Michael Kolb, Board Member at Acredia, Austria’s leading credit insurer, talks with Lisbeth Lorenz, our Group Practice Leader, about the political effects of the energy crisis and the macroeconomic situation of the former Yugoslavian countries.
On top of the already acute crises, new blocs are emerging between the EU and USA on the one side and Russia and China on the other side, exacerbating the threatening situation from both sides. Do we need to fear that countries such as Hungary or Turkey will be caught in the middle?
The accelerated formation of blocs poses a huge challenge to both Turkey and Hungary. Turkey relies heavily on Russia for its import of energy, while being one of the largest investors in Ukraine at the same time. Reconciling both interests will be difficult. The situation in Hungary is slightly simpler. While Hungary imports about 8.2% of its goods from China, its largest trading partner in terms of import and export is Germany. Besides that, the basis of Hungary’s economy is more stable than that of Turkey as the country is heading towards a balance of payments crisis.
From a credit insurance point of view Serbia presents itself as an interesting market. The country is not clearly positioned between Russia and Europe and has recently approached both the IMF and the UAE for financial support. How do you assess the current situation? In which direction will the pendulum swing?
That is difficult to predict. Fact is that the political situation has somewhat stabilised over the last years – with positive effects on the economy. While Serbia strives to become part of the EU, the Kosovo conflict remains unresolved.
We currently find ourselves in the middle of a crisis cocktail: war, inflation, energy crisis, climate catastrophe, nuclear threats, pandemic, cyber war, blackout – we are facing all these issues at the same time. What is your opinion on this crisis mix by looking at Austria on the one side and CEE countries on the other side?
Global crises such as a war, the pandemic or climate change affect all of Europe. The real question is: How resilient are the individual nations? There is a strong economic interdependence between the European countries. For example, should Germany slide into a recession, this would have great implications for Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, and Poland.
The market failures in the energy sector appear to have a positive side effect – a boost for the energy transition. Are the CEE countries well positioned for this, given the fact that most of them rely heavily on Russian gas? How will it affect the competitiveness of the individual countries? Is there a difference between EU and non-EU countries?
Natural gas seems to be the new gold. In view of the complexity of the problem, collaborating countries are at an advantage. In terms of the energy transition, a recent World Economic Forum study shows that the countries in the CEE region have varying positions. On the one side are the role models with Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. They have the necessary capital, the technologies required to tackle the transition as well as an open access to the market. On the other side there are Montenegro, Serbia, and Moldova. These countries come in last in terms of the willingness to transform.
Acredia is responsible for the former Yugoslavian countries which experienced vastly different developments. How would you rank the macroeconomic outlook of these countries? Where do opportunities outweigh risks and vice versa? (A question that also applies to the CEE region)
There are opportunities in almost all countries. When it comes to risks, however, there are huge differences. Our experts have assessed the individual differences in the current Country Risk Report published by Allianz Trade:
A positive business environment exists in Croatia and Slovenia, with political stability and manageable economic risks (B2 and BB2 respectively). Both countries though are struggling with high national debt and unemployment. Especially Croatia’s tourism was hard hit by lockdowns during the pandemic. Joining the European Monetary Union on 1st January 2023 could boost economic activity.
Serbia also demonstrates a moderate risk level (B2). Companies benefit from an economic growth potential, a stable currency and strong national demand. On the downside, there is poor infrastructure, a perceived high level of corruption as well as a high level of foreign debt.
The risks in Macedonia are slightly higher (C2). However, the country enjoys good relationships with the EU and a relatively low inflation rate. Unfortunately, the implementation of much needed economic reforms is sluggish, and the rate of both unemployment and foreign debt is high.
We find a more delicate situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina due to the country’s high political risk (D3). The economic environment is weak and characterised by poverty and unemployment. On the positive side, the exchange rate is stable and the country’s inflation rate is low.
The EU candidate Montenegro currently poses the biggest risk for companies (D4). Despite a strong growth potential in tourism, the economy is unstable. There is a perceived high level of corruption and foreign debt has been high for years.
Acredia, Austria’s leading credit insurer, is a subsidiary of the Oesterreichische Kontrollbank AG and Euler Hermes AG. As per 31st December 2021, Acredia’s total liabilities amounted to EUR 29 billion and the solvency ratio was at 268.5%.
Group Practice Leader Credit & Political Risk
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Board Member at Acredia
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