Kazakhstan Economy Probably Expanded at Slowest Pace Since 2009

Kazakhstan’s economy probably grew at the slowest pace in more than two years as deteriorating global demand eroded sales of its commodities exports.

Gross domestic product expanded 5.2 percent in the first half from a year earlier, down from a 5.6 percent advance in the first quarter, according to the median estimate of three economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The State Statistics Agency in Astana is scheduled to release GDP figures by Aug. 16.

Slowing economic growth in China and Russia, Kazakhstan’s largest trade partners, and the deepening European debt crisis are testing the resilience of the biggest energy producer in central Asia. The government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev is counting on domestic consumption to balance shrinking export revenue as it targets growth of about 7 percent this year and seeks to safeguard that pace of expansion until 2015.

“With weak external demand likely to exert a significant drag on industrial output, and a weaker projected agricultural harvest, GDP dynamics are likely to moderate,” Vladimir Tikhomirov and Polina Badasen, analysts at Moscow-based Otkritie Financial Corp. said in a report. “The Kazakh economy is reasonably well positioned for withstanding a global economic slowdown, as domestic consumer demand should remain robust.”

Kazakh industrial output unexpectedly shrank in July for a second month as production of metals slumped, dropping 0.5 percent from a year earlier after a 1.7 percent decrease in June. Production fell 3.5 percent in July on a monthly basis.

Kazakhstan doesn’t have outstanding foreign-currency bonds after redeeming its last notes in 2007, so investors speculate on its creditworthiness by trading credit-default swaps. The cost of protecting Kazakh debt against nonpayment for five years using CDS dropped 118 basis points from this year’s high in January to 199 in London yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Metals Slump

An industry slowdown is a drag on the broader economy even as the country’s oil output remains stable, said Sara Alpysbayeva, head of the Astana-based macroeconomic and applied mathematics center at the Institute of Economic Studies. The rate of growth in the metals and mining industry is easing, she said.

Prices of the country’s main exports such as crude oil, copper and zinc in June retreated by an average 4.7 percent from May, dropping by 7.6 percent from a year earlier, statistics agency data show. The Kazakh unit of ArcelorMittal said output was “worse than expected” in the second quarter as production of liquid and rolled-steel products shrank.

Oil, Uranium

With a population of less than 17 million, Kazakhstan’s reserves of oil, coal, uranium and other raw materials rank it among the world’s best-endowed nations, according to Troika Dialog. Its mineral wealth is equivalent to about $300,000 per capita, twice the level of Russia and more than Australia, Troika estimates. Kazakhstan holds about 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves according to BP Plc.

The International Monetary Fund estimates Kazakhstan’s economy will gain 5.9 percent in 2012 and 6 percent the following year, surpassing the pace of growth in emerging markets as a group, according to its World Economic Outlook released July 16. The Economic Development and Trade Ministry in February downgraded its projection for GDP growth this year to 6 percent, from the previous 6.9 percent forecast.

The Kazakh central bank this month reduced it benchmark refinancing rate for a fourth time this year, following emerging economies from Brazil to India in lowering borrowing costs. The rate was cut to a record 5.5 percent after inflation eased for a second month, bringing price growth further below the regulator’s target range of 6 percent to 8 percent.

Strong Recovery

The IMF praised Kazakh authorities for policies that “yielded a strong economic recovery and helped rebuild external buffers,” according to a June 22 report.

The lender’s “directors appreciated the preparation of plans to deal with a possible protracted global slowdown and a decline in oil prices,” the IMF said. “Macroeconomic policy making would benefit from improved medium-term frameworks and policy coordination.”

The second-largest oil producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia was upgraded one step to BBB at Fitch Ratings in November with a positive outlook. The move followed Standard & Poor’s decision the same month month to boost Kazakhstan’s debt rating to BBB+, the third-lowest investment grade, pushing it ahead of Russia. S&P said the rating had a stable outlook.

“Despite the uncertainty in the world economy and on external markets, Kazakhstan’s economic development shows positive dynamics,” Nazarbayev said at a July 13 government meeting in the capital, Astana.

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