Now, if we assume that between the relatively calm waters of ‘eurozone closing’ and the choppy waters of swimming alone in the open sea there must be a break point somewhere, it might not be unreasonable to ask whether Hungary may not be presently in danger of crossing that imaginary thin red line? With Hungarian interest rates currently at 6% clearly growth-needs indicate a measured pace of reductions (particularly with core inflation around 1.5%) , but CA deficits and government funding deficits in the 6% to 7% range anything substantial in the way of rate reductions looks problematic. This is why ‘slipping anchor’ on the euro-docking objective could turn out to be especially problematic in Hungary’s case, in particular given the high levels of non-forint-denominated borrowing, and the potential for secondary ‘balance sheet’ effects.
Hungary converted itself into the latest country to join the line of EU members awaiting chastisment for failing to enforce budgetary discipline after it became clear that its deficit for 2005 could be almost double official forecasts.
Joaquín Almunia, EU monetary affairs commissioner, told European finance ministers Hungary’s deficit this year was projected to be 6.1 per cent although some economists say it could top 7 per cent.
The state of Hungary’s public finances was only revealed after the country’s central bank blew the whistle on the government, which used creative accounting to massage down the deficit. The revelation is embarrassing for the European Commission, which reported in July that Hungary was “within reach” of achieving its targeted deficit for 2005 of 3.6 per cent.
Hungary risks missing its 2010 target for adopting the euro unless its government reduces the budget deficit and improves policy co-ordination with the central. This at least is the view of the OECD as expressed in its annual report on Hungary out today. According to the OECD:
“the key conclusion is that further reductions in the general government deficit have to come about through spending cuts because of the already high level of taxation. Failure to reach deficit targets have damaged credibility in the recent past and the Chapter discusses ways of providing more realistic budget targets, more transparent fiscal planning, better assessment of progress over the budget year and improved estimation of outcomes.”
I can think of two pertinent questions to put to the authors of the report: will the euro still be around by the time we get to 2010 (in its present form, I doubt it), and if it is, are they sure that it’s a good idea (looking at what has happened eg to Portugal, Greece and Italy) for Hungary to join.
Interesting to note, following our discussion of the state of play of the Hungarian economy, that Hungary’s finance minister is not a euro pessimist. Janos Veres said in an interview with the Financial Times that he did not foresee a wider crisis for the single currency and that Hungary had ‘no option’ but to continue aiming to join the eurozone in 2010:
“I do not think Hungary has any other playing field,” said Mr Veres. “The Hungarian forint is not the Swiss franc. It cannot be maintained independently for decades.”
But Mr Veres, whose left-liberal government faces elections next spring, rejected calls for deep spending cuts that many economists view as necessary to keep Hungary on track for joining the single currency.
Instead, he outlined a plan for moderate spending cuts and the introduction of a simplified tax system designed to increase revenues next year. “We will not do anything that represents a radical, structural change,” he said.
Obviously the attraction is those nice low interest rates, to help pay for all that extra debt. But seriously, with the economically healthier Czech Republic now questioning whether it will join the euro, isn’t there a danger of the eurozone becoming a club for those structurally incapable of walking alone. “Oh when you walk, through the storm, hold your head up high,……….”
This week Hungary has a new President. The election of Laszlo Solyom as Hungary’s new President was a major setback for the governing Socialist Party (MSZP), at the same time as it was widely lauded as a victory by the right wing opposition Fidesz party. The outcome was largely the result of the behaviour of the MSZP?s junior coalition partner, the liberal leaning Free Democrats, who abstained. Katalin Szili, the MSZP choice, was regarded by Free Democrats as being far too involved with the MSZP. Only 3 votes separated the two candidates, and this reflects the current balance within the Hungarian parliament between Fidesz and MSZP ? a handful of independents and the Free Democrats in fact have the deciding votes. Continue reading →