This has been a good year for Kazakhstan’s National Fund, in large part due to the resurgence in the price of oil. Over the first nine months of 2018, payments to the government’s rainy-day piggy bank rose by 52 percent year-on-year in local currency terms, the Kazakhstan Finance Association reported on October 4, citing Finance Ministry data.
Without accounting for returns on investments, more than 2 trillion tenge ($5.8 billion) had been deposited on the National Fund.
It is not only oil prices that have been growing. Natural gas is generating considerable revenue too. In the first seven months of 2018, Kazakhstan earned $1 billion from gas sales, a rise of 25 percent year-on-year, according to the Energyprom monitoring agency, which uses data from the National Economy Ministry.
The main importer was China, who bought five times the amount of Kazakh gas over this seven-month period as it had the year before. The revenue generated increased eight-fold — an indication of the ways in which prices have increased.
Kazakhstan is expecting more of the same in the coming years.
On October 1, the Energy Ministry announced that the settlement of a long-standing dispute with partners in the production-sharing agreement on the Karachaganak gas condensate project will see the government receive $1.1 billion upfront and earn a greater portion of the profits in future.
Some of the good news is sleight of hand, however. The nominal rise in income to the National Fund was made possible by the 15 percent devaluation of the tenge since the beginning of 2018.
And the socio-economic data also slightly spoils this rosy picture.
Household gas has become 9 percent more expensive over this past year — an unpleasant surprise for the large section of the population that has seen little personal benefit from the headline news on economic growth. The International Monetary Fund has forecast 3.7 percent growth in Kazakhstan’s economy this year, followed by 3.1 percent growth in 2019.
And yet, the devaluation of the tenge and the concomitant rise in prices has diminished buying power by 1 percent, while 2.4 percent of the population has incomes below the $78 subsistence minimum, Finprom think tank has reported, citing National Economy Ministry figures.
The private sector is feeling the pain from diminished buying power. Halyk Finance, an investment bank, recently noted that “the occasional devaluations are pushing businesses back by years, leading to a surge in bankruptcies or causing a freeze in business activity because of a high level of macroeconomic uncertainty. Ultimately, problems are mounting at banks in the form of bad credit.”
The bigger picture suggests the government needs to work harder on ensuring the renewed good times are spread broadly and evenly. Failure on this front will sour moods further.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.