Friday, February 23, 2018

Bulgarian Economy - Growth has been on an upward trend and is estimated to reach 3.8 percent in 2017 and 2018 - Report IMF

Press Release - February 22, 2018 - Bulgaria: IMF Executive Board Concludes the 2017 Article IV Consultation

On February 14, 2018, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation [1] with Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian economy is performing well. Growth has been on an upward trend and is estimated to reach 3.8 percent in 2017 and 2018, driven by strong exports, easier financial conditions, and growing confidence. The current account remained in surplus in 2017, despite rapid wage growth. The economy shows signs of a closing output gap. Headline inflation turned positive in 2017 and inflationary pressure is rising. The unemployment rate has declined to 5.8 percent, the lowest level since the global financial crisis. Fiscal outcomes have been stronger than budgeted in recent years – a surplus of 0.8 percent of GDP is estimated for 2017 – reflecting mainly revenue overperformance and under-execution of capital spending.

The main challenge is to translate this recent recovery into sustained and inclusive growth and convergence with other EU countries. Bulgaria’s per capita income is only half of the EU average and income inequality is higher than EU average. Growth is projected to moderate to 2¾ percent over the medium, reflecting capacity constraints and unfavorable demographics. Public debt is low, but contingent liabilities and long-term fiscal pressures from demographic challenges could pose fiscal risks over the long run.

Advancing governance reform and improving efficiency of public institutions at all levels remain key to raise potential growth and contain fiscal risks. Reform priorities include improving public infrastructure, enhancing quality of and access to education and healthcare, addressing skill mismatches in the labor market, and strengthening management and oversight of state-owned enterprises. The banking system is resilient, but NPLs remain well above the EU average and two of the banks identified by the asset quality review and stress test still require larger capital buffers.

Executive Board Assessment [2]

Executive Directors agreed with the thrust of the staff appraisal. They welcomed Bulgaria’s strong macroeconomic performance and commended the authorities for their prudent policy management. Directors noted that despite the significant progress, challenges remain. They encouraged the authorities to use the current supportive economic environment to focus on improving public goods provision, addressing the fiscal challenges posed by unfavorable demographic prospects, and strengthening governance and labor markets to accelerate income convergence to EU levels.

Directors welcomed the current fiscal policy stance and considered the authorities’ budget deficit target for 2018 to be appropriate, given the need for more public investment. They also endorsed the plan to balance the budget over the medium term. Directors generally agreed that saving revenue overperformance would help avoid adding excessive fiscal stimulus and build fiscal buffers. A number of Directors emphasized that fiscal consolidation should be growth friendly and uphold the much‑needed capital as well as social spending. Directors underscored the importance of enhancing spending efficiency and effectiveness, including for EU funds. They noted the need for continued attention to fiscal challenges related to population aging.

Directors commended the efforts to strengthen financial supervision. They welcomed the implementation of the FSAP recommendations and the work underway to operationalize the new crisis management arrangements. They welcomed the improved governance structure at the Bulgarian National Bank and encouraged effective implementation. Directors encouraged the authorities to complete other ongoing work, including addressing concentration and related party risks and introducing a comprehensive strategy for NPL reduction. Progress on these fronts will further strengthen financial stability and support better governance. Credible new investment should be finalized promptly for two banks which have been identified as needing larger capital buffers, while meeting the regulatory capital requirement.

Directors emphasized that structural reforms aimed at improving the quality of education and health, enhancing oversight and performance of state‑owned enterprises, and strengthening governance are critical to boost productivity and competitiveness, and promote sustained inclusive growth. In this regard, they agreed that more equitable access to education and better targeting of active labor market policies will be important. Directors welcomed recent reforms to improve the judiciary and the fight against corruption, and highlighted that further efforts in this area will create an environment more conducive to private investment.

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