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World Bank Biannual Economic Update | Fall 2015

Resilience amid Turbulence

Tuesday 10 November 2015, by Catherine BISSON-SERIAN

WASHINGTON (World Bank press service) — The latest Kyrgyz Republic Economic Report (Fall 2015) outlines the economic situation in the country and medium-term development prospects.

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Kyrgyz Republic: Biannual Economic Update (PDF)
The Kyrgyz Republic has become increasingly open to trade over the years, and particularly since the massive emigration of Kyrgyz workers at the turn of the century. Gold exports — most of which are bound for Switzerland and the Middle East — account for a significant share of total exports, averaging 27.6% during the past three years. However, CIS countries, especially Kazakhstan and Russia, are the main destination for non-gold exports, accounting for an average of 84% over the past three years. Rising remittance inflows, which increased to over $2 bln in 2014, (equivalent to over 27% of GDP and 42.5% of the total import bill), have financed a substantial expansion in imports. As a result, the Kyrgyz Republic is significantly exposed to market developments in Kazakhstan and Russia through both trade and remittance channels. While these effects tend to offset one another in terms of their net impact on the current account — as falling export demand tends to be accompanied by a concurrent drop in import-financing remittances — they compound one another in terms of their impact on overall growth.

Amidst a turbulent economic environment in Central Asia, the Kyrgyz Republic’s economy has proven relatively resilient during the first eight months of 2015. GDP grew at a rate of 6.8%, year-on-year (y/y), between January and August, boosted by frontloaded gold production and a strong performance of the agricultural sector.

Gold output grew by 46% (y/y), while the non-gold GDP growth rate reached 4.5%, up 0.9% points from the same period in the previous year. However, gold production is projected to decelerate markedly during the remainder of 2015, while increasingly adverse external conditions and exchange-rate developments are expected to depress domestic consumption and private investment, as well as foreign demand.

As a result, the overall growth rate for 2015 is projected to slow to 2%. As of August the headline inflation rate had fallen to 5.8% (y/y) from 10.5% at end-2014, but the combined effect of higher public spending and exchange-rate pressures are expected to drive up prices during the final months of the year, underscoring the importance of maintaining a tight monetary stance.

The government’s monetary and fiscal policies have been broadly adequate to mitigate exchange-rate and demand shocks. Given substantial pressures on the exchange rate in the wake of Kazakhstan’s move to a free float, the authorities’ adopted a prudent strategy in letting the Kyrgyz som (KGS) gradually adjust, while preventing sharp swings in its value.

However, this policy also decreased domestic liquidity, and this effect was exacerbated by lower than planned expenditure. Delays in planned investments enabled the government to maintain a budget surplus through the first eight months of 2015.

However, spending is expected to increase sharply in the second part of the year. A rise in public investment coupled with increasing recurrent expenditures — including wage adjustments and a significant expansion in public procurement — are expected to contribute to a deficit of 5.8% of GDP (including on-lending) and an increase in public indebtedness.

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Sluggish growth in the second half of 2015 should result in a modest overall performance.
(Source: Official statistics and WB projections for 2015)

Outlook

Looking beyond 2015, the Kyrgyz economy is projected to recover over the medium term, and public finances are expected to stabilize, but this generally positive outlook is subject to significant downside risks.

In the baseline scenario, growth is projected to accelerate to 4.2% in 2016, driven by higher gold production and an expected acceleration in regional economic activity. Growth in the non-gold sectors should be relatively robust at around 3.7%, but a slower-than-anticipated recovery in Russia and Kazakhstan could threaten this projection. Moreover, slower growth in both the domestic and regional economies could complicate the process of fiscal consolidation.

An uncertain external environment will call for increased vigilance, with particular attention devoted to the efficiency and sustainability of public expenditures. While countercyclical policies will help shore up domestic activity and stabilize employment, the government’s limited fiscal space underscores the importance of effective public spending.

The government has chosen to continue implementing its ambitious public investment program, but the benefits of these investments will take time to materialize and, in the short run high rates of capital spending will widen internal and external imbalances.

Moreover, in 2015, a significant increase in recurrent spending is expected to result in higher deficits, while exchange rate developments have caused the value of Kyrgyzstan’s external debt, as a share of GDP, to increase significantly.

Improved growth prospects in 2016 and beyond should facilitate consolidation going forward, but the authorities will need to remain vigilant. In any scenario it will be key to ensure that fiscal consolidation is achieved by effectively controlling the growth of recurrent spending, but that this does not negatively impact social programs necessary to protect the most vulnerable.

Depreciation pressure on the som is expected to continue over the near term, highlighting the importance of a cautious monetary policy stance underpinned by close attention to inflation and financial sector dynamics.

Special Focus: Meeting the Jobs Challenge

Over the medium term, establishing the conditions for robust job creation will be a central policy challenge. The deterioration of labour market conditions in Russia and Kazakhstan underscores the vulnerability of remittance inflows and the extent to which migration cannot be depended upon to make up for anaemic employment growth in the domestic economy.

The question of how policymakers can support the development a more vibrant labour market in the Kyrgyz Republic is the theme of the Special Focus Section of this Economic Update.

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