Ukraine’s economy is recovering and put in 3%-plus growth in the first quarter -- its best result since the economic collapse. But the economy has not built up the momentum it should have in a post-crash bounce-back and remains very vulnerable to external shocks.
Moreover, in the next few years it remains vulnerable to a lack of funding to meet its external obligations following the de facto suspension of the international donors programme, which has been suspended due to the lack of progress in passing key reforms, including setting up an anti-corruption court, and backtracking on earlier commitments, like refusing to impose domestic gas tariff hikes.
The current IMF programme comes to an end in 2019 and most commentators in Kyiv are confident that a new compromise will be found in a short term to release another $1bn-$1.5bn tranche this year and set up a new programme next year, but talks are ongoing.
Ukraine faces its final chance to regain the confidence of the IMF and restart lending under the current program. If Ukraine squanders this opportunity, it will have to muddle through to end-2019 without any material support from IFIs.
Signs in recent in May that parliament is preparing to vote on a version of the law on an anti-corruption court that would be acceptable to the IMF offers real hope for a favorable outcome.
The return of Ukraine’s largest lender would help maintain economic stability, safeguard the FX market from major shocks, and bring Ukraine back to the investor spotlight following the March 2019 presidential elections.
Full-year economic growth to exceed 3% for the 1st time since 2011
Economic growth surprised to the upside in the 1Q – GDP grew 3.1% y/y and 0.9% q/q, supported by strong domestic demand.
Growth in retail trade remains above 7% on the back of continued increases in salaries. Growth in other key sectors, including industry, remains feeble, but it should pick up starting in the 2Q against a depressed base.
Private consumption will remain the key growth driver, also supported by investments. However, the contribution of net exports will remain negative, as in previous years.
SP Advisors maintain its full-year 2018 GDP growth forecast at 3.1%. With risks currently to the upside, in our view, 2018 will be the first year since 2011 that Ukraine will deliver at least 3% annual growth.
CPI to remain on a downward trend and enter single digits in summer
High inflation has been a problem and lead to the National Bank of Ukraine to several rate hikes, which works against boosting growth. The pace of growth in consumer prices has been decelerating gradually since the start of 2018, but somewhat slower than SP Advisors had anticipated with end-April CPI at 13.1%.
Inflation will slow further in the coming months as last year’s food price shock (adverse weather conditions) established a high base. This year’s weather is much better, which bodes well for agricultural products and food prices; these goods account for over 40% of the consumer basket.
The strength and relative stability of the hryvnia will also support a smooth deceleration of the CPI trend. Inflation is poised to slip below 10% in the summer, and SP Advisors see no major risks to our current end-2018 CPI forecast of 8.9% as long as no new shocks materialize (like a pre-election hike in the minimum wage).
The NBU has clearly signaled that any loosening of monetary policy is highly unlikely through the end of 2018 and the current policy rate looks sufficient to bring inflation back to the target range by mid-2019.
Market consensus expects the central bank will hold its rates steady. However, the NBU’s stance could change if major risks related to capital outflows or a loosening of fiscal policy were to emerge by the end of the year.
External sector risks remain manageable
Ukraine’s C/A deficit is expected to widen only marginally from last year’s $2.1bn, estimated at 1.9% of 2018F GDP. Although the growth in commodity imports is slightly outpacing exports (+8.6% y/y vs. +11.9% in 1Q, respectively) and the trade in goods deficit is set to widen to c. 9% of GDP, the services trade surplus and remittances will offset most of the gap.
FDI is set to be at c. 1% of GDP this year on the back of pre-election uncertainty and as privatization efforts have stalled. With a growing C/A gap and no FDI, the strength of Ukraine’s external position and the stability of the FX market are entirely dependent on the country’s ability to secure net inflows of debt capital to the state and private sector.
Needless to say, this will become increasingly difficult if Ukraine is unable to resume cooperation with the IMF. If there were to be no further inflows, scheduled redemptions of previous IMF loans and other external public debt would cut the NBU’s reserves from the current $18.4bn to below $15.0bn before the election in March 2019.
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