National Bank of Romania: Which are the main structural vulnerabilities of Romania?

The National Bank of Romania detected some main structural vulnerabilities of Romania at this moment, with the uncertainty in the world banking sector and the war in Ukraine still topping the list. Delays in enforcing reforms and in absorbing EU funds come next, along with the deterioration of human capital and the low level of education of the population, say the latest Financial Stability Report.
“Risks to financial stability have seen mixed developments since the previous Report, in an economic and financial environment rife with uncertainty. A slight improvement was observed in the first part of the period under review, due to better consumer sentiment, lower food and energy prices, and the recovery of economic activity in China after the most recent wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the turmoil in the international banking sector, which started in March 2023, pushed investor risk aversion sharply higher. Moreover, uncertainty about the consequences of the ongoing war in Ukraine has remained high, while the pace of monetary policy tightening has moderated worldwide.
The risks assessed as severe concerning external developments and the worsening of domestic macroeconomic equilibria, inter alia as a result of regional and international geopolitical developments, are expected to stay flat in the period ahead,” note the central bank experts.
Romania reported a pick-up in annual economic growth in the final quarter of 2022 compared to the previous quarter, but the year as a whole saw a loss of momentum (to 4.7 percent, down 1 percentage point from 2021). Economic growth for 2023 Q1 ran at 2.8 percent, down by 2 percentage points from that in 2022 Q1.
Forecasts for Romania’s economic growth for 2023 point to a deceleration (2.4 percent according to the IMF; 3.2 percent forecasted by the EC), similarly to the global outlook, given the multiple uncertainties, especially as regards the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine, as well as amid tighter financial conditions and weakening export demand from the euro area.
NBR says that Romania is still among the first EU countries in terms of the size of twin deficits, i.e. current account deficit and fiscal deficit. The fiscal deficit stood at 5.68 percent at end-2022, 1.05 percentage points lower than in the previous year, Romania being exceeded only by Italy, which recorded a deficit of 8 percent. In the first four months of 2023, the fiscal deficit widened by 0.56 percentage points against the similar year-ago period, to 1.72 percent of GDP. The current account deficit increased further, reaching 8.9 percent of GDP in 2022 Q2-2023 Q1, the highest level among Romania’s peers in the region. The growth outlook for export demand is subdued, owing to the economic slowdown in Europe and further high inflation.
Besides, Romania’s public debt rose by 20 percent in March 2023 versus March 2022, its share in GDP adding 0.7 percentage points, up to 49.2 percent. Compared to the pre-pandemic period (December 2019), public debt advanced 89 percent, the second highest increase at EU level after Estonia (+180 percent).
A notable vulnerability remains the large share of financing needs to be covered in 2023 by borrowing in foreign markets (approximately 30 percent), as well as the high percentage of foreign currency-denominated public debt (56 percent in March 2023).
In their view, the other two relevant systemic risks remained constant in terms of both intensity and trend: the delay in implementing reforms and absorbing EU funds, especially via the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP), and the default risk for loans to the private sector.
“The prospects for EU funds absorption in 2023 point to a slowdown. As for the NRRP, the submission of the third payment request for the next instalment in amount of EUR 3.1 billion is delayed. The absorption rate for the multiannual financial framework 2014-2020 has increased since the previous Report (from 69 percent on 8 November 2022 to 78 percent on 15 May 2023), yet it still lags behind the levels recorded in
the region (89 percent in Poland, 88 percent in Czechia and 86 percent in Hungary).
The EU funds absorption capacity becomes essential in an environment affected by economic growth decelerating below the previous decade’s levels, making it difficult for Romania to reduce domestic disequilibria and to support strategic sectors with a view to ensuring transition to a green and inclusive economy, along with a structural shift towards a higher value-added economy.”

Next, “human capital continues to deteriorate, so that Romania’s national wealth is at risk. The downtrend in population is accompanied by the high share of minimum wage earners, as well as by changes in the composition of employed persons by age. From 2007 to 2022, the number of employees aged between 40 and 64 rose by 50 percent, significantly outpacing the dynamics at aggregate level (+10 percent), whereas the number of employees aged between 25 and 30 dropped by around 40 percent. This development, amid the high emigration rate among youth1 and the negative natural population change, has consequences for both the level of financial intermediation and the financing capacity of budget expenditures over the medium and long term. In the recent period, companies have increasingly resorted to workers from outside Europe, with work permits being issued for the entire quota of 100,000 workers approved for 2022.”
Moreover, NBR warns that the low level of educational attainment of employees is another important vulnerability, Romania recording at end-2022 the smallest percentage of employees with tertiary education among EU Member States (24 percent, 14 percentage points below the EU average).

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