Growth faster than expected but slowing down

Although the Hungarian economy grew faster than expected and most EU member states in the second quarter of 2018, its growth rate calculated by the EU methodology has been slowing down for six months. According to market forecasts, GDP growth will exceed 4 per cent in 2018 (GKI upgraded its forecast to 4.2 per cent). It will fall to nearly 3 per cent next year, which would be among the lowest in the CEE region where the decline will be more moderate. The rate of increase in investments financed by EU transfers and in household consumption, boosted by the elections as well, is expected to slow down during the rest of the year. There is growing uncertainty and slowdown in the EU, due to, for example, the Turkish and the Italian situation, the threat of a trade war and the Fed’s interest rate rises.

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Hungarian economic growth probably reached its apex

The Hungarian economy grew by 4.4 per cent in both the last quarter of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018. A growth rate faster than this was registered only once in the past decade. This is the fourth or fifth highest rate in the CEE region, and Hungary is likely to be at the peak of its current business cycle. The rate of increase in investments financed by EU transfers and in household consumption, boosted by the elections as well, is expected to slow down during the rest of the year. In addition, external demand is expected to deteriorate rather than grow further.

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Hungary’s economic policy goals and the room of manoeuvring for the economy after the elections

The Hungarian economy grew by 4.4 per cent in both the last quarter of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018. A growth rate faster than this was registered only once in the past decade. This is the fourth or fifth highest rate in the CEE region, and Hungary is likely to be at the peak of its current business cycle. The rate of increase in investments financed by EU transfers and in household consumption, boosted by the elections as well, is expected to slow down during the rest of the year. In addition, external demand is expected to deteriorate rather than grow further. However, based on the better than expected figures of the first quarter, GKI raised its GDP forecast for 2018 to 4 per cent from 3.8 per cent and its consumption forecast to 4.5 per cent from 4 per cent. GKI raised its inflation projection to 3 per cent due to the rise in world oil prices and lowered the expected general government deficit to 2.2 per cent of GDP as a result of a shift in the government’s economic policy.

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Consumption of households grows rapidly this year as well

As GDP, earnings and consumption grew faster than previously thought, GKI raised its 2018 GDP growth forecast from 3.8 per cent to 4 per cent. Although the foreign trade surplus is decreasing due to the rapid rise in domestic consumption, the external balance will continue to improve as a result of mounting EU transfers. Owing to the substantial advance payments from the general government necessary for accelerating EU transfers, the general government deficit in cash flow terms will be high and the decline in government debt will be modest. The EU is expecting an adjustment from the Hungarian government due to a high deficit compared to the favourable economic situation. Although the risk of escalating global trade war has declined, the Iranian, Turkish, and Italian situations have already had negative effects on energy prices and exchange rates.

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For the time being, GDP growth is relatively fast

Being at the helm for eight years, Fidesz-KDNP won a two-thirds majority in the parliamentary elections again on April 8th. This is expected to entail a stronger establishment of the one-centred Hungarian political model than before. The continued deterioration of competitiveness, the deepening conflicts with the EU and the uncertain decline in EU transfers after 2020 pose great challenges to the sustainability of this policy. The idea of drastically stimulating corporate and retail borrowing instead of strengthening competitive market conditions seems to be a new problem rather than a solution. However, the GDP growth rate may be close to 4 per cent in 2018.

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