STU 04-98 : Special Topic - The accuracy of the FPB short-term economic forecasts since 1994 24/11/1998
The FPB is reassessing the state of the economy in 1998 and its possible evolution for 1999.
In 1998 the Belgian economy has continued to grow strongly and has moved into a “mature” phase of recovery with exports and investment no longer providing the engine for growth. Private consumption, fed mainly by employment growth, moderate real wage increases and high consumer confidence, took over their role. Employment growth remains impressive.
The outlook for the world economy for 1999 has deteriorated: the Asian crisis has widened and deepened and contagion effects have started to affect also Russia, Latin American countries and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Europe. World financial markets have shown extreme volatility. Continental European countries will be affected by the deterioration of the global economic performance and the weakening of the USD, but should nevertheless become the fastest growing area in the world.
Any forecast concerning Belgium is fragile in this context but it seems likely that the GDP-growth forecast for 1999 given in July (2.6%) is too optimistic. The Belgian economy might not be growing faster than 2.2% with significant downward risks on the domestic and international side.
Many uncertainties and downward risks regarding the international environment are linked, and, given the interdependencies in the global economy could trigger all the others and lead to a sharp deterioration in the overall economic situation.
Export growth should be significantly lower than in 1998 while private consumption should be less affected. Employment should still increase by 0.8% and the unemployment rate should further fall from 8.6% to 8.3% (Eurostat standardised definition).
In any case, consumption price inflation remains subdued at about 0.9% (1% for the “health” index). Wage increases will remain moderate, under the influence of the “wage norm”. Interest rates in Belgium drop in line with international rates. This should be a positive factor for domestic demand.
Short Term Update 04-98 (en),
Growth in Belgium in 1997 turned out significantly better than expected, but some weakening has occurred during the last quarter. The underlying trend in GDP growth should, however, confirm the 2.5% growth forecast for 1998.
The weakening in growth activity at the end of last year is to a large extent due to a significantly lower rate of growth for exports. As has been mentioned in other FPB-publications, the Asia crisis is having a dampening effect on the world and also the Belgian economy. The impact of the Asia crisis will mainly be felt in trade. Export growth will, therefore, continue to be negatively affected by slower growth in world trade. Price competitiveness has, on the other hand, improved considerably during the last two years. All in all, net exports should continue to make a positive contribution to GDP growth, but this contribution will be smaller than in 1997. As the effect of the Asia crisis is expected to be limited to 1998, some increase in growth is again expected in 1999 with GDP growth of 2.8%.
Domestic demand and particularly private consumption have continued to show a marked improvement. The consumer confidence index, strengthened by the creation of considerable employment opportunities, somewhat higher wage increases and good news concerning public finance, points to sustained consumer growth during the first quarters of 1998.
The medium-term outlook for Belgium points to an average growth rate of 2.6% over the next five years. But even with this rate of growth and moderate wage increases in accordance with the 1996 Framework Law, unemployment is likely to remain above the 1990 level. The growth in employment is estimated at around 0.75% per year and the supply of labour would increase by 0.2% per year.
The general government borrowing requirement should continue to show a gradual decrease and become a surplus from 2002 onwards in an “unchanged policy” scenario. The primary surplus should remain close to 6% from 1997 to 2000 and should increase again from then on. The debt ratio and interest burden are clearly decreasing.
Consumer price inflation should remain at 1.1% this year and show only a slight increase next year. If there are no external shocks and if wages continue to be constrained by the Competitiveness Law, there are few reasons why price stability should be threatened in future. Nominal interest rates should remain low.
Short Term Update 02-98 (en),
An improvement in the most recent economic indicators and a better outlook for the European economy have prompted the FPB to revise its growth forecasts. GDP is now expected to grow by 2.4% in 1997 and 2.7% in 1998, compared to the previous forecasts of 2.1% and 2.5% respectively.
Higher growth rates are forecast for domestic as well as external demand. The revision, however, is mainly based on external factors. Exporters are benefiting with a certain time lag from a stronger USD and UKP. The combined expected depreciation of the BEF over 1997-98 is now 4.5%. As it concerns essentially a depreciation of the currencies of the whole DEM-zone, not only Belgian exporters benefit from this, but the impact on the economies of the other continental European countries is also positive. This, in turn, improves market opportunities for Belgian exporters.
The recent import price increases are linked to the exchange rate evolution. Consumer price inflation, however, remains subdued and is expected to amount to 1.65% in 1997 and 1.7% in 1998. The recent and expected rises in short term interest rates on the European continent should not have a significant effect on economic activity.
There are a few small signs of an improving labour market. In 1998, employment should increase by 44,000, taking into account specific programmes targeting unemployed people. This should therefore lead to increased private consumption and higher tax receipts.
The macroeconomic impact of the 1998-Budget is small. The government deficit should be well below 3% of GDP in 1997 and 1998. The deficit figures of 2.5% and 2.3% for 1997 and 1998 respectively, announced by the FPB in April, should be achieved without difficulty. The expected economic growth and the measures set out in the 1998-Budget should even enable the deficit to be reduced further.
Short Term Update 02-97 (en),
Planning paper 67 (nl),