Georgia, the small South Caucasus country of 3.9mn, expanded by 4% y/y in June. The expansion was driven by a rise in activity in transport, hotels and restaurants, financial intermediation and trade sectors. The average estimated real GDP growth in the second quarter was 6%, and the average rate in the first half of 2018 was 5.7%.
The economy achieved 5% growth in 2017. The Georgian economy has bounced back from several years of slow growth across 2015-2016, when a depressed economic environment in the region and low oil prices indirectly impacted its performance. Multilateral development banks all expect the country's GDP growth to exceed 4% in the near-term, up from 2.7-2.8% in 2015-2016.
The growth spurt was prompted by a flurry of domestic and foreign investments in construction, retail, infrastructure and real estate amidst a recovery in consumption levels and an increase in inbound tourism. However, structural imbalances continue to plague Georgia's macroeconomy, most notably its large trade deficit, which is financed partly with external borrowing, and its unpredictable currency, the exchange rate of which has varied widely.
Georgia's foreign trade deficit inched upwards to $5.25bn in 2017, up from $5.18bn in 2016, and by 17.5% y/y to $1.34bn in the first quarter of 2018. Imports continue to dwarf exports, at $2.8218bn in April compared to exports of just $961.4mn.
Reducing the foreign trade and overall current account deficit has been an ongoing concern in Tbilisi. An oil and gas-importing country, Georgia has struggled to expand its manufacturing base enough to make up for its sizeable energy imports and for its imports of higher added-value goods.
Meanwhile, consumer prices grew 2.2% y/y in June; the lowest recorded monthly CPI levels seen in Georgia since December 2016. June’s inflation levels are well within the government's target rate of 3%. As a result of the rapid strengthening of the nominal effective exchange rate, inflationary pressure is reduced.
On the political front, the opposition European Georgia party has nominated former parliament speaker Davit Bakradze as its candidate for the October 2018 presidential elections. The incumbent President Giorgi Margvelashvili has not yet said whether he plans to stand for re-election, and the ruling party is expected to announce its candidate over the summer. Georgian Dream's founder, billionaire former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvilli, announced his intention to return to politics in April. Candidates that have said they plan to run in the presidential election include the UNM’s Grigol Vashadze, Nino Burjanadze of the Democratic Movement-United Georgia and the Labour Party’s Shalva Natelashvili.
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