Trends are favourable in the short term

Trends in the Hungarian economy of the first half of the year have continued in the past few months, and no substantial changes can be expected until mid-2018. Owing to the surge of EU transfers and their budgetary advance payments as well as the pre-election demand boost, the economic growth rate reached 3.8 per cent, which is above the EU average but it is among the lowest in the CEE region. Although GDP growth is driven by investments, consumption is also rising fast. Although external and internal equilibria deteriorate slightly, and inflation accelerates, this is not a problem for the time being. The trends are favourable in the short term; however, long-term solutions are still missing.

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Forecast for 2017-2018

Following the continuous spectacular expansion in investments in the second quarter of 2017, GKI raised its GDP forecast for 2017 from 3.5 per cent to 3.8 per cent, and it expects a similar growth rate for 2018 as well. This is a significant acceleration compared to the 2 per cent rate in 2016, driven by the renewed inflow of EU transfers and the pre-election demand boost. At the same time, although the Hungarian growth rate is far above the EU average, it is only very modest in the CEE region. The close to 4 per cent GDP growth, the around 3.5 per cent consumption and the 20 per cent and 9 per cent growth rates of investments in 2017 and 2018 are very favourable indicators in themselves; however, they are unsustainable in the Hungarian model without EU transfers. The government will soon have to decide on the revision of its European policy, including its accession to the euro area, providing that it does not want to end up on the EU’s periphery, on a disadvantageous economic trajectory leaving to relative decline.

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Budgetary advance payment of EU transfers increased sharply

In Hungary, the faster than expected GDP growth in the first quarter of 2017 was followed by a slight slowdown in April and a pick-up in May. GDP growth is expected to accelerate to around 3.5 per cent in 2017 from 2 per cent in 2016, primarily as a result of investments rising this year, whereas they declined last year. Although external and internal equilibria will deteriorate slightly in 2017, and inflation will accelerate, these trends are acceptable in the short term.

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Forecast for 2017

The Hungarian economy grew by 4.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2017, by a rate not foreseen by anybody. A growth rate higher than this one has been recorded only once since 2007. This high rate was due in part to the low base. The Hungarian growth rate was much higher than the EU average; however, it was not outstanding in the CEE region. The growth rate in Romania and Slovenia was more than 1 percentage point higher than in Hungary, and the economic growth of Poland and the three Baltic countries was also more dynamic. Data indicate a deterioration in Hungary in April, and the fall in the performance of agriculture will be significant in 2017. The growth rate of consumption is expected to accelerate in 2017, whereas a sharp slowdown in investments can be anticipated. Therefore, GKI raised its growth forecast for 2017 from 3.2 per cent to only 3.5 per cent, although it is possible that the rate will be slightly higher. Although external and internal equilibria will deteriorate slightly, and inflation will accelerate, these trends are acceptable in the short term. It is important for the medium-term course of the Hungarian economy that after the German elections the deepening of the integration of countries willing to work in close cooperation will be on the agenda in the EU. This can push Hungary to the periphery of the EU. At the same time, Hungary will less likely be able to rely on EU transfers of crucial importance.

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Growth faster than expected

In the first quarter of 2017, Hungarian GDP expanded by 4.1 per cent, faster than expected. Therefore, GKI revised its growth forecast upwards to an annual growth rate of at least 3.5 per cent before gaining detailed data. Construction and industry grew faster than previously thought, whereas the growth rate of trade was slower. This is particularly surprising in the light of extremely fast increase in wages.

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