The Hungarian economy is proceeding on a path indicated in the September 2017 forecast of GKI. Economic growth accelerates due to the surge in EU transfers as well as the increase in consumption driven by steadily rising wages due to the forthcoming elections and a shortage of labour. After 2.2 per cent in 2016, GDP will grow by 3.8 per cent both in 2017 and 2018. Although this rate is well above the EU average, it is one of the lowest in the CEE region, and no major changes can be expected in 2018 in this regard.
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.
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.
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.
GKI’s economic sentiment index was as high as now only once, namely in the summer of 1998, and the business confidence index has never been as high as now so far during its more than twenty years of history. Consumers are also very optimistic. However, this outstanding Hungarian optimism hardly exceeds the upper limit of the relatively narrow band characteristic of the last three years.