Ukraine Country Report Mar19 - March, 2019

March 4, 2019

The National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) reviewed downwards the assessment of growth of real GDP of the country in 2018 to 3.3% from 3.4%, but the change is unimportant as Ukraine continues to grow well below its potential thanks to the war with Russia and the failure of the government to push through radical reforms.

The acting Minister of Finance Oksana Markarova nailed it in TV interview in February: Ukraine attracted about $2.5bn of foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2018 but needs at least $10bn a year if the country is going to transform and recover.

That is unlikely to happen this month as Ukrainians go to the polls to choose a president. With a record 44 candidates running at the time of writing it looks like a three-horse race that is lead by outsider and comic Volodymyr Zelenskiy followed by opposition leader, former Prime Minister and head of Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party Yulia Tymoshenko and incumbent President Petro Poroshenko.

The election will almost certainly go a second round held in April but the result is impossible to predict as campaigning has already gotten dirty and the creaky Ukrainian election system is open to abuse.

Investment is unlikely to come after the presidential race is over as there are also parliamentary elections in October where pro-west liberals are likely to win, but the pro-Russia supporters will also do well and could form a powerful opposition block in the Rada. In the meantime a lot of the business of government will be on hold.

This uncertainty accounts for predictions of slower growth in the next two years of 2.5% and 2.9% respectively by the NBU.

Additional factors slowing down the economy will be a decline in the grain harvest after hitting the record in 2018, as well as a gradual slowdown in the global economy and trade, particularly due to the influence of protectionist measures being taken in the world, the NBU says.

On a more positive note private consumption will remain the key driver of economic growth thanks to a further increase in real incomes of the population – wages, pension payments, and remittances from abroad, which are believed to have maxed out now at some $10bn a year.

2019 will be a key year in the fight with Russia as both the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline will come online at the end of the year that means Russian gas can bypass Ukraine entirely and that will cost the budget some $3bn in lost revenues. A second Turk Stream pipeline that bypasses Ukraine to the south will also come online sometime in 2020.

On the business front things are beginning to move. In an encouraging sign the big international retail chains, like IKEA and Auchan, are moving into Ukraine. These companies are early movers as with their deep pockets they tend to go into a market early in order to capture market share early on as they intend to never leave once established.

Likewise, JJLs reports that retail vacancy rates are falling and constriction is starting to pick up, in another sign of a slow revival in economic activity.

Of the macroeconomic issues, inflation remains the thorniest. Inflation ended 2018 at 9.8% after the central bank hiked rates twice, this year the regulator expects inflation to fall to 6.8%. That could lead to growth-boosting rate cuts. And on the funding front Kyiv says it will issue $2bn of Eurobonds this year, however, the debt burden rises from here.

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