1−4.9−29.29.1
Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates.

Exports of goods and services less imports of goods and services.

Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates.

Exports of goods and services less imports of goods and services.

Table 2.6Saving and Investment Ratios(In percent)
Ratio to GNPRatios to GDP
YearNational

saving
Domestic

saving
Public

investment
Private

investment
Total

investment
198035.143.314.55.720.2
198139.053.221.76.428.1
198231.045.926.55.231.6
198329.044.824.65.730.4
198426.641.925.84.129.9
198526.843.226.05.131.0
198614.030.627.15.032.1
198727.833.812.33.315.6
198812.823.811.24.015.2
198919.928.98.45.614.1
199025.232.07.35.012.3
199115.123.39.95.215.0
199214.725.511.44.916.4
199310.822.510.86.717.5
199410.224.010.05.715.7
199511.623.59.85.215.0
199615.427.57.76.213.9
199716.227.37.813.321.1
Averages
1980–9721.232.715.25.720.8
1980–8531.345.423.25.428.5
1986–8918.629.314.84.519.2
1990–9316.425.89.95.515.3
1994–9713.325.58.87.616.4
Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates.
Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates.

Growth rates of domestic saving were strongly positive on average during 1980–85 (Table 2.3) and during the 1990–93 period of positive growth in real GDP per capita. By contrast, during the period of negative real per capita growth of 1986–89, growth of domestic saving averaged only 2 percent. During the moderate real per capita growth period of 1994–97, the growth rates of domestic and national saving picked up to 11.5 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively, mainly on account of an exceptionally strong performance in 1997. Private investment grew strongly during both the 1981–85 and the 1990–93 periods, and its growth was correspondingly slow or negative during the slow-growth period of 1986–89. The moderate yet steady economic growth during 1994–97 was supported mainly by private investment—in particular in 1997—as public investment declined on average. Whereas over the entire 1980—97 period public investment—at 15.2 percent of GDP—dominated total investment, compared with a modest 7 percent of GDP for the private sector, this dominance has declined in recent years.

Investment and Domestic and National Saving

Saving and Investment

The contribution of national saving to the domestic investment effort is indirectly the mirror image of the extent of foreign saving required to meet investment demand. Oman, like other GCC countries, relies considerably on expatriate labor to construct major public infrastructure projects; such labor also plays a central role in private sector activities. As with other GCC countries, Oman’s considerable reliance on foreign labor and the resulting outflow of migrant remittances have important implications for the optimal magnitude of domestic saving. Efforts need to be strengthened to encourage Omani nationals to participate in economic activity, to allow a higher proportion of the resulting saving to be retained in the national economy and increase national saving.

The positive differential between domestic saving and investment in relation to GDP declined almost monotonically from over 23 percent of GDP in 1980 to only 6 percent of GDP in 1997 (Table 2.5), as the ratio of domestic saving to GDP fell steadily from over 43 percent to 27 percent (Table 2.6). Concurrently, the gap between national saving and investment has almost always been negative since 1980, reflecting a precipitous decline in the ratio of national saving to GNP from 35 percent in 1980 to only 16 percent in 1997. The mounting gap was equivalent to over 30 percent of domestic investment by 1997. Past experience suggests that Oman needs to achieve a ratio of investment to GDP of at least 10 percent to attain a desirable level of growth in real income per capita. In this regard, developments in 1997 were encouraging: that year saw total investment rise to over 21 percent of GDP. As indicated above, the policy implication is not to curtail expatriate remittances in an ad hoc manner, but rather to raise national saving through appropriate fiscal and structural policies and increased employment and productivity of Omani nationals in economic activity.

Analytically, in the Omani experience, the ratio of domestic saving to GDP is positively related to growth in real GDP and the relative size of the external resource surplus (Table 2.2).5 As indicated in Table 2.2, the elasticity of the saving ratio with respect to these variables is considerable. Moreover, these variables together explain more than three-quarters of Oman’s domestic saving rate.

Resource Balance

Oman’s external resource balance, although positive for virtually the entire 1980–97 period, declined progressively from 23 percent of GDP in 1980 to about 6 percent in 1997 (Table 2.5; Figure 2.3). This development mirrored the evolution of the domestic saving-GDP ratio. Thus, even excluding the impact of factor income transfers by expatriates, the resource surplus available for debt service and to withstand the effects of unanticipated external shocks, such as the 1990 regional crisis or world oil price changes, declined precipitously. However, the resource balance improved substantially in 1996 to 13.6 percent of GDP and would have equaled more than 15 percent in 1997, excluding imports related to the LNG project. This highlights the increasing importance of exports of non-oil goods and services.

Figure 2.3Saving, Investment, and the Resource Balance

(In percent of GDP unless otherwise indicated)

Source: Data provided by the Omani authorities.

1 In percent of GNP.

Five-Year Plan Targets

The government of Oman has fully recognized the policy implications of these developments in the formulation of its FFYP. The FFYP projects an 85 percent increase in total investment over the plan period 1996–2000, with the share of investment in GDP increasing to 22.6 percent, or slightly above the average for the 1980–97 period. Private sector investment is projected to rise to 53 percent of total investment, from 35 percent during 1991–95, on the basis of a policy of encouraging domestic and foreign investment and reducing government participation in the productive sectors of the economy. The plan anticipates that the share of private sector investment will exceed that of the public sector over the plan period. The FFYP projects an average gap between national saving and investment equivalent to 9 percent of projected investment over the plan period, compared with an average gap ratio of 2 percent during 1980–97. As the authorities expect that the national saving-investment gap over the plan period will be four times the recorded average for 1980–97, a massive foreign resource inflow will be needed to achieve the modest 4.6 percent average increase in GDP targeted under the plan. Furthermore, the targeted increase in the share of private saving will require major policy incentives, including removal of the discriminatory tax regulations against foreign investment in Oman. Initiatives undertaken in recent years have already produced a significant pickup in private investment in 1997, as reflected in the gap between national saving and investment of 33 percent in 1997.

Total Factor Productivity and the Policy Environment

Total Factor Productivity

To assess the factors that have contributed to Oman’s economic growth, an analysis was made of total factor productivity following Fischer (1993). A production function of the form Yt = F(Kt, Lt, At) is assumed, where K is capital, L is labor, and A is an overall efficiency factor, termed total factor productivity (TFP) or the Solow residual. Assuming constant returns to scale, in which the shares of capital and labor are imposed at 0.4 and 0.6, respectively, estimates of TFP for Oman are presented in Table 2.7.6

The estimated Solow residuals indicate that, on average, factor productivity made no contribution to Oman’s growth performance during 1980–97. In essence, the average real growth of 7 percent during the period was more than accounted for by substantial capital accumulation and expansion of the labor force, particularly during 1981–85 and 1990–93 (Table 2.7). In other words, Oman’s impressive economic growth performance was primarily due to higher investment and increased absorption of labor, reflecting to a large extent the increasing participation of expatriate labor. This analysis also demonstrates that, in the future, Oman will need to depend on increased labor productivity and greater efficiency of capital to achieve more rapid growth with lower investment and permit a steady increase in real wages (particularly for Omani nationals). The significant productivity gains achieved during 1986–89, related to the improved terms of trade, were quickly dissipated thereafter, and except in 1993—94, the productivity losses were particularly severe after the regional crisis of 1990. Since the improvement in TFP during 1986–89 was associated with a significant decline in crude oil prices, it is conceivable that both capital and labor were more efficiently utilized in a period of relative scarcity.

Table 2.7.Contributions to Economic Growth(In percent of GDP)
PeriodGrowth

in GDP
Contribution ofSolow

Residual1
CapitalLabor
Rapid-growth periods
1981–8514.16.19.2−1.2
1990–937.34.49.0−6.1
Slow-growth periods
1986–891.6−6.0−0.17.7
1994–974.0−1.76.8−1.1
Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates.

Total factor productivity.

Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates.

Total factor productivity.

Policy Environment

Recent developments in the growth literature have emphasized that the economic environment and public policies influence the rate of economic growth.7Fischer (1991)(1993) extended the notion that governments can influence growth by creating a stable macroeconomic framework. Like the results of Cashin (1995) for the OECD countries, and of Mc Dermott (1996) for Jordan, those of this section find that Oman’s macroeconomic environment favorably influenced its growth performance. As shown in Table 2.8, periods of low fiscal deficits coincided with high growth rates of real GDP, whereas high fiscal deficits were associated with low real GDP growth rates. The low average fiscal deficit in 1994–97 reflects mainly the impact of the very low deficit (0.1 percent of GDP) in 1997, which coincided with a period of strengthened growth of non-oil real GDP in spite of the fiscal contraction in those years. Similarly, the ratio of money to GDP was lower (income velocity was higher) in periods of faster growth in real income per capita than in periods of negative or slow growth. Given the economy’s openness and the liberal exchange rate and trade systems, Oman’s inflation rate was low throughout the period, and given the modest variation in the inflation rate, the relationship between growth and inflation was tenuous. Thus periods of varyingly low negative and positive inflation rates coincided with both high and low rates of growth. This phenomenon is broadly in line with Fischer’s observation regarding the possibility of “a range of inflation rates in which variations in inflation have very little effect on growth.”8

Table 2.8Growth and the Macroeconomic Environment1
PeriodReal

GDP Growth

(in percent

a year)
Inflation

(in percent

a year)
Ratio

of Fiscal Balance2

to GDP

(in percent)
Ratio

of Broad Money

to GDP

(in percent)
Change in Terms

of Trade

(in percent)
Rapid-growth periods
1981–8514.1−2.9−1.922.3−2.8
1990–937.34.2−1.527.1−1.9
Slow-growth periods
1986–891.63.1−5.928.813.5
1994–974.0−0.329.63.4
Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates.

Data are annual averages.

Consolidated central government operations plus operations of the SGRF, the Oil Fund, and the Contingency Fund. Negative numbers indicate deficits.

Sources: Data provided by the Omani authorities; IMF staff estimates.

Data are annual averages.

Consolidated central government operations plus operations of the SGRF, the Oil Fund, and the Contingency Fund. Negative numbers indicate deficits.

Prospective Challenges

The analysis in this section indicates that periods of growth in real income per capita were associated with relatively rapid growth in investment that maintained aggregate demand; that the economy recorded negligible diversification in real terms; that increased factor productivity made little contribution to economic growth; and that the national saving-investment gap deteriorated steadily. The analysis also demonstrates that the stable macroeconomic environment contributed favorably to Oman’s growth performance. The challenge for the period ahead resides essentially in sustaining growth in real income per capita, within a framework of continued macro-economic stability and a diversified economy capable of averting the vulnerability to which a monocultural (in this case oil-dependent) economy is exposed. So far the impact of fluctuations in oil export prices has been tempered by drawdowns of accumulated foreign assets to sustain aggregate demand. But the scope for continuing such drawdowns, without adverse consequences for exchange rate stability, is limited. Given the vulnerability of the oil sector to external factors beyond Oman’s control, the authorities are faced with the challenge of sustaining overall economic growth by accelerating the growth of the non-oil sector and diversifying its composition.

The review presented here of Oman’s growth performance since 1980 indicates that a sustained increase in income per capita would be contingent on, first, effective mobilization of national saving to allow for higher levels of investment and to reduce the saving-investment gap; second, efforts to enhance factor productivity through structural reforms and human resource development; and third, implementation of an economic diversification strategy. We conclude with some remarks on each of these three objectives.

Saving-Investment Balance

The rate of increase in investment required to preserve and increase real income per capita would need to derive from increased national saving, both public and private; stepped-up capital inflows, preferably private; and increased TFP, emanating from improvements in both labor and capital productivity. The increasing gap between saving and investment, which the FFYP recognizes, presents the challenge of mobilizing domestic and foreign saving to fill this gap as the basis for sustained growth in real income per capita. Although instruments to directly raise private saving have proved largely ineffective, structural reform measures could have a large indirect impact on private saving, mainly through increased allocative efficiency and more rapid TFP growth. Efforts to raise private saving should, in particular, focus on financial liberalization, including the development of long-term saving instruments (pension funds, mutual funds, and life insurance) and liberalization of interest rates on consumer loans. In this regard recent developments in the financial sector are promising (see Section V). Policies to improve the productivity of investment are also essential. Finally, although the substitution of Omani nationals for expatriate labor may reduce the existing divergence between domestic and national saving, it should not be achieved at the expense of productivity and output.

Factor Productivity

Achieving a substantial improvement in TFP seems to present the greatest challenge for the period ahead. Such an improvement implies maximizing the growth potential of available factors of production. Higher productivity of labor would be needed as a complementing factor in raising aggregate potential real output and to support the government’s objective of increasing Omani nationals’ employment prospects. The authorities have rightly emphasized this aspect through substantially higher allocations for human resource development under the FFYP. Increasing the productivity of both public and private sector investments would require accelerating structural reforms in the economy and encouraging foreign investment and technology in all major sectors.

Diversification

Attaining sustained diversification of the economy together with a diversified export base—a combination that proved elusive during 1980–97—will require strategies that emphasize Oman’s comparative advantages. Downstream industries in the petroleum sector need to be complemented by sectors that promote activities that are cyclically opposite to that of the petroleum sector (see Section VII for more on the diversification issue).

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1

Growth is defined as sustainable when the real growth rate of GDP exceeds the population growth rate. Recently revised national accounts data start from 1980. Earlier series indicated particularly strong growth of the economy, averaging 12.6 percent a year, during 1972–80.

2

Another statistical estimate indicated that the contemporaneous rate of oil output was also positively related to overall growth performance, with an elasticity of 0.32.

3

Discoveries in the past four years have more than doubled Oman’s proven reserves of natural gas to 28.5 trillion cubic feet. The LNG project is expected to come on-stream in 2000 after the completion of both upstream and downstream operations.

4

In interpreting these results, it is important to note that the base year 1980 was one of exceptionally high oil prices, which might exaggerate the sectoral price shift in favor or the non-oil sector over the period under consideration.

5

This result empirically validates a theoretical postulate of El-Erian and Kumar (1996).

6

This is a familiar assumption for developing countries; see Fischer (1993); Chopra and others (1995); Kochhar and others (1996); Macicjewski and Mansur (1996).

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