In 2008Q4, the financial crisis and the recession faced by the main trading partners took their toll and caused Belgian GDP to fall by 1.3% qoq. According to our February forecast, Belgian economic activity should continue to contract in the course of 2009 and only stabilise in the fourth quarter. As a consequence, Belgian GDP is projected to fall by 1.9% in 2009, after an increase of 1.1% in 2008. Despite the considerable downward revision of Belgian GDP growth for 2009 (last September a positive economic growth of 1.2% was forecast), the uncertainty surrounding this forecast remains exceptionally large and downside risks are likely to be greater than upside risks.
Belgian exports should fall by 4.6% this year, after an increase of 2.2% in 2008. Imports should decrease less than exports. Despite the drop in oil prices and the appreciation of the euro, the current account balance should remain negative and reach -1.8% of GDP in 2009.
In 2008, private consumption increased by 0.9%. The negative growth of private consumption in 2009 (-0.4%) is mainly due to historically low consumer confidence and negative wealth effects caused by the drop in asset prices. This should lead to a strong rise in the households' savings rate (up to 15.8%). Worsened demand prospects, the decline in business profitability, falling capacity utilisation rates and tightened lending conditions should exert a drag on business investment in 2009, which should fall by 4.6%. Household investment growth should also turn negative in 2009 (-1.6%), although this contraction will be mitigated somewhat by a temporary VAT reduction. Only public consumption and public investment growth rates are expected to remain positive.
This year, an average (net) loss of 24 700 jobs should be registered. Job losses in the course of 2009 will be far worse than appears from the annual averages: in 2009Q4, employment should be 59 100 persons lower than in 2008Q4. The harmonised Eurostat unemployment rate (which is based on labour force surveys) is expected to reach 8.2% in 2009, compared to 7.1% in 2008.
Despite high underlying inflation during the first half of 2009, total inflation, as measured by the yoy increase in the national index of consumer prices, should continue to decrease and even become slightly negative during summer. [...]