While many countries in the Gulf region slipped into recession this year, Qatar has not only avoided the financial crisis but moved straight past it at speed, gaining momentum.
Some eyebrows may have been raised when, at the beginning of the year, the government confidently predicted GDP would rise by around 9% in 2009. However, it appears the predictions were correct, with solid growth across much of the country's economy being underpinned by a strong performance in the energy sector. The accuracy of this year's forecast gives additional credence, if any were needed, to the projection that GDP will expand even faster in 2010, with HH The Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, saying in November that the economy would grow by 16% in the coming year, having achieved its target for 2009.
This year's figures make Qatar the fastest-growing economy in the region and indeed the world. Its projected rate of expansion for 2010 looks set to ensure this pole position is maintained.
Though GDP is still growing strongly, there is one bugbear for the Qatari economy – inflation. However, this has become less of a problem this year. Having peaked at 15% in 2008, falls in rental costs and of some commodities have seen consumer price rises ease, with year-end projections putting inflation at around 11%.
Meanwhile, Qatar's financial markets underwent a facelift in June, with the launch of the Qatar Exchange (QE), the successor to the Doha Securities Market. The two shareholders in the new exchange, Qatar Holding and the New York Stock Exchange's overseas arm Euronext, foresee the QE becoming a leading bourse not only in the Gulf region but internationally.
It is hard to say whether this change had any immediate impact on the exchange's performance. By late 2009 the QE was moving upwards, clawing back some of the losses of the previous year. While in 2008 there had been a 28% decline in the market's main index, which fell to its lowest level in four years by December to 6886 points, 2009 has seen a modest recovery, with the index rising to around 7200 points, some 6% up on the year.
This upward movement is more likely to have been a reflection of the overall stability of the Qatari economy, with the financial markets recovering confidence as the underlying strength of the country's economic base became more apparent after the jitters prompted by the global recession.
At least some of this stability was provided by the government, which moved quickly to plug any gaps in the financial system. In February, the state announced it would acquire Qatari banks' portfolio of local shares listed on the bourse at their book value in the banks' accounts at the end of February, while in May it offered to buy the real estate assets of banks at a sale price equivalent to the net value of property loans and investments.
These measures, combined with others taken late in 2008, not only ensured that domestic banks maintained sufficient liquidity levels at crucial times, but that they were in a position to continue lending to the. Estimates put the total value of the government's commitment to supporting the financial sector at around $5bn.
While some governments sought to mitigate the effects of the global recession by slashing spending to try and compensate for plunging state revenues, others pumped billions into their economy to try and revive them. Working from a position of strength, Qatar fundamentally did neither, maintaining high levels of project investments for the energy sector, along with transport and public services infrastructure as set out in various long-term development plans.
As 2009 draws to a close, the last stages of construction work are being carried out on the gas production facilities, or trains, that will allow Qatar to reach its targeted maximum output of 77m tonnes a year.
Qatar has also improved its ability to generate revenue from its energy industry long after the gas has left the wellhead. Throughout the year, Qatar took delivery of a stream of massive tankers; specially designed to carry locally produced liquid natural gas (LNG) to far-flung destinations. Qatar's fleet, now the largest dedicated gas tanker operation in the world, with some of the biggest LNG carriers under its flag, means that the country keeps earning from its natural reserves right up to the point of delivery.
With most of the world's economies expected to return to positive territory in the first half of 2010, and demand for gas draining off any excess of production, Qatar is well placed to ride the wave of its 2009 success into the new year and beyond.