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Five outrageous Middle East predictions for 2024

Pure madness or real possibilities? You decide

A pumpjack brings oil to the surface in a US shale field. Could a Gulf company invest in US shale in the year ahead? Reuters
Dragon Oil will enable the transfer of new technology in Turkmenistan’s oil sector while making technical and financial investments to develop the fields

It’s that time of year when media commentators rub down our crystal balls and peer into the future to try to predict what lies ahead in the coming 12 months.

The business of prognostication is increasingly competitive. In the good old days, the “Year Ahead” column in a newspaper was the sober responsibility of the leader-writing team, who carefully weighed probabilities and variables to make their insightful forecasts.

Now, anyone can have a crack at it.

Out of the many that do, my two favourites are from the Financial Times and Saxo Bank.

The FT takes it seriously, posing the big 20 imponderables of the year ahead and assigning their best specialist correspondent to each for an answer. Readers are invited to compete, with the promise of glory 12 months down the line if they score better than the FT brains.

The most notable prediction from the FT, in my view, came from Ed Luce, their chief US commentator, who predicted that Donald Trump would not win the 2024 presidential election. Contracyclical, or wishful thinking?

Saxo takes a completely different stance with its “outrageous predictions” feature – wacky forecasts that are not unbelievable, maybe even possible, but not very likely.

The best this year was that Saudi Arabia, buoyed by oil at $150 a barrel, would create a football World Champions League, after buying the Uefa franchise.

Nice idea, but I’m not sure which is more unlikely: the football deal, or crude at $150.

In a similar vein, I offer my five outrageous predictions for the Middle East in 2024. Remember, you read it here first …

A Gulf oil company will try to buy a major US shale producer

I know, it sounds like coals to Newcastle but there is a strategic logic. Opec+, the oil producers’ alliance led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, is currently cutting like crazy in order to keep oil prices at a reasonable level, while the USA is producing more crude than at any time in its history. If Saudi Aramco or Adnoc were to control a large chunk of US shale it could serve as a counterweight to that surge. I’m not sure the US regulators would like it though.

The dollar peg will begin to unravel

The GCC is committed to “Gulf economic unity” in 2025, and what better way to signal serious intent than by adopting a unified currency that does away with the historic peg to the US dollar? Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have begun to loosen ties to the greenback with swaps and oil payment arrangements in other currencies. This is the time for the GCC to bite the bullet on the dollar peg.

The stock exchanges of Dubai and Abu Dhabi will finally merge

This proposition – which I have annually made with unwavering confidence – has made sense every year for the past 15 and has been analysed and explored in detail on a regular basis but always abandoned for one reason or another. Now, with UAE markets under increasing challenge from Riyadh, it is even more logical to push through the unification, regardless of egos in the two financial centres. I feel 2024 is my lucky year in this respect.

Saudi Arabia will finally arrive in Hollywood

The kingdom’s big sovereign investor, the Public Investment Fund, has dabbled in the US entertainment scene, taking stakes in some of the big players in Hollywood, sports and video gaming. But 2024 will see the PIF make an all-out bid for an American icon. My Los Angeles sources tell me the Saudis would be more welcome now than at any time since 2018. An injection of Riyadh cash into a big movie production company would be the perfect complement to the kingdom’s growing ambitions in the film business. And it would cause less of a regulatory stink than the oil deal in my first prediction.

I will depart the Middle East

… and retire to an idyllic cottage nestling between the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast of Ireland, there to commence the four-volume collection of memoirs I have been planning for the past 18 years.

OK, only joking on that last one.

Frank Kane is Editor-at-Large of AGBI and an award-winning business journalist. He also acts as a consultant to the Ministry of Energy of Saudi Arabia

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