According to the Summer 2021 interim Economic Forecast, published by the European Commission, the European Economy is forecast to rebound faster than predicted in the Spring forecast, as activity in the first quarter of the year exceeded expectations and the improved health situation prompted a swifter easing of pandemic control restrictions in the second quarter.
Falling numbers of new infections and hospitalisations, thanks to an effective containment strategy and progress in vaccination, have led EU Member States to reopen their economies, to the benefit of service sector businesses, in particular. Upbeat survey results among consumers and businesses, as well as data tracking mobility, suggest that a rebound in consumption is already underway and set to strengthen in the coming months. There is also evidence of a beginning revival in tourism activity, which should also benefit from the new EU Digital COVID Certificate. Together, these factors are expected to outweigh the temporary production input shortages and rising costs hitting parts of the manufacturing sector.
Overall, GDP is now forecast to grow by 4.8% in 2021 and 4.5% in 2022 in both the EU and the euro area. The volume of output is projected to return to its pre-crisis level (2019-Q4) in the last quarter of 2021, which is one quarter earlier than expected in the Spring Forecast for the euro area. However, economic activity in the fourth quarter of 2022 would remain about 1% shy of the level that was expected before the pandemic, based on an extrapolation of the Winter 2020 Interim Forecast. The speed of the recovery will vary significantly across the Member States. Some are expected to see economic output return to their pre-pandemic levels by the third quarter of 2021, but others would take longer.
The forecast for inflation this year and next has also been revised upwards, though retaining a hump-shaped profile. Rising energy and commodity prices, production bottlenecks due to the shortage of some input components and raw materials and capacity constraints vis-à-vis booming demand both at home and abroad are expected to put upward pressure on consumer prices this year.
In 2022, pressures are assumed to moderate gradually as supply constraints resolve, order backlogs clear, and demand growth moderates. Accordingly, inflation in the EU is now forecast to average 2.2% this year and 1.6% in 2022 (+0.3 and +0.1 pps., respectively, compared to the Spring Forecast). In the euro area, inflation is forecast to average 1.9% in 2021 (+ 0.2 pps.) and 1.4% in 2022 (+0.1 pps.).
Uncertainty and risks surrounding the growth outlook are high but remain overall balanced. The threat posed by the spread and emergence of variants of concern underscores the importance of a further rapid increase in full vaccination.
Economic risks relate in particular to the response of households and firms to changes in restrictions and the impact of emergency policy support withdrawal.
Inflation may turn out higher than forecast if supply constraints are more persistent and price pressures are passed on to consumer prices more strongly.
Economic Forecast for Malta
The Forecast states that Malta’s economy grew at a solid quarter-on-quarter rate of 1.9% in the first quarter of this year, driven mainly by service exports.
After a considerable decline (-7.8%) in 2020, real GDP is forecast to rebound to 5.6% in 2021. This is more than the 4.6% projected in spring.
The better growth outlook is driven by the strong performance in the first quarter, which has a strong carry-over effect, and the positive picture painted by recent confidence indicators. It also adjusts the recovery path for the downward revision to 2020 GDP growth.
The forecast for 2022 is similarly strong, at 5.8%, which means that Malta’s economy is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels of activity around mid-2022.
The high pace of vaccinations in Malta and the improvement in the public health situation allowed for a significant relaxation of restriction measures in the second quarter. Continued strong improvement in business and consumer sentiment up until May, including in the hard-hit food and accommodation services sectors, suggest that economic activity is on a path to a solid recovery.
A strong uptake of government-paid consumption vouchers is also supporting a rebound in consumption.
Going forward, growth is expected to remain strong on the back of a gradual recovery in the tourism sector, favourable prospects for external demand for other services, and a recovery in private and public investment, supported also by the implementation of the Recovery and Resilience Plan.
A limited downside risk is related to possible consequences of the decision of the Financial Action Task Force (an inter-governmental body against money laundering) to add Malta to the list of jurisdictions under increased monitoring.
The Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) inflation has increased moderately since January, but the increase in energy and imported goods prices and a recovery in the tourism and hospitality sectors are set to increase price pressures in 2021. After picking up to 1.1% in 2021, inflation is expected to reach 1.6% in 2022.
Full report: European Economic Forecast – Summer 2021