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Russia’s Economic Recovery Gathers Pace

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Russia’s GDP growth is forecast at 3.2% in 2021, followed by 3.2% and 2.3% in 2022 and 2023, respectively, according to the World Bank’s latest Russia Economic Report (#45 in the series). Global economic recovery, higher oil prices, and soft domestic monetary conditions in 2021 are expected to support a recovery led by household consumption and public investment. This baseline scenario assumes a gradual decline in new COVID-19 infections.

“In 2020, Russia’s GDP contracted by 3.0%compared to contractions of 3.8% in the world economy and 5.4% in advanced economies,” said Apurva Sanghi, the Lead Economist for the World Bank in Russia. “Several factors helped Russia perform relatively better: in recent years, the country has undertaken significant macro-fiscal stabilization efforts, resulting in an improved fiscal position. Among other contributing factors were enhanced regulation and supervision in the banking sector, fortified capital and liquidity buffers, relatively soft restrictions for industrial and construction sectors, closer ties to a relatively fast-growing China, a relatively small services sector and a large public sector that buffered against unemployment.”

Russia’s fiscal outcomes worsened in 2020, but improved in the first quarter of 2021. In 2020, the federal budget was hit by  pandemic-induced shocks and registered a deficit of Rub4.1 trillion (3.8 percent of GDP), compared to a surplus of Rub1.9 billion (1.8 percent of GDP) in 2019.

The Russian banking sector has been resilient so far, but medium-term impacts remain to be seen. Credit growth has been supported by an economic recovery and public credit support programs. Non-performing loans remained largely unchanged, at about 9% of total loans, in 2021.

Although employment is still below pre-pandemic levels, the labor market began showing some signs of improvement by the end of 2020. The national unemployment rate has been declining since last August, when it peaked at 6.4%, to 5.4% in March 2021. However, this rate is still 0.7 percentage points higher than in the same month of the previous year, which means that labor markets are not yet where they were before the pandemic.

Average real wages increased by 1.7% between 2019 and 2020, but masked important differences across economic activities: sectors that suffered the largest employment losses also had the largest real wage losses. Real wages increased in agriculture, telecommunications, and health services, but fell in many other sectors, with large declines in hospitality services, construction, culture/sports/leisure activities, and commerce.

The study also finds, however, that increases in real wages do not compensate for the decline in per-capita disposable income, which in the last three quarters of 2020 was lower by 7.9%, 5.3% and 1.7%, respectively, than in the same periods of the previous year.

The report contains a special topic section on halving poverty in Russia through cost-effective social safety nets. As a national goal, Russia aims to halve poverty to 6.6 percent by 2030. While Russia’s social safety-nets system plays an important role in reducing poverty, it does so at a high cost: the country spends over 3% of GDP, or $30 billion per year, on social-assistance programs.This level of spending is more than three times greater than the combined income deficit of all poor families in the country, before transfers.

“Traditionally, Russia has built quite an impressive social safety net system. However, the country’s expenditure on social safety nets is larger than the spending in the Europe and Central Asia region, which is 2.2% of GDP,” said Renaud Seligmann, the World Bank Country Director in Russia. “Introducing a national, targeted program that provides financial assistance to people falling below a poverty threshold could be key to cost-effective poverty reduction. In our view, implementing such a program could reduce poverty faster and at a lower fiscal cost.”

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Critical Reforms Needed to Reduce Inflation and Accelerate the Recovery

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While the government took measures to protect the economy against a much deeper recession, it would be essential to set policy foundations for a strong recovery, according to the latest World Bank Nigeria Development Update (NDU).

The NDU, titled “Resilience through Reforms”, notes that in 2020 the Nigerian economy experienced a shallower contraction of -1.8% than had been projected at the beginning of the pandemic (-3.2%). Although the economy started to grow again, prices are increasing rapidly, severely impacting Nigerian households. As of April 2021, the inflation rate was the highest in four years. Food prices accounted for over 60% of the total increase in inflation. Rising prices have pushed an estimated 7 million Nigerians below the poverty line in 2020 alone.

The report acknowledges notable government’s policy reforms aimed at mitigating the impact of the crisis and supporting the recovery; including steps taken towards reducing gasoline subsidies and adjusting electricity tariffs towards more cost-reflective levels, both aimed at expanding the fiscal space for pro-poor spending. In addition, the report highlights that both the Federal and State governments cut nonessential spending and redirected resources towards the COVID-19 response. At the same time, public-sector transparency has improved, in particular around the operations of the oil and gas sector.

The report however, notes that despite the more favorable external environment, with recovering oil prices and growth in advanced economies, a failure to sustain and deepen reforms would threaten both macroeconomic sustainability and policy credibility, thereby limiting the government’s ability to address gaps in human and physical capital which is needed to attract private investment.

“Nigeria faces interlinked challenges in relation to inflation, limited job opportunities, and insecurity”, said Shubham Chaudhuri, the World Bank Country Director for Nigeria. ”While the government has made efforts to reduce the effect of these by advancing long-delayed policy reforms, it is clear that these reforms will have to be sustained and deepened for Nigeria to realize its development potential.”

This edition of the Nigeria Development Update proposes near-term policy option organized around three priority objectives:

  • Reduce inflation by implementing policies that support macroeconomic stability, inclusive growth, and job creation;
  • Protect poor households from the impacts of inflation;
  • Facilitate access to financing for small and medium enterprises in key sectors to mitigate the effects of inflation and accelerate the recovery.

“Given the urgency to reduce inflation amidst the pandemic, a policy consensus and expedite reform implementation on exchange-rate management, monetary policy, trade policy, fiscal policy, and social protection would help save lives, protect livelihoods, and ensure a faster and sustained recovery” said Marco Hernandez, the World Bank Lead Economist for Nigeria and co-author of the report.

In addition to assessing Nigeria’s economic situation, this edition of the NDU also discusses how the COVID-19 crisis has affected employment; how inflation is exacerbating poverty in Nigeria; how reforming the power sector can ignite economic growth; and how Nigeria can mobilize revenues in a time of crisis.

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Indonesia: How to Boost the Economic Recovery

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Indonesia’s economy is projected to rebound from the 2020 recession with 4.4 percent growth in 2021. The rebound is predicated on the pandemic being contained and the global economy continuing to strengthen, according to the World Bank’s latest Indonesia Economic Prospects report (“Boosting the Recovery”), released today.

The report highlights that although consumption and investment growth were subdued during the first quarter of 2021, consumer sentiment and retail sales started to improve during the second quarter suggesting stronger growth momentum. However, it also notes that pandemic related uncertainty remains elevated due to risks of higher viral transmission.

“Accelerating the vaccine rollout, ensuring adequate testing and other public health measures, and maintaining strong monetary and fiscal support in the near term are essential to boosting Indonesia’s recovery,” said Satu Kahkonen, World Bank Country Director for Indonesia and Timor-Leste. “Parallel reforms to strengthen the investment climate, deepen financial markets, and improve fiscal space for longer-term sustainability and growth will be important to further build consumer and investor confidence.”  

The report recommends the government to develop a well sequenced medium-term fiscal strategy, including clear plans to improve tax revenues and fiscal space for priority spending. It also highlights the importance of maintaining accommodative monetary policy and stimulating private credit to support the real sector while monitoring external and financial vulnerabilities.

The report highlights the critical role of adequate social assistance in mitigating rising poverty risks. It finds that maintaining the 2020 social assistance package in 2021 could potentially keep 4.7 million Indonesians out of poverty.  

This edition of the report also looks at the possibilities for Indonesia to boost higher productivity jobs and women’s economic participation.

“Indonesia has reduced poverty through job creation and rising labor incomes over the past decade. The next stage is to create middle-class jobs that are more productive, earn higher incomes, and provide social benefits,” said Habib Rab, World Bank Lead Economist for Indonesia. “While the crisis risks have exacerbated Indonesia’s employment challenges, it is also an opportunity to address the competitiveness and inclusion bottlenecks to creating middle-class jobs and strengthening women’s participation in the economy.”

The report recommends a four-pronged reform strategy to address these jobs-related challenges:

  • Mitigate employment losses by maintaining adequate job retention programs, social assistance, training, and reskilling programs until the recovery is stronger.
  • Boost productivity and middle-class jobs by promoting competition, investment, and trade.
  • Equip the Indonesian workforce to hold middle-class jobs by investing in education and training systems and programs to improve workers’ skills.
  • Bring more women into the labor force and reduce earning gaps between men and women by investing in child and elderly care and promoting private sector development in the care economy.

The Indonesia Economic Prospects Report is supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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Inequality Has Likely Increased in PNG, with Bottom 40% Hit Hardest by Latest Outbreak

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A joint World Bank and UNICEF report based on mobile phone surveys of Papua New Guinean families has found that while there was a slight recovery in employment between June and December 2020, people in the bottom 40% of wealth distribution remain the hardest hit by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Conducted in December 2020, this second World Bank survey (the first was conducted in June 2020), shows that inequality has likely increased in PNG in the year since the pandemic began, and that the current COVID-19 outbreak is expected to deepen inequalities even further.

“According to the report, there were positive signs that PNG was starting to recover from the initial shocks of the pandemic between June and December 2020,” explained Stefano Mocci, World Bank Country Manager for Papua New Guinea. “However, it was largely wealthier households who were experiencing the fastest recovery in employment and income. In contrast, in areas with above average poverty, there were still high job losses.”

“Given a possible third wave of COVID-19 infections has strong potential to cause further declines in employment and income, social and economic support needs to be targeted to those most vulnerable – the bottom 40% – to try and lessen the widening inequality gap.”

“Little is known about how COVID-19 affects children in PNG,” expressed Judith Bruno, acting UNICEF PNG Representative. “Overwhelmingly, households with children under the age of 15 considered COVID-19 as a major threat to household finances and reported decreases in access to basic services, including water supply, sanitation, health care, and mental health and psychosocial support.”

“This World Bank and UNICEF collaboration will help policy makers and responders to better protect children from the virus, promote safe and continued access to services, and prevent children and their families from further economic hardship.”

Other key findings from the second of five planned World Bank surveys include:

·        For those still working, more than 75% of respondents reported receiving the same income as usual in the past week, compared to less than 50% in June (the strongest gains were for those in the top 40% of wealth distribution);

·        Rural households, and those in the bottom 40% of wealth distribution, were most likely to see decreases in money sent by friends or family.

·        77% of households were somewhat worried, or very worried, about their household finances in the next month.

·        33% of households in the bottom 40% of wealth distribution were unable to buy their preferred protein, compared to just four percent of households in the top 40%.

·        Less than 10% of primary and elementary school students participated in distance learning while schools were closed, but there were no significant differences between boys and girls returning to school and no evidence that the pandemic has widened the education gender gap.

·        Compared to the rest of the country, households in the National Capital District (NCD) were more likely to report deteriorations in theft, alcohol and drug abuse, violence by police and domestic abuse since June 2020 – all indicators of rising tensions in the capital, Port Moresby.

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