3% ANNUAL GROWTH IN WESTERN EUROPE OUTPUT GROWTH AT A TEN-YEAR HIGH IN TRANSITION ECONOMIES
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe releases its latest 1999 Economic Survey of Europe
Western Europe and North America
After the gloomy assessment of a year ago, the outlook for the ECE economies has improved in line with the generally better prospects for the world economy as a whole. For western Europe, however, the improvement is so far reflected more strongly in order books and industrial confidence than in actual performance. In the first half of 1999 real GDP rose by only some 1.5 per cent while industrial output remained sluggish. For the year as a whole, the UN/ECE now expects the increase in GDP to average 2.1 per cent in the European Union and just under 2 per cent in all of western Europe. (The difference between the two is largely due to the effect of the earthquakes on Turkey’s GDP). The overall picture contains large variations in the performance of individual countries, strong growth in many of the smaller economies contrasting with the more sluggish development in Germany and Italy. The available indicators show the west European economies to be gathering strength in the second half of 1999 and this is expected to continue next year. As a result of stronger growth in the four largest economies, west European growth in 2000 is now expected to average close to 3 per cent.
Growth in North America in 1999 has continued to be stronger than expected and now seems likely to average 3.8 per cent in 1999 for the second year running. A cyclical slowdown is forecast in the United States in 2000 but the deceleration is relatively mild with real GDP growth expected to be about the same as the west European average.
Although the downside risks to this outlook may be less than a year ago they are still significant. Despite many false warnings, there is still widespread fear of an abrupt adjustment in United States equity prices leading to a rapid and prolonged slowdown in domestic demand, a development which would also test the willingness of foreigners to continue financing the burgeoning and record United States trade deficit. Such a development could lead to a more severe tightening of United States monetary policy than currently envisaged with exchange rate consequences for western Europe and the rest of the world.
A key assumption of the optimistic scenario is that slower growth in the United States will be offset by faster growth in Japan and western Europe, a development which should help to correct the United States current account deficit. Current forecasts support this outlook, but the recovery in Japan is still fragile and in western Europe it is still in its early stage and therefore still vulnerable to setbacks and uncertainties over macro-economic policy stances. In the European Union a major concern is to avoid a premature tightening of monetary policy which would check the nascent recovery. Despite some reversal in last year’s dramatic fall in commodity prices, there is no reason to expect any significant acceleration in price increases and therefore no good reason for an increase in European interest rates. At the present time the monetary policy of the ECB might be expected to be giving greater attention to its other principal objective specified in the Treaty, namely, to support economic activity and employment in the euro area.
Central and eastern Europe and the CIS
In the course of 1999, economic expectations and the short-term outlook for the ECE transition economies have been unusually volatile and have undergone major changes and revisions. At the start of the year, the negative impact of the Russian crisis turned out to be much stronger than expected for a number of transition economies (notably the three Baltic states) which led to weaker expectations and downward revisions of forecasts. However, towards mid-year, and especially in the second half, output performance started to improve in many transition economies under the influence of the strengthening of the economic recovery in western Europe (whose favourable impact in terms of rising import demand has started to gain momentum). This has brought about a positive improvement of expectations and forecasts, at least in some of the transition economies.
In the Baltic states, the 1999 growth forecasts have been significantly lowered and despite some improvement in expectations since the summer, it is unlikely that the recent strengthening of output can offset the disastrous performance in the first half of the year. Thus while the earlier official forecasts for GDP growth in 1999 were in the range of 4-5 per cent in all three countries, by October they had been reduced to close to zero for Estonia and Lithuania and to 1 per cent for Latvia. Forecasts have been revised in a number of central European transition economies as well. Poland is unlikely to achieve the previously forecast 4.5 per cent rate of GDP growth in 1999 (the official projection has been lowered to 4 per cent), but there are clear signs of an improvement in economic performance after the very weak first quarter. Most observers agree that the Czech economy has turned the corner and that growth should strengthen in the second half of the year. By October, GDP growth in Slovakia and Slovenia was still expected to be in the range of 3-3.5 per cent, which represents only a slight reduction in earlier forecasts. Hungary will remain the fastest growing among the central European and Baltic economies in 1999, with a revised forecast of 4.5 per cent growth in GDP (slightly below the previously expected 5 per cent).
The Kosovo conflict was an unexpected negative shock for many transition economies, especially those in south-east Europe. Virtually all the south-east European transition economies have lowered their official forecasts in the course of 1999. GDP in a number of these economies (in particular Croatia, Bulgaria and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) is likely to stagnate in 1999 as a whole (or, at best, to show a marginal increase), while the official growth forecast for Romania (which had been negative before the conflict) was lowered still further. Although there are no reliable data on the current economic situation in Yugoslavia, all observers agree that the war delivered an exceptionally hard blow to the economy. The forecasts for 1999 vary widely, but all of them point to a deep fall in GDP ranging from 25 to 50 per cent as compared with 1998. The hardship now being borne by the population of Yugoslavia is already considerable and is set to worsen with the onset of winter.
On balance, the prevailing expectations in October 1999 were that output in the second half of the year would be stronger than in the first half, both in central Europe and in the Baltic states. If this expectation materializes, the growth of aggregate GDP in eastern Europe for the year as a whole could reach 1 per cent (combining a 3 per cent growth rate in central Europe with a 4.5 per cent fall in south-east Europe). As to the Baltic states, their aggregate GDP is likely to remain stagnant for the year as a whole.
The short-term outlook for the CIS countries is dominated by that for the Russian economy. While much uncertainty still surrounds the outlook for the Russian economy, the short-term prospects have improved considerably since the beginning of the year partly because of the marked rise in oil prices. The improvement is reflected in a series of upward revisions to the official 1999 growth forecasts. Thus, at the beginning of the year the official forecast was for a continued fall in GDP in 1999; by mid-October this had been revised to positive growth of 0.5-1.5 per cent. If the unexpectedly strong recovery of industrial output continues through the end of the year, it would not be unrealistic to expect the growth of Russian GDP to come close to the upper bound of this range. Thanks to the recovery in Russia, the short-term outlook for most of the CIS countries has also improved in the second half of 1999. In particular, the official forecasts for Ukraine have been raised and by October they envisaged that GDP would remain flat in 1999, in contrast to the beginning of the year when it was expected to fall in 1999. The one major exception to this general improvement is Kazakhstan where the forecast for GDP growth has been lowered to -1.5 per cent for the year as a whole, following the negative outcome in the first half of the year. All in all, by October the aggregate GDP of the CIS countries was being officially forecast to grow by some 1¼ per cent, which represents a major improvement on the earlier forecast of -1.1 per cent.
Positive expectations generally prevail in the official forecasts for the transition economies in 2000 as well. In virtually all the countries for which such forecasts are available, the authorities expect positive rates of GDP growth in 2000 and an acceleration as compared with 1999. If these expectations materialize, the growth of aggregate GDP in eastern Europe could reach some 3 per cent in 2000, that in the Baltic states might be in the range of 3.5-4 per cent, while the CIS countries could average some 2.5 per cent. These forecasts imply that GDP in the ECE transition economies as a whole would grow by some 2¾ per cent in 2000, an average rate of growth that has not yet been achieved during the past 10 years of economic transformation.
Further information can be obtained from:
Basic economic indicators for the ECE transition economies, 1997-2000
(Rates of change and shares, per cent)
|GDP (growth rates)||Industrial output |
|Inflation (per cent change, Dec./Dec.)||Unemployment rate |
(end of period, per cent)
|1997||1998||April official forecast||Jan.-Jun. actual||October official forecast||2000 official forecast||1997||1998||Jan.-Jun. 1999||1997||1998||1999 a||1997||1998||Jun. 1999|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina b||..||..||..||..||18||..||35.7||23.8||9.6||12.2||2.2||-1.6||39*||38.5||39.0|
|The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia||1.5||2.9||6||..||1-2||..||1.6||4.5||-9.7||4.5||-1.0||..||42*||..||..|
|Republic of Moldova d||1.6||-8.6||-3||-5.3||(-2-3)||2||–||-11.0||-25.2||11.1||18.2||42.8||1.7||1.9||2.3|
Source: National statistics; CIS Statistical Committee; direct communications from national statistical offices to UN/ECE secretariat.
Note: Aggregates are UN/ECE secretariat calculations, using PPPs obtained from the 1996 European Comparison Programme. Output measures are in real terms (constant prices). Forecasts are those of national conjunctural institutes or government forecasts associated with the central budget formulation. Industrial output refers to gross output, not the contribution of industry to GDP. Inflation refers to changes in the consumer price index. Unemployment generally refers to registered unemployment at the end of the period (with the exceptions of the Russian Federation, where it is the Goskomstat estimate according to the ILO definition, and Estonia where it refers to job seekers). Aggregates shown are: Eastern Europe (the 12 countries below that line), with sub-aggregates CETE-5 (central European transition economies: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) and SETE-7 (south European transition economies: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Yugoslavia); Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania); and CIS (12 member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States).
a June 1999 over June 1998.
b Data reported by the Statistical Office of the Federation; these exclude the area of Republika Srpska.
c Gross material product instead of GDP.
d Excluding Transdniestria.
International trade and external balances of the ECE transition economies, 1997-1999
(Rates of change and shares, per cent)
|Merchandise exports in dollars (growth rates)||Merchandise imports in dollars (growth rates)||Trade balances (per cent of GDP)||Current account (per cent of GDP)|
|1997||1998||1999 a||1997||1998||1999 a||1997||1998||1999 a||1997||1998||1999 a|
|Eastern Europe b||6.6||9.4||-4.5||6.4||9.2||-5.6||-10.3||-10.0||-9.5||-4.3||-4.6||-5.6|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||232.1||134.5||22.6||29.2||30.2||-18.8||-40.8||-38.4||-26.2||-31.7||-26.8||-37.1 c|
|The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia||2.8||11.0||-19.1||7.8||9.0||-22.2||-15.5||-17.0||-6.7||-7.5||-8.2||-2.3|
|Armenia c||-11.9||-12.9||30.9||4.5||13.2||-7.0||-27.9||-29.1||-32.0||-27.9||-26.5||-37.7 d|
|Republic of Moldova||5.9||-23.9||3.2||35.0||3.0||-60.1||-15.6||-23.2||-11.6||-13.9||-20.4||-2.5|
|Total above b||4.8||-0.6||-5.2||10.7||3.3||-14.9||-1.4||-2.4||-0.3||-2.1||-3.2||..|
Source: National statistics; CIS Statistical Committee; direct communications from national statistical offices to UN/ECE secretariat; IMF; UN/ECE secretariat calculations.
Note: Foreign trade growth is measured in current dollar values. Trade and current account balances are related to GDP at current prices, converted from national currencies at current dollar exchange rates. Trade values include the "new trade" among the successor states of former Czechoslovakia and the former SFR of Yugoslavia, but not intra-CIS trade. Current-price GDP values for the first half of 1999 are in some cases estimated from reported real growth rates and consumer price indices. On regional aggregates, see the note to table 1.2.1.
b Aggregates of current account balances exclude Bosnia and Herzegovina and Yugoslavia.
c Current account excludes official transfers.
d January-March 1999.
e Growth rates for 1998 and 1999 are based respectively on CIS Statistical Committee estimates for merchandise trade values in 1998 and on TACIS estimates for January-June 1998 and 1999.
Foreign trade of the ECE transition economies by direction, 1997-1999
(Value in billion dollars, growth rates in per cent) a
|Value||Growth rates||Value||Growth rates|
|Country or country group b||1998||1997||1998||1999 c||1998||1997||1998||1999 c|
|Eastern Europe, to and from: d|
|ECE transition economies||26.2||6.6||-5.2||-26.3||28.8||-0.1||-3.8||-14.1|
|Eastern Europe e||16.2||2.2||2.9||-10.9||13.8||3.3||5.3||-6.9|
|Developed market economies||79.9||6.8||17.0||5.2||107.4||7.5||13.5||-0.6|
|Baltic states, to and from:|
|ECE transition economies||3.7||19.1||-13.1||-42.5||4.3||14.9||-2.9||-17.2|
|Developed market economies||4.7||26.5||21.0||8.5||8.6||32.8||13.7||-17.4|
|Russian Federation, to and from:|
|ECE transition economies||10.4||6.0||-21.9||-17.8||3.9||34.4||-27.7||-60.6|
|Developed market economies||34.6||-0.2||-13.8||-9.0||22.0||24.1||-17.0||-44.2|
|Other CIS economies, to and from:|
|ECE transition economies, to and from:|
Source: National statistics and direct communications from national statistical offices to UN/ECE secretariat; for the Russian Federation, State Customs Committee data; for other CIS economies, CIS Interstate Statistical Committee data.
Note: There were changes in the methodology of foreign trade reporting in several transition economies in 1996-1998. Starting 1998, Slovakia reports foreign trade flows according to the new methodology (including imports for inward processing and exports after processing). The Czech Republic has recently revised its export and import figures back to 1994; however, these revisions are not reflected in the east European aggregate above because the revised data by destination are not yet available. For details on changes prior to 1998 see UN/ECE, Economic Bulletin for Europe, Vol. 48 (1996) and Vol. 49 (1997).
a Growth rates are calculated in dollar values.
b "Eastern Europe" refers to Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. For lack of adequate data, the trade of Bosnia and Herzegovina, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Yugoslavia is not covered. The partner country grouping has been revised recently (subsequent changes back to 1980 were made also in appendix table B.13) following the changes in the national statistical sources. Thus, the earlier reported "Transition economies" group is now replaced by "ECE transition economies", which covers the east European countries, including the successor states of the former SFR of Yugoslavia, the Baltic states and the CIS. "Developed market economies" excludes Turkey and includes Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
c January-June over same period of 1998.
d Revisions for Czech Republic included; 1998 value and growth rates include Polish figures according to the previous customs declaration system.
e Including Bosnia and Herzegovina, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Yugoslavia.
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