Current account remains in surplus with backing from strong exports

  • The current account was unusually in surplus in the first quarter
  • More was paid back in debt liabilities to investors than was received as new investment in the country
  • The threat of external imbalance in the economy receded and the economy is close to the limits set by the European Commission

The surplus on the current account was 99 million euros in the first quarter, or about 2% of GDP of the same quarter. The current account was in surplus in the first quarter for the first time since 1993. The balance was more positive than usual mainly because of fast and quite broadly based growth in services exports and an unusually small net outflow of income. Estonia’s trading partners are doing well and so the demand for Estonian goods and services has increased. Sectors like transport services and oil production that had earlier been a drag on export growth are either approaching the bottom or have already reached it and are now starting to grow again. On the income side, the outflow of investment income was reduced primarily in the banking sector, but an important role was also played by one-off factors like fines paid to the Estonian state.

New direct investment of 188 million euros was made in the first quarter into the equity capital of foreign-owned companies, which is double the average of the past five years. At the same time, earlier direct investment was reduced by 177 million euros, meaning that the net sum was a modest inflow of new money into the country. Overall the total amount of direct investment in Estonia still declined, as more was paid back in debt liabilities to investors than was received as new investment. Estonia’s direct investments abroad increased slightly, and also at the expense of debt investments.

Estonian assets abroad grew more in the first quarter overall than external liabilities, so Estonia was a net lender. The net international investment position, which is the difference between external assets and external liabilities, continued to improve and climbed to -36% of GDP. This means Estonia is very close to the minimum set by the European Commission of -35%1. The Estonian economy is currently in a position where external demand has recovered and so the confidence of companies is relatively high. As further economic growth can mainly be achieved through investment and increased productivity, it is probable that net lending to the rest of the world cannot continue to this extent.

The European Commission looks at the net international investment position as one of the indicators of possible imbalances in an economy, and it has set the threshold for where the threats appear at -35% of GDP.

Source: Bank of Estonia

Author: Kristo Aab, Economist at Eesti Pank

Estonia is among largest net beneficiaries from FDI in the EU

Can FDI boost enterprises’ investments into fixed assets? 

Although there is no one-to-one link between FDI and investments into fixed assets, long-term comparison shows that there is evidence of correlation between these indicators, especially in manufacturing sector where the need for fixed assets is greater. Inflow of FDI has been gaining speed for the past two years and industrial confidence is improving. This suggests that we could start to see more investments into fixed assets soon.

Structure of Estonian FDI by sectors 

Financial and insurance activities, that used to make up 50% of FDI back in 2005, are giving way to other sectors. The importance of manufacturing sector as receiver of FDI is also decreasing because of structural changes in the economy. Currently real estate activities make up more than 18% of FDI, more than during the previous real estate boom in 2007. Although the growth of FDI in professional, scientific and technical activities has recently been lagging it is important for the future.

FDI diversification by country has increased 

Sweden has been a major contributor to our FDI from the beginning of independence, and it still is today, although the importance of Sweden is continuously decreasing. After the start of the conflict in Ukraine the FDI market share of Russia is also decreasing whereas other smaller countries, such as neighboring Latvia and Lithuania, invest more in Estonian companies year by year. Nevertheless more than 80% of inward FDI in Estonia originates from the EU.

Source: Swedbank

EIB provides EUR 400m to support strategic investments in Estonia

The European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Estonian Ministry of Finance have signed the second tranche – worth EUR 400 million – of the co-financing facility for Estonia to support investments in research and innovation, sustainable transport infrastructure, and promoting the development of SMEs. This loan from the Bank will help Estonia in the successful absorption of the EU structural funds over 2014 – 2020, the first EUR 200 million tranche of the facility was signed in December 2014.

Sven Sester, Minister of Finance of Estonia, said: „The Estonian government has decided to increase investments in order to improve the competitiveness of the Estonian economy. There is no doubt that EU structural funds have a positive impact on the Estonian economy. In order to support investments that improve competitiveness and bring long-term benefits, we are prepared to use external financing. Loans will not be used to cover running costs, such as paying wages or allowances. The government is firm in our determination to adhere to European budget rules that rule out unsustainable deficits.”

Jan Vapaavuori, EIB Vice-President responsible for lending in Estonia, said: “The EIB has always been a reliable partner for Estonia. We are pleased to now be able to continue our close cooperation with the Estonian authorities with this second and last tranche of the co-financing facility. The combined use of EIB loan and EU grant money supports sustainable economic growth and helps further improve the quality of life for the people of Estonia.”

The EUR 400 million loan will be available as a co-financing for selected projects under the Estonian operational programme for the Cohesion Policy Funds and the Rural Development Programme for 2014 – 2020. The EU structural funds will meet a fixed percentage of the costs of eligible projects, with the remaining part being covered from the State Budget or by drawing on this facility from the EIB. It will primarily support projects in the following sectors: research, technological development and innovations; transport, water and environmental protection, as well as infrastructure development in rural areas.

The facility will furthermore focus on investments in education, and health-care, as well as in improving training and access to employment. These investments will contribute to the further development of a knowledge-intensive and internationally competitive economy, a clean environment and a sustainable transport infrastructure, which in turn will help to create the conditions for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

This loan is a continuation of the long-standing partnership between the EIB and Estonia, with the Bank of the European Union having already lent EUR 550m within a similar EU funds co-financing facility covering the period from 2007 up to 2013. To obtain an EU grant for an eligible project, the (Estonian) government must provide the co-funding. While in a large part the co-funding will be provided from budget funds, the EIB facility will be available to supplement these funds and to ensure that Estonia uses as much of the available EU funding as it can.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the long-term lending institution of the European Union owned by its Member States. It makes long-term finance available for sound investment in order to contribute towards EU policy goals. In 2011-2015, the EIB provided loans in Estonia totalling nearly EUR 740 million.

Source: Estonian Ministry of Finance

Estonia has received more direct investment than many other newer members of the EU

  • Estonia’s foreign direct investment position* at the end of 2015 put it behind only Hungary in volume among the newer European members from Central and Eastern Europe
  • The Estonian current account in 2015 posted its largest surplus since independence was regained
  • Both exports and imports of goods and services were down last year, but imports by more
  • The current account was affected by large dividends paid out by the banking sector

Adjusted data show that the current account of the Estonian balance of payments had a surplus of 447 million euros in 2015, the largest since independence was regained. This does not reflect the strength of Estonian exports however, so much as a general decline in the trade of goods. Although both exports and imports of goods and services were down, it was the faster decline in imports that led the surplus in goods and services to grow. The surplus on the current account increased because the outflow of investment income slowed as large-scale extraordinary dividends were paid out by the banking sector in the middle of the year, and the income tax paid on these dividends to the Estonian state principally slowed the outflow. A little more was received from the European Union Structural Funds for infrastructure development than in 2014. The outflow of capital from the financial account was one billion euros larger than the inflow and the main channel for the outflow was portfolio and other investment.

Estonia was behind only Hungary for the foreign direct investment position among the newer European members from Central and Eastern Europe, and at the end of 2015 the direct investment position in Estonia was almost the same as the GDP of the year.

* Direct investment data for Estonia cover the period 1993-2015.

Figure. Direct investment position in Central and Eastern European countries at the end of 2015 as % of GDP
Direct investment position in Central and Eastern European countries at the end of 2015 as % of GDP

Sources: Eurostat, Eesti Pank

See better graph here

Long-awaited investment growth is starting to take off

Statistics Estonia revised second-quarter annual GDP growth 0.2 percentage points up to 0.8%. Regular revision of last four years was also published and led to changes in real growth rates of previous years. 2012-2014 GDP growth was revised down 0.9 to 0.1 percentage points whereas last year’s GDP growth was revised up by 0.4 percentage points to 1.4%.

Private consumption still contributed the most to GDP growth in the second quarter, although at a decelerating pace. Investments, which have had a negative influence on growth for the past two years, have started to improve. The recovery originates from private households, who invest into dwellings, as well as non-financial enterprises. The growth of non-financial enterprises’ investments has accelerated from 0.7% in the first to 5.5% in the second quarter. Compared to the second quarter of 2015, non-financial enterprises’ investments into transportation equipment have doubled. On the other hand, investments into machinery and equipment, the key to future growth, are still lagging.

Export and import growth of goods and services gained momentum in the second quarter. The growth of these has been very broad based with goods and services having almost equal growth rates. Import growth exceeded export growth and therefore the negative contribution from net exports to GDP increased.

ITC and agriculture sector had the largest positive and energy production the largest negative contribution to GDP growth in the second quarter of 2016. It is noticeable that the value added of transportation and storage activities has started to increase after being in a decline for three years. Also the value added in manufacturing sector has started to grow. As manufacturing sector makes up the largest piece of value added in the Estonian economy, it is assuring that the growth there is broad-based and more than half of the economic activities of manufacturing had positive growth rates.

According to our estimates, investments will continue to support GDP growth while the influence of private consumption will decrease. We expect the economy to grow 1.5% this year and 2.5% in 2017 due to increasing support from investments and export.

 

Source: Swedbank

Estonian investments in Q1 2016

The financial account of the balance of payments shows that investment in Estonia was 126 million euros larger in the first quarter of 2016 than investment abroad from Estonia. The net inflow of capital was caused by direct investment in non-financial corporations and foreign aid from the European Union to the general government. The Estonian economy was last a net borrower in the first quarter of 2014.

  • The net inflow of direct investment was 127 million euros, most of which came as growth in the intra-group debt liabilities of non-financial companies. The inflow of equity investment was smaller than usual, as the banks paid out dividends in the first quarter.
  • The net outflow of portfolio investment was 517 million euros, and Eesti Pank invested the most in foreign countries, as before. The central bank invested 400 million euros in foreign securities, and other sectors invested 87 million euros. Since 2015, Eesti Pank’s investments in foreign securities have increased by 1.8 billion euros as part of the asset purchase programmes of the European central banks.
  • The net inflow of other investment totalled 563 million euros, of which 114 million euros was money received from the European Union’s Structural Funds. The purchases of securities by Eesti Pank within the asset purchase programme also had a notable impact on the net inflow, as did the settlements transferred by the other sectors to the rest of the world, which reduced the other investment assets of the central bank by 1.2 billion euros1.

The net international investment position2 at the end of the first quarter of 2016 showed that the external liabilities of Estonian residents exceeded their external assets by 8.5 billion euros, or 41% of GDP. As external assets decreased by more than external liabilities did during the first quarter, the negative net investment position increased by 254 million euros. Of this, 151 million euros was transactions with financial assets and liabilities, 39 million euros was price changes, and 64 million euros was from changes in exchange rates (see the International Investment Position).

Statistics for the external debt show that at the end of the first quarter, the debt assets of Estonian residents from non-residents were 1.8 billion euros larger than their debt liabilities3. Debt assets were 0.5 billion euros less than in the previous quarter and stood at 75% of all external assets at the end of the quarter, with a value of 20.8 billion euros, or 101% of GDP. The volume of debt liabilities decreased by 0.2 billion euros over the quarter to stand at 19 billion euros, or 92% of GDP, which is 52% of all external liabilities (seeExternal Debt).

1 The inflow and outflow of capital for the central bank is affected by the activities of other sectors in which payments made or received move through credit institutions as settlements between central banks of the euro area through TARGET accounts. If the balance of Eesti Pank’s account in the TARGET system is reduced by settlements between euro area central banks, it means that money is going from Eesti Pank to the other central banks and the assets of Eesti Pank are equally decreasing. In the opposite case, money flows in and the assets of the central bank increase.

Securities bought within the asset purchase programme increase the portfolio investment assets of the central bank but reduce the other investment assets by the same amount because of the settlements transferred out of Estonia, so net external financing is not affected.

2 The international investment position is a consolidated balance sheet of the external assets and liabilities of all the institutional sectors of a country as at the balance sheet date at market prices.

3 Debt assets and debt liabilities are components of the international investment position that have a repayment obligation. The external debt does not include direct, portfolio or other investment in equity capital, reinvested earnings, financial derivatives, or the gold of the central bank reserves. The external debt does include the debt assets and liabilities between companies in a direct investment relationship.

The debt assets and debt liabilities position

 

See a better graph on Bank of Estonia website

A simplified tax operation for foreign undertakings

The Tax and Customs Board shall offer to foreign undertakings a simplified application form for registration as a person liable to value-added tax which is accessible both in English and in Russian and which makes application for a value-added tax identification number simpler.

“We will contact, when needed, the undertaking who has submitted an application in order to clarify some aspects concerning business activities. We offer consultation to undertakings as well in order to clarify the information concerning the Estonian tax system, how to find information from our web site, how to choose transaction partners not to be involved in fraud schemes and wherefrom to seek further advice,” Monika Jõesaar, the head of the service division of  the Tax and Customs Board, explained.  She encourages everyone to use advisory services so that doing business in Estonia would be simple and comprehensible already from the very beginning.

You will find the English application form for VAT identification number here and in Russian here

Source: The Tax and Customs Board