Russian Metropolitan Areas: Crisis Resilience in 2020

The economic turmoil of 2020 is hammering real estate and construction, but its degree is not the same across Russia. We saw this happening during the 2008 and 2014 crises, and we are watching it right now. Tracking the situation on the real estate markets of large Russian cities, we see that the dynamics of market indicators in crisis periods have always been different in various cities under the same external conditions, and different regional real estate markets react to macroeconomic shocks in different ways.

Written by Ilya Volodko and Andrey Vakulenko – MACON Realty Group, EECFA Russia

Moscow city – Source of picture

The 2020 crisis and regionality in Russia

While the past crises were mostly of macroeconomic nature, the crisis in 2020, in addition to the macro component such as falling oil prices and the ruble’s volatility, has a strong local component: different regimes and periods of lockdown measures due to the pandemic and the variety and unequal effectiveness of regional measures to support businesses and the population. Because of this, the current crisis affects local real estate markets even more asymmetrically.

One of the main influences on the degree of penetration of the crisis into the largest cities of Russia will be exerted by the structure of their economies because the degree of damage caused by lockdown and other measures to combat the pandemic on different sectors is mixed. To analyse these differences, we have used data from the Institute for Urban Economics Foundation on the structure of the economy of Russian cities and the volume of the Gross Urban Product (GUP).

To understand how strongly a metropolitan economy reacts to the crisis, MACON consultants have assigned a stability coefficient to each metropolitan economic sector (classification according to the Brookings Institution methodology), depending on its vulnerability, recovery rate and predicted consequences. Coefficient 1 means the greatest stability/no influence, 0 means the least stability/complete or partial temporary liquidation of the industry:

  • Local/non-market services. Stability coefficient 1. The most stable sector, including state and municipal services, education, health care, social support, culture and art, recreation, etc. Its volume is set to remain or increase due to additional indexation or one-time/permanent support measures.
  • Manufacturing. Stability coefficient 0.8. Despite a possible decline in output and employment, the sector is sufficiently stable as severe lockdown measures do not apply. Since these are large businesses, they receive the greatest support both directly (financially) and through government orders, tax incentives, subsidized interest rates and easier access to debt financing.
  • Utilities. Stability coefficient 0.8. They remain fundamentally resilient to the crisis. They are negatively affected by shrinkage in business activity, which is offset by the rise in consumption by individuals, many of whom still work remotely. Yet, the difference in tariffs for individuals and businesses is hurting earnings.
  • Commodities. Stability coefficient 0.7. It includes mining, agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing. The impact is more significant, the dynamics of commodity prices has a negative trend. But given the large volume of employment, the traditional volatility in these markets, and the non-stop nature of many extractive industries, the sector is most likely to continue working and maintain basic employment in mid-term.
  • Construction. Stability coefficient 0.5. A major negative impact due to the industry’s high dependence on any macroeconomic fluctuations, as well as with the multiplier effect, due to which even a slight decrease in construction volumes causes great changes in related industries. But the nature of the industry guarantees a considerable degree of state support and hence stability.
  • Transportation. Stability coefficient 0.5. The sector contracted due to both direct factors during the lockdown (almost complete elimination of air traffic, reduction of railway transportation, prohibition of movement within cities, between municipalities and regions), and indirect factors during the lockdown (reduction of wholesale and retail trade turnover). Yet, the need to ensure commodity logistics preserves industry volumes at an acceptable level.
  • Business/Finance. Stability coefficient 0.4. One of the most vulnerable sectors of the metropolitan economy, including financial services, insurance, real estate and new technologies (science and technology). It is characterized by a great drop in business activity and a decrease in physical access to such services.
  • Trade and tourism. Stability coefficient 0.1. The segment of retail and wholesale trade, catering, hotel and conference services is the most affected in the current crisis due to the impossibility of carrying out such activities during the lockdown. It is aggravated by the low ability of the sector to recover fast, the simplicity of liquidation procedures, the lack of access to credit and inadequate state support.

Based on data on the structure of metropolitan economies, as well as the above estimates and stability coefficients, it is possible to compile a ranking of the largest Russian metropolitan areas in terms of the degree of resistance to the crisis, where the first place/highest value means a higher degree of stability.

The findings

The metropolitan areas of Perm, Chelyabinsk and Saratov demonstrate the greatest stability. In these cities, on average, more than 60% of the economy is accounted for by the 3 basic sectors: local/non-market services, manufacturing, utilities. These are either fully controlled by the state/municipality or have a major systemic/city-forming character allowing them to receive benefits that contribute to the preservation of employment and production.

The metropolitan areas of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnodar and Yekaterinburg turned out to be the least resistant to the crisis. The share of the 3 basic sectors (local/non-market services, manufacturing, utilities), in contrast to the leaders, is much lower here: on average 45% versus 63%. However, the share of Business/Finance and Trade and tourism sectors, which are the most vulnerable in the current situation, is much higher (42% versus 23%). But while Moscow and St. Petersburg, due to broader financial opportunities, can offset these factors with active financial, tax and other support of the population and businesses, non-capital cities do not have such a resource.

We have found that the poorer the city, the more stable it is in the current crisis. The paradox is that Russian metropolitan areas that actively developed before the current crisis with a great deal of financial, business services, improved construction market and IT-technologies are in a much more difficult situation today than those with an economic structure from the pre-digital era and with industrial enterprises and non-market services.

For construction forecast on Russia, consult the latest EECFA Forecast Report Russia that can be purchased on eecfa.com

Construction and resilience

The different resilience to the crisis in various cities has a direct consequence on the segments of the construction market. Apart from the obviously severely affected office and retail, the most indicative is housing where demand reacts rather quickly to macroeconomic shocks and changes in the external environment. The number of housing transactions in Q2 2020 compared to Q1 2020 decreased in most Russian cities and regions owing to the dropping income of the population, the restrictions on movement, and the temporary impossibility of state registration of transactions. However, the most pronounced decline in demand was precisely in the cities with the least crisis-resistant economies which experienced a bigger increase in unemployment and a much bigger reduction in general business activity and a decrease in household income.

Will COVID-19 shake Bulgarian housing?

How much the pandemic hit construction activity: short-term implications for the residential property market

Written by Dragomir Belchev, EPI – EECFA Bulgaria

Construction activity

Construction sector in Bulgaria, and building construction in particular, was not affected as hard as others by the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, limited economic activity during the 3-month long state of emergency (between March 13th and May 13th) resulted in a drop of the index of construction production during this period by 16.9% on average. In June building construction output was 4.3% lower as companies in the sector are returning to business as usual. But already started residential and non-residential projects are financially ensured and are expected to be completed on time. And the accumulated started projects during the last several years started to materialize and 3660 dwellings were completed in Q2 2020, which is 56% higher than in Q2 2019. On the other hand, the economic uncertainty temporarily cooled down investor thirst in residential projects. Permitted dwellings in Q2 2020 dropped by 29.9%, while in terms of started dwellings the decline was not so dramatic (-15.6%).

The full exposure of the Bulgarian residential construction to the COVID-19 crisis remains to be seen in the months to come. Unemployment rate reached 5.9% in Q2 2020, which is 1.8 p.p. more than at the end of 2019. In mid-term the loss of income will reflect in people’s intention for buying a home, which could have a cooling effect on investments in residential property.

Residential property market

During the state of emergency, activity on the residential property market was restricted due to hampered administrative services. Additionally, the uncertainty regarding the near future made buyers temporarily pull away from the market. As a result, the total number of home transactions in Bulgaria in Q2 2020 shrank by 27.8% over Q2 2019. In Sofia, which has the largest chunk of the market (around 15%), the decline was lower (-7.6%).

During this summer we saw buyers gradually returning to the market, but while they are expecting a more significant price reduction, sellers are still reluctant to make such sacrifice. The shortage of quality property in big cities still puts the market power in the hands of supply with price levels almost unchanged compared to the beginning of 2020. In short-term, demand for property is fostered by 3 main factors:

  • Despite increasing unemployment, there is no major loss of income of people willing to buy before the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Interest rates on mortgages were stable in the last 5 months, and as of July 2020 the average interest rate reached 2.89%, nearing the historic low of 2.85%. During the state of emergency financial institutions started to be much stricter in requirements, taking into account the affected sectors of the economy. In general, banks have the needed liquidity to finance viable projects of both sides – construction entrepreneurs and families buying a home. According to the Bulgarian National Bank data, the total sum of granted loans remain stable except for a considerable negative change in May 2020 when new housing loans decreased by nearly 28% over May 2019.
  • Buying property as investment is popular among people with free money since deposit rates are close to zero. Such investments could record good profitability especially when made before the completion of the construction project.

One segment of residential property market is experiencing a noticeable upturn. Due to pandemic, people are seeking more freedom and fresh air, which is resulting in strong demand for family houses in the agglomeration of big cities or near to them (in radius of 30 km).

Construction forecast for Bulgaria, including residential forecast, is available in the latest EECFA Forecast Report Bulgaria that you may buy on eecfa.com

Turkey: Despite Covid-19 housing transactions historically peaking

In the midst of the pandemic, Turkey’s housing transactions are booming. Here is the answer why.

Written by Prof. Ali TUREL, EECFA Turkey

The pandemic in Turkey

Covid-19 has caused various problems in the Turkish economy, like in many other countries. The Government had to introduce a series of precautionary measures from mid-March onwards. Schools, universities, and many commercial establishments were closed. Factories and most construction sites had to stop work or reduce the number of workers. Many people lost their jobs that had to be compensated by the Government through allocating large sums of money. Many establishments got into financial difficulty, and rescue plans had to be put into effect in the forms of providing loans and deferring tax and other payments to public institutions. Demand for many goods and services, including real estate, shrank under the Covid-19 pressures.

Industrial production slumped by 6.8% in March, 30.4% in April and 19.5% in May 2020 from the same months of 2019. Some recovery occurred only in June by a 17.6% rise from the previous month and a 0.1% growth from the same month of 2019. Building construction was also hit by Covid-19, as at the end of Q1, building construction permits in floor areas total were 11.4%, occupancy permits 41.1% down from Q1 2019. The number of completed dwelling units was 152 thousand with a 39.5% drop against Q1 2019.

Building construction industry also appears to enter the recovery process in Q2 with a 40.8% growth in the first 6 months of 2020 from the same 6 months of 2019. Completions, however, registered a 32.5% falloff in January-June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, most likely because of the Covid-19 effects, although there are big backlogs of construction in almost every segment. The completed number of dwelling units with 269 thousand was about 70% of the 6-monthly rise in the number of households in Turkey.

Stimulus measure

In a bid to stimulate housing transactions, the Government introduced a measure in June 2020, according to which the loan-to-value ratio in residential mortgage loans was increased to 90%. The three state-owned banks were to offer mortgage loans under market interest rates and with a longer repayment period: 0.64%/month for new housing, 0.74%/month for used housing, both with a 15-year repayment period when the annual rate of increase in the Consumer Price Index was 12.62% in June 2020.

The stimulus measure greatly influenced the national housing market. The number of dwelling units sold in March-April 2020 came down to 42,8 thousand and 50,9 thousand, respectively. After the announcement, 190 thousand dwelling units were sold in June and 229,4 thousand in July, implying 209.7% and 124.3% rises from the same months of 2019, respectively. The number of transactions in July was the monthly historical peak, while in June the second monthly historical peak in Turkey.

In June and July 2020 together, 419.369 dwelling units were sold, 232.222 of which (55.4%) on mortgage loans. It is possible that not all applicants were able to use these credits. The ratio of mortgage financed housing to total housing sold was 12.5% in the same two months of 2019. Equity financing was still important with a 44.6% share (187.144 dwelling units) in June and July this year. It appears that people consider investing on housing as a hedge against inflation when all commercial banks offer negative real interest for deposit accounts. 

It has been a much-discussed issue in the media whether offering mortgage loans by state-owned banks under market interest rates would contribute to the clearance of the unsold newly built housing stock. The total number of first sales in June and July 2020 together was 126.569, 30.2% of total sales. The relatively higher price of newly built housing than that of the existing housing stock could be a factor keeping first sales at a 30% level. A media outlet suggests that about 24% clearance of the stock occurred by first sales in June and July this year.

The policy of offering mortgage loans under market interest rates contributed to the big revival of housing demand that had greatly decreased due to Covid-19. Since an interest rate subsidy at that level would unlikely continue for a long time, it will be interesting to see how the housing market will return to its usual course in the following months.

Construction forecast for Turkey is available in the latest EECFA Forecast Report Turkey which can be purchased on eecfa.com

EECFA countries in the European Commission’s 2020 Macro Forecast

Before the 2020 Summer EECFA Construction Forecast Report was published, the European Commission released its forecast for the economic prospects for EECFA member countries. The main changes in prospects between Autumn 2019 and Spring 2020 have been collected in this article.

Written by Bálint Parragi, EECFA Research, ELTINGA

In Spring 2020, the global economy as a whole has been hard hit and shrunk due to the coronavirus pandemic, marking the end of many quarters and years of economic growth. According to data depicted on Chart 1, every country’s GDP growth decreased, but not to the same extent.

The countries having experienced high GDP growth (higher than 2.5% per annum) in Autumn 2019 are still growing, but very much less than before. Romania and Bulgaria have the highest absolute decrease with approximately a reduction of 3% and 2.5%, respectively. The economy of Serbia and Euroconstruct member Hungary slowed down too, but not as drastically as that of their eastern neighbours, so they have the highest GDP growth among these countries. Where growth was less and reduction was the same, the crisis created a stagnating or even shrinking economic status such as in the Euro Area, the EU and Turkey. The Russian economy even suffered a significant negative shock with a value of -0.7% per annum. All in all, EECFA countries still have a higher GDP growth than the others.

Looking at the gross fixed capital formation data (Chart 2), the situation is a bit different, but decreases are general. According to expected GFCF growth, Serbia lost little to its previous period value, ranking high above all other states. While Romania experienced a moderate drop, annual GFCF growth has nearly come to zero in Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, the EU (the Eurozone as well) and Russia. The greatest falloffs are connected to Bulgaria and Turkey whose previous period value was by far the lowest and the only negative value among the examined countries.

Total construction growth has been revised downward everywhere, but while in Romania and Hungary it stayed positive (3-4%), it has come to zero in Slovenia and turned into negative value in Bulgaria, around -5% per annum. Construction’s share in total investment in the EECFA countries ranges from 57% (Slovenia) to 62% (Romania), with Hungary and Bulgaria in between (61% and 59% respectively).

For construction segment level forecast, please consult with our latest reports issued on 29 June that can be purchased on eecfa.com

EECFA 2020 Summer Construction Forecast – Pandemic edition

The 2020 Summer EECFA Construction Forecast Report was released on 29 June. It can be purchased, and a sample report can be viewed at www.eecfa.com. EECFA (Eastern European Construction Forecasting Association) conducts research on the construction markets of 8 Eastern-European countries.

Southeast Europe

Construction in the ‘small countries’ of EECFA (Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania Serbia, Slovenia) will be bruised by the pandemic effects this year, causing a drop in construction outputs. The two exceptions are Croatia and Bulgaria where civil engineering could compensate for the losses in building construction. Already in 2021, we are likely to see positive growth rates in all 5 countries.

Bulgaria. Although there was no ban on construction works during the two-month state of emergency in Bulgaria, construction output growth will be hampered by the COVID-19 crisis. The economic uncertainty and rising unemployment are expected to hold back real income growth, which will mainly affect the property market. The growth driver in 2021 is set to be the completion of many large-scale office buildings, while industrial and warehousing construction is also to contribute positively. Output in civil engineering will be driven by road and public utility constructions where EU funds play a major role. The energy sector will also have a net positive impact because of the ongoing works of the Bulgarian part of ‘Turkstream’ in 2020 and 2021. Thus, total construction output in Bulgaria is to remain almost unchanged in 2020 (+0.3%) while in 2021 it is set to grow by 9.2%.

Croatia. COVID-19 and the Zagreb earthquake have dramatically weakened the short-term outlook for most building construction in Croatia. Civil engineering, though, will remain relatively unscathed. For buildings, COVID-19 has greatly affected both supply and demand for construction services, while the Zagreb earthquake has primarily influenced demand, in some subsectors in less than straightforward ways. Civil engineering as a whole remains strong despite the pandemic and the earthquake, but demand will vary considerably from subsector to subsector. Croatia’s July 5 elections will significantly influence the country’s policy responses to the problems it faces, but no matter who wins, the consequences of the two crises will affect the country’s construction sector for years to come.

Romania. All segments of the Romanian construction market have been impacted, in one way or another, by the pandemic and the measures taken to mitigate it. Like the rest of the EU, Romania is passing through a recession, with GDP and public consumption dropping significantly in 2020. Recovery is expected for 2021, but Romania’s bounce-back might be slower than the EU-average, since there is a lack of infrastructure and public funding availability. New residential construction is predicted to perform worse than previously expected in both 2020 and 2021 due to lower demand. The non-residential subsector is also forecasted to have a rough couple of years, with companies rethinking their office needs and retail consumption trends shifting. In addition to the recession, low efficiency in EU funding absorption is also holding back civil engineering. Overall, we predict construction activity in Romania to suffer a 2.1% decline in 2020, but to recover slightly in 2021, as the economy stabilizes.

Serbia. The beginning of the year was exceptionally strong for all subsectors, announcing another year of steaming outputs, but it was broken by the pandemic state of emergency and movement restrictions in April 2020. The fact that Serbia had a lockdown in the midst of an economic and construction recovery will make it one of the more resilient economies as fast recovery is expected. On the other hand, this extraordinary event will definitely affect the overall result in 2020, with still uncertain severity. After restrictions were cancelled, rebound followed on both residential and commercial markets. Home transactions had a stellar recovery in May, and the retail segment also reports pre-crisis turnovers in June. The good news is that none of the planned projects was cancelled, while several large land transactions in May 2020 announce investments will go forward. What scenario will play out still depends on the epilogue of this crisis and the eventual follow-up events during the course of this year.    

Slovenia. Construction industry in 2020 and 2021 will be characterized by the short-term disruption resulting from COVID-19, and a more favourable long-term demand for construction services. The former itself, due to a 3-month long lockdown, could potentially decrease construction works by more than 10% in 2020, but anti-crisis measures, including a boost to civil-engineering construction, will be supportive. The forecasted decline in construction output in 2020 is thus 5,5%. Several big projects that started shortly before the onset of the pandemic have resumed after the lockdown such as the construction of the Second Railway Track to Port Koper and the Third Axis Road. These and a major raise in public housing (mostly in Ljubljana) should lead to a total construction output rise of 2,6% in 2021. In such a scenario, construction output will not decrease below EUR 3 billion in either 2020 or 2021, and might even act as a stabilizer for the country’s overall economic activity in contrast to the financial crisis of 2008 when a depression in construction activity represented a drag on economic development for almost a full decade.

East Europe

The ‘big countries’ of EECFA (Russia, Turkey, Ukraine) are also set to be hammered by the pandemic effects this year. Worsened by the underlying economic problems in these countries, they will likely register far bigger slumps in their construction output in 2020 than the ‘small countries’ of EECFA. But growth could return next year in Turkey and Ukraine, whereas Russia could experience a slight decline still.

Russia. The volume of construction market in 2019 is expected to have exhibited a minimal negative correction (-0.2%) due to the high base in 2018, and the decline in civil engineering caused by the completion of many big-league projects. 2020 is to see a considerable drop in construction (-7.4%) owing to a set of negative factors that the economy is battered by: falling oil prices, nosediving ruble exchange rates, as well as the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic and the long-lasting lockdown. All this has led to an economic crisis that will be felt throughout 2020-2021 and is to cause a recession in all segments of the construction market, except for strategically important ones such as infrastructure, healthcare and agriculture-related constructions. In 2021, due to the expected recovery trends in some segments of non-residential and civil engineering construction, the rate of decline will likely be noticeably slower, but the general negative dynamics will likely continue and the construction market is predicted to post a decrease by another 0.5%.

Turkey. The economy was in the process of recovering in early 2020 but had to confront with the COVID-19 problem from mid-March on, after the first positive case was diagnosed. To deal with it, the Government had to allocate big sums of money, which inevitably reduced funds to be used for projects. Precautionary measures for the pandemic and the falling exchange rate of the Turkish Lira against the Euro (by 13,65% between January-June 2020) caused declines in demand for many goods and services, including real estate. Incentives such as mortgage loans by state-owned banks for home buyers under market interest rates and at 90% loan-to-value ratio have become very effective: granted loans reached about 101,000 in the first four weeks of June. Building construction permits registered a historical peak in 2017, but massive drops in the next two years, which continues with a mild fall in Q1 2020. Completions, however, did not decrease in the same way as starts until Q1 2020, mainly because there are big backlogs of construction in every segment, except for wholesale and retail trade buildings. For this reason, building occupancy permits are set to continue to remain higher than construction permits during the following years. Nonetheless, we foresee further market contraction this year. Recovery could start in 2021.

Ukraine. Over the past four years, construction market of Ukraine was on a recovery path, but the pandemic and the consequent economic crisis dramatically worsened construction trends and expectations in the country. Current indicators of the volume of capital investments and a drop in construction volumes suggest a slump in the construction market. Under such conditions, state support and bank lending would remain a reliable means for the construction market, but developers stopped borrowing during the lockdown, and bankers predict a great decrease in business lending. Future construction trends will largely depend on the dynamics of the economic recovery. The government’s economic recovery program contains no targeted measures to support the construction industry or mortgage lending, leaving builders alone in the fight against the crisis. Residential market is expected to shrink most in 2020 and each sub-sector is foreseen to come back in 2021.

Source of data: EECFA Construction Forecast Report, 2020 Summer

Q4 2019 Permit-completion results of EECFA countries

Of the 8 EECFA countries, the highest growth of permitted m2 of buildings in 2019 was recorded in Ukraine. Both the multi-unit residential segment and non-residential buildings witnessed much higher permitted floor area than a year ago; almost 40% and 60%, respectively.

In the meantime, Turkey experienced a further massive drop. After permit halved in 2018, it halved again in 2019.

On the Balkans, Croatia and Serbia have the highest growth with both countries having registered an around 15% expansion driven by the residential segment.

Some countries like Bulgaria and Slovenia recorded a shrinkage, but both countries’ permitted m2 of buildings in 2019 was beyond the 2015-2019 average.

Which sub-market would you like to see?
Interactive graphs for 8 EECFA + 1 Euroconstruct countries:



Prepared by Janos Gaspar, Head of Research (EECFA, Buildecon)

EECFA 2019 Winter Construction Forecast

The 2019 Winter EECFA Construction Forecast Report has been released. It can be purchased, and a sample report can be viewed at www.eecfa.com. EECFA (Eastern European Construction Forecasting Association) conducts research on the construction markets of 8 Eastern-European countries.

Southeast Europe

Building construction market of the Balkan countries of EECFA is in prosperity phase. In the 2016-2019 period the market size expanded by 30%. We think that the current cycle is getting closer to the peak and for the upcoming 2 years we foresee a deceleration. One extreme is Serbia’s building construction market. It well outperformed the rest of the countries in the past 4 years and hardly sees any further expansion. As we are getting closer to the end of the current EU programming period, the civil engineering submarket is projected to contribute more positively to total construction market growth.

Bulgaria. Construction output in Bulgaria continues its recovery as both building and civil constructions are contributing. Residential construction is boosted by increasing real wages and low interest rates on housing loans which make buying a home more and more affordable. Persistent demand for contemporary office premises, along with the ongoing expansion of industrial and warehousing projects, will likely continue to be a tailwind for non-residential construction in 2019-2021. Civil engineering construction is forecasted to continue its upward trend in line with EU fund absorption. Growth here in the upcoming years will be fuelled by large transport infrastructure projects and the public utility sector. Total construction output is set to grow by 8.7% in 2019, and to add another 6.5% in both 2020 and 2021.

Croatia. Construction in Croatia is in transition. Some sectors are reaching the limits of catch-up growth. Others are only now beginning to benefit from it. While the direction and inevitability of this transition is clear, the timing is less so, with each sector likely to follow its own, unique path. This said, certain factors, among them emigration, the slowness of key reforms (especially regarding the judiciary), rising construction costs, the government’s ability to secure EU and other official funds and increased international competition for the tourists on which, for better or worse, Croatia’s economy relies, will affect all construction sectors. The outlook is by no means grim. Croatia is not nearly done with its transition, certainly not as far as construction is concerned. Many opportunities remain.

Romania. Romania’s construction subsectors have seen different trends. Residential and non-residential have been on a growth path for several years, while civil engineering has been declining since 2015. Residential construction should remain the main contributor to growth in the forecast period on the back of increased income and high demand for new construction, though regulatory and tax changes have slowed down the subsector. Romania’s economic growth, one of the strongest in the EU, and increased public consumption are feeding the need for new non-residential construction; however, increased skilled labour shortages and costs keep the segment in check, hindering development. For civil engineering, increased construction costs, elections and government changes counter much of the potential growth. Overall, construction across Romania is predicted to expand by 6.4% in 2019 but switch to a lower gear in both 2020 and 2021.

Continue reading EECFA 2019 Winter Construction Forecast

Construction statistics or constructing statistics?

Development of Russian construction statistics

Written by Andrey Vakulenko – MACON Realty Group, EECFA Russia

Assessing the development of construction industry on national scale is practically impossible without high quality statistical data that allow us to draw conclusions on industry trends and create any forecast model. The quality of Russian official statistics and its reliability have increasingly been becoming the subject of public discussion and the work quality of statistical service has been questioned by independent experts and economists. To overcome the problems, at end 2018, a comprehensive plan was developed for the reform and modernization of the Russian Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat).

Design by EECFA Central, source of original picture: nlomov-pnzreg-ru

In 2018 the Russian economy seemed to have registered the highest growth over the past 6 years. According to Rosstat, GDP grew from 1.6% in 2017 to 2.3% in 2018; the highest value since 2012 (+3.7%). Such pronounced growth came as a surprise since all official and unofficial forecasts were much less optimistic: an average of 1.5%-1.8%. To a large extent, the successes of the Russian economy in 2018 derived from artificial manipulations, i.e. Rosstat’s review of the growth rate of the construction sector in 2017-2018. The indicator of the volume of construction works completed over 12 months has drastically changed: 2018 was to amount to RUB 8.4 trillion, 5.3% higher, or RUB 422 billion higher (at current prices) than in 2017. It was astonishing as previously Rosstat estimated construction works for 11 months of 2018 to post a modest growth of 0.5%. The 2018 growth in construction was a record for the last 10 years: it was only in 2008 when the sector grew at a higher rate (by 12.8% per year). On the contrary, between 2014 and 2017, construction industry saw a steady decline, which, according to official statistical calculations, gave way to a rather sharp increase in 2018. The final contribution of the construction sector to Russian GDP in 2018 was 0.3pp, although in 2017 it was previously negative (-0.1 pp). Such drastic changes caused a wide discussion for the following reasons:

  • Weak argumentation for revising statistics. The Ministry of Economic Development and Rosstat recalculated construction data in late 2018 and early 2019 on grounds of clarifying previously submitted information by respondents at the end of the year. (This is due to the peculiarities of statistical accounting in construction in Russia: the peak of completions is at the very end of the year and then statistics are updated for a long time. Final data for the reporting year are published in spring and some figures may be adjusted retrospectively for a longer period). However, in this case, Rosstat adjusted the data by RUB 565bln, referring to only one project (Yamal LNG), which adds only RUB 241bln. The artificial increase in the indicator couldn’t be explained by only one project in one region, but Rosstat did not voice other official explanations.
  • Growth of indirect construction indicators. Volume of completed construction works posted a massive rise against the backdrop of a decline in many industries related to construction, for example, in the production and transportation of building materials. In 2018, rail transportation of building materials for the year decreased by 6.8%, cement transportation also fell by 6.5%, cement production shrank by 2%, brick production dropped by 4.8%, and the construction of metal structures saw a 1.5% slump. Thus, according to Rosstat, production and transportation of building materials dipped, while more construction works were carried out. An important indicator here is also growth in the volume of housing completion, the most capacious segment of the Russian construction industry, which at end 2018 showed a steady decline by more than 4% (and by 6% in the multi-unit segment).
  • Administrative reasons. In 2017, Rosstat, previously a fully independent agency under the Government, became subordinate to the Ministry of Economic Development. This created an internal conflict of interest since Rosstat data directly or indirectly indicate the effectiveness of the Ministry and the reliability of its forecasts.

EECFA’s Russia Construction Forecast Report with detailed analysis and forecast for the construction market of Russia can be ordered on http://eecfa.com/

Over the last year, official statistics was at the center of public discussion in the scientific community due to regular adjustments and revisions. And construction is not the only area of statistics affected by data manipulation, there are examples for other important macroeconomic indicators being revised:

  • At end December 2018, Rosstat significantly improved data on Russia’s GDP growth rate in 2015-2017. The new estimate showed that in 2016 the economy expanded by 0.3% despite the previous drop of 0.2%. GDP growth in 2017 also turned out to be adjusted, although less: +1.6% instead of +1.5%. Decline in 2015 was also less than originally indicated: -2.3% instead of -2.8% (the first estimate by Rosstat was -3.7%). The recalculation was associated with obtaining newly revised data.
  • In October 2018, public attention focused on published data on the real income of the population for January-June 2018, which, as per Rosstat, in the whole country rose by 2.4%. However, 6 out of 8 federal districts registered negative growth (from -1.6% to -0.4%), and the income growth of the population in the remaining 2 districts was +0.5% and +2.0%. The apparent contradiction in statistics was not explained in any way, and from early 2019, Rosstat switched to a new methodology for calculating population income and recalculated all data on this indicator from 2013. As a result, it turned out that in 2013-2018 real income decline was 8.3%, instead of 10.9% (previous estimate), and in 2018, the initial drop of 0.2% was replaced by a rise of 0.2%. Thus, growth rate of the real income indicator has been revised upward.
  • Rosstat’s recent upward revision of industrial production data for 2016–2018 also raised many questions. Instead of stagnation in the industry in recent years, new statistics began to show moderate growth. For example, at end 2017, Rosstat estimated growth in industry at +1.0%, but after the revision at the level of +2.1%. Similarly, data for 2016 were revised upward. It was an interesting coincidence that Rosstat was fully in line with the forecast of the Ministry of Economic Development published even before the final results of 2017 became known.

In 2019, Rosstat conducted a radical revision of macroeconomic statistics since 2014. The losses of the economy from the “sanction war” and the slump in world oil prices were exaggerated and the economic recession was slight and short-lived. According to newly recalculated data, there was neither a long economic downturn, nor a big recession in industry and construction, and 2015 was the only crisis year.

Large-scale revisions by Rosstat, the wide range of indicators that they affect, their upbeat nature (indicators are only revised upward) and the often insufficient or unconvincing argument behind raise doubts in all who use these data. Refinement of statistics and revision itself is a normal practice taking place in any country, any revision though should have a clear and understandable explanation, and if such adjustments frequently occur, the question of the quality of applied methodology for collecting and analyzing statistical data arises.

Periodic revisions of statistical data in construction and other sectors of the economy are not the only difficulties. There are weaknesses not only in the statistical office itself, but also in the whole system of collecting and publishing statistical information in Russia such as:

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