Economic projections for Belgium – Autumn 2009
Since the previous forecasts, there have been increasing signs of recovery, in the wake of the most severe recession suffered by the global economy in the last sixty years. Indicators show that confidence has returned since the spring, against a backdrop of easing financial tension, while industrial production and trade have both increased slightly worldwide. Doubts still remain, however, as to the sustainability of the recovery. This recovery has, in fact, largely been driven by budgetary and monetary policy stimulus, along with movements in inventories, the effects of which are temporary. In contrast, unemployment is likely to increase further in most of the advanced economies, with investment remaining low, and this will restrict growth in 2010. In Belgium, the sheer scale of the GDP decline at the end of 2008 and the start of 2009 was historic. However, GDP did rise by 0.5 p.c. in the third quarter, and a revival in business cycle indicators suggests that the economy should continue to grow. The growth rate will remain low, however, given the absence of any vigorous recovery in foreign demand and the anticipated weakness of investment and private consumption, against the backdrop of a deteriorating labour market. GDP is thus set to contract by 3.1 p.c. on average in 2009, before growing by 1 p.c. in 2010. The labour market initially showed a certain degree of resilience in the face of the severe contraction in activity. Job losses and increasing unemployment were contained by the massive use of temporary lay-offs and other methods of reducing working hours. They were also cushioned by a significant drop in company productivity. Employment is likely to fall by 118,000 units between the end of 2008 and the end of 2010. As an annual average, net job losses are forecast at 27,000 and 64,000 persons respectively in 2009 and 2010. The unemployment rate is set to rise from 7 p.c. in 2008 to 9 p.c. in 2010. The deterioration in labour market conditions is expected to result in wage growth moderation. The combination of a severe financial crisis and a generalised decline in economic activity significantly affected both consumers and businesses in 2009. With the exception of public sector consumption and investment, all the main expenditure categories affected GDP negatively. Businesses had to face the synchronised collapse of most foreign markets, with exports contracting by more than 12 p.c. In addition, inventories were reduced significantly. Finally, businesses are likely to cut their investments, due to the unprecedented decline in their capacity utilisation rate in particular, along with modest demand prospects. Consumers are also likely to reign in their expenditure significantly in 2009, both in terms of consumption and investment in housing. This behaviour is largely an expression of great restraint in the face of uncertain prospects for jobs or future incomes. In 2010, the modest recovery in growth is likely to be based on a slight increase in private consumption and exports, and on a turnaround in inventory movements. Private investment adjustment is, however, likely to continue. As in the euro area, inflation in Belgium eased rapidly over the course of 2009, even turning negative from May to November, as a consequence of the significant fall in energy prices in comparison with the previous year. Due to the recent increase in international oil quotations, inflation is expected to return to positive figures at the end of 2009, though remaining low, owing to the rapid attenuation of pressure from import prices and wages. In all, as an annual average, inflation is expected to be 0 p.c. in 2009 and 1.6 p.c. in 2010. In the macroeconomic context depicted above, and in the light of the measures approved by the authorities, e.g. in the budgetary context, the public deficit is expected to reach 6.1 p.c. of GDP in 2009 and 5.4 p.c. in 2010, if there is no change in policy. In 2009 and 2010, the general government debt is expected to record a further sharp rise, though the increase should be slightly lower than the average for the euro area, rising from 89.8 p.c. of GDP in 2008 to 98.1 p.c. in 2009 and 102 p.c. in 2010.
Volume (Year): (2009)
Issue (Month): IV (December)
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