Will Covid-19 be remembered as ‘the good crisis’ for Slovenian construction?

Written by Dr. Ales Pustovrh – Bogatin, EECFA Slovenia

Construction output in Slovenia decreased by two-thirds between 2008 and 2015 as the effects of the global financial crisis lingered and the Slovenian banking system needed restructuring. Early signs are showing that the pandemic will have much less impact and might even prove to be beneficial to the construction sector in 2021 and beyond.

Pod Pekrsko gorco project, Maribor, Slovenia – Source: https://ssrs.si

In 2008, the Slovenian construction reached levels it had never reached before since the country became independent. According to EECFA’s research, its total construction output exceeded EUR 4,6 billion in that year, which as we know now, was unsustainable. Construction output decreased for the next 8 years and embarked on a low of EUR 2,2 billion in 2016 before rebounding to an estimated EUR 3,4 billion in 2020.

Then Covid-19 struck and the whole economy entered another crisis. With lockdown measures and restrictions to the physical movement of people, including workers, it was possible that construction would once again feel the burden of a general economic crisis that might force it into a full depression. In practical terms – how can construction workers construct new projects if they are not even allowed to work in groups on site?

After some initial confusion, it quickly emerged that Covid-19 will not have the same effect on the industry. Construction was able to continue its operations unhindered. Unlike in the Great Recession, banks have kept crediting new construction projects and at very low interest rates. Disposable income of the population has not decreased due to generous anti-crisis measures supplementing the lost income. And the government was willing to run large budget deficits as it was able to borrow at virtually zero cost on international bond markets. A part of these financing was invested in different construction projects, including in health building constructions.

Additionally, a fragile coalition of centre-left parties under Prime Minister Sarec fell apart in Spring 2020 and was replaced by centre-right coalition under the new Prime Minister Jansa. His agenda is also based on implementing some long-stalled construction projects, including the new high-voltage electricity distribution network connection with Hungary and the start of the construction of the new hydroelectric power plant near Mokrice. Some previous large construction projects have been continued or even accelerated, including the start of the construction of the so-called 3rd national road axis, as well as the planned expansion of the Slovenian railroad network that would capitalize on the ongoing construction of the new railroad connection toward Port Koper.

With these big-league construction projects and numerous smaller, privately funded ones, initial data on construction output in 2020 show that instead of decreasing, it might have actually slightly increased even during the health emergency and the accompanying economic recession. Additionally, with strong economic rebound predicted for the time after the emergency, potentially as soon as in the second half of 2021, construction output might grow further.

EECFA’s Winter 2020 forecast is envisioning for Slovenian construction a 0,3% real growth in 2021 and 1,7% in 2022, but with an upside potential.

Segment-level construction forecast is available in the EECFA Winter 2020 Construction Forecast Report Slovenia that can be purchased on eecfa.com

The new government has presented an ambitious long-term plan for civil-engineering, health and nursing home construction for the next few years (although it implementation will greatly depend on the results of the next election in 2022).

It will also have plenty of financing available from the comprehensive EU Recovery Plan. In Slovenia’s national recovery and resilience plan, the European Commission has confirmed access to EUR 5.2 billion for the 2021-2027 period. All in all, it is becoming clear that unlike in the previous crisis, access to funding for construction will not be a problem this time.

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