As in many Gulf countries, oil rents were used by Azeri elites and oligarchs to boost their real estate projects and their business interests in the construction and services industries.
The plan of modernization articulated and pursued by the Baku government was remarkably similar to the one embraced by the Gulf states, which included a vision in which the state would facilitate turning Baku into a modern metropolis and a major transportation hub with high-rise buildings, modern shopping malls, luxury boutiques and techno-parks, all of which would presumably provide the state with sufficient fiscal revenue when it runs out of oil in 15 to 20 years.
The unusually long period of high oil prices between 2004 to mid-2014 provided a conducive environment to realize this vision.
The way Azerbaijan has been consuming and investing its oil earnings follows a “recycling of petrodollars” model.
This activity refers to the inward and outward flows of dollar-denominated oil proceeds between oil-exporting countries and the rest of the world.
Azerbaijan’s SOFAZ was another channel to recycle petrodollars through both budget transfers and the acquisition of foreign capital assets.
The foreign assets of SOFAZ include fixed income, bonds, equities, gold, and real estate.
Spending on a few, but capital-heavy, infrastructure projects had the advantage over human-capital intensive projects in that it avoided the dispersal of capital outside the core elite, allowed for the feeding (and appeasement) of competing patronage networks, and enabled a more controlled process of petrodollar recycling.
The unintended consequences, however, are rising youth unemployment and a “youth bulge” that might eventually burst because the closed political system lacks the safety valves necessary to release demographic pressures.
According to official statistics, the share of agriculture in the GDP fell from 16 percent in 2000 to 9 percent in 2005 and to 6.2 percent in 2015 while the share of non-tradeable construction almost doubled from 6.5 percent in 2000 to 12 percent in 2015.
Light industry (textiles, processing of foodstuffs) suffered as well due to outdated equipment and insufficient investment.
(PONARS Policy Memo)The oil price shock that began in mid-2014 has continued to reverberate in Azerbaijan, sending the economy into deep recession and negative real GDP growth rate (-2.4 percent in 2016).
Declining volumes of oil production, which peaked at 1 million barrels a day (b/d) in 2010, and impending depletion of petroleum reserves over the next 15-20 years, alerted the government of the need to boost the non-oil sectors of the economy. The former is when externally generated oil surpluses are “sunk” into local real estate and infrastructural development projects, which then discourages movement of capital into non-oil sectors.
It would have helped had a portion of funding gone to agriculture, which would have vastly dispersed wealth outside of the elite-centered money-recycling network.