HEADLINES BELGIAN ECONOMY - MARCH 2006
In the wake of the economic recovery in Europe, Belgian GDP growth rose gradually from 0.1% in the first quarter to 0.6% in the last quarter of 2005. Quarterly growth should stabilise at 0.6% during the first half of 2006 and remain higher than 0.5% during the second half of the year. On a yearly basis, GDP growth should strengthen from 1.5% last year to 2.2% in 2006.
This year, net exports as well as domestic demand should contribute positively to economic growth. Due to the European recovery, Belgian export growth will strengthen to 4.7%. The current account surplus, however, will increase very little as a result of the high oil prices, which will lead to a negative evolution in the terms of trade. Domestic demand will grow at a slower pace as business investment will weaken somewhat after a significant catch-up and some exceptional purchases in 2005. This slow-down will be partially compensated for by stronger public expenditure – in consumption and investment – as well as stronger private consumption. Consumer expenditure should accelerate to 1.6% as household disposable income is underpinned by employment growth and personal income tax cuts.
After a net gain of 38,600 persons last year, employment is expected to record an average annual rise of 41,100 persons in 2006. The number of jobs is growing faster than the labour force, which should slightly reduce the unemployment rate (broad administrative statistics) from 14.3% last year to 14.1% in 2006. The ‘harmonised’ unemployment rate (Eurostat definition) should decline from 8.4% last year to 8.3% in 2006.
Inflation should fall markedly in 2006 compared to 2005 due to a limited rise in unit wage costs and the fading of the effects of higher oil prices. The inflation picture is somewhat blurred by the persistent deterioration in the terms of trade and by the introduction of a new price index. The private consump-tion deflator should increase by 2.3%, the GDP deflator by 1.9% and the national index of consumer prices by 1.8%.