As a result of the pandemic, the Central Bank of Malta (the Bank) expects that after an estimated contraction of 8.2% in 2020, Malta’s gross domestic product (GDP), will grow by 5.0% in 2021, by 5.5% in 2022, and by 4.7% in 2023. Compared to the projections published in December 2020, GDP growth is being revised downwards for 2020 and 2021 due to the impact of stringent containment measures, that spilled further into 2021. However, GDP growth is being revised upwards for 2022 and 2023, with GDP in 2023 expected to be at a similar level to that projected in December 2020. The Bank thus maintains its expectation that 2019 GDP levels are to be recouped towards the end of 2022, conditional on the successful rollout of a vaccine in 2021.
Declining net exports were the main contributor to the contraction in GDP in 2020, reflecting a sharp drop in foreign demand, restrictions on travel-related activities, and disruptions to the global supply chain. However, domestic demand is also estimated to have contributed negatively, as the various containment measures curtailed various activities during the year, especially during the second quarter, and elevated levels of uncertainty which adversely impacted private consumption and investment. Contractions in these two expenditure components were only partially mitigated by increased government consumption. Domestic demand is expected to be the main driver of the projected recovery in subsequent years.
Despite the sharp contraction in 2020, the labour market has shown remarkable resilience. Unemployment initially rose during the first wave of COVID-19, but has since declined, as fiscal measures have been very supportive of employment. Employment growth is estimated to have remained positive in 2020, though moderating compared to 2019. It is then projected to pick up gradually in the following years, reaching 2.7% in 2023. These projections constitute an upward revision from the previous exercise, reflecting stronger than expected outcomes in 2020.
Annual inflation based on the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices is set to edge up to 0.9% in 2021, from 0.8% in 2020, reflecting faster growth in services prices. Furthermore, non-energy industrial goods (NEIG) inflation is set to turn positive. Overall HICP inflation is set to edge up to 1.7% by 2023, reflecting a pickup in economic activity, which is expected to lift prices of services and NEIG further. Inflation forecasts are subject to a higher degree of uncertainty due to significant changes in weights of certain HICP components which were not yet available by the cut-off date. For 2021, these risks are assessed to be on the downside.
Public finances deteriorated sharply in 2020 due to the decline in economic activity and the introduction of COVID-19 related fiscal support. The Bank is now projecting that the general government will record a deficit of 9.5% of GDP in 2020. The deficit is expected to persist throughout 2021, although it is anticipated to narrow to 6.6%. As economic activity improves and the need for COVID-related support gradually fades, the deficit is set to narrow further to 3.9% of GDP by 2023. Consequently, the government debt-to-GDP ratio is projected to rise from 42.4% in 2019 to 60.3% by 2023.
Given the prevailing uncertainty, the Bank has also published a more severe scenario in which it considers the effects of some restrictive health protocols being maintained beyond 2021, in the event that the pace of vaccination is slower than currently projected and new infectious strains become harder to control. In such a scenario, the 2019 level of GDP would be reached only in 2023. Additionally, the government deficit would deteriorate more sharply in 2021, reaching 10.0% of GDP, before narrowing to 5.6% in 2022 and 2023, while the government debt-to-GDP ratio would rise to 68.2% by then.
This publication also includes two boxes. The first analyses the impact of lower tourism flows on private consumption expenditure, while the second delves into a more detailed account of labour market developments since the onset of COVID-19 in Malta.
More details on the Bank’s latest projections can be found here.