Monday, 3 January 2022

Euro Membership to Better Protect Croatia in Times of Crisis, Says HNB Governor

ZAGREB, 3 Jan 2022 - The membership of the euro area will provide Croatia with better protection in periods of economic crisis, the National Bank (HNB) Governor, Boris Vujčić, told the national broadcaster's (HRT) evening news program on Sunday.

The euro changeover is expected in one year's time, and Governor Vujčić said that a lot of logistical preparations lay ahead.

"We hope that we will enter the euro area in a year's time, and 2022 is the year of preparations," said Vujčić.

The final decision on the date will be known this summer, however, we are making preparations to be ready for the euro changeover on 1 January 2023, he said adding that the central bank, commercial lenders, and the enterprise sector are now due to make preparations for the introduction of the euro.

Dual display of prices

As of this summer, all should be ready to express prices both in the national currency and the euro, said the governor.

He also noted that the country should be ready to provide the market with the euro banknotes and coins upon the transition to that currency.

Asked about the pros and cons of the admission to the euro area, Vujčić said that Croatia would be provided with better protection in the cases of crisis.

The euro adoption will remove the currency exchange risks, and in this segment, Croatia will have the biggest advantages, since its economy is more euroized than any other euro area candidate so far, he explained.

A majority of time savings deposits are tied to the euro, he said adding that for instance, 10% depreciation of the kuna in terms of its exchange rate versus the euro would increase the debt of all the sectors by HRK 50 billion. This is a huge risk that can cause a recession, and our entry into the euro area will remove that risk, he said.

He added that there are currently 36 billion kunas in cash in circulation, and in the next 12 months the money should be either deposited with banks or spent.

The Croatian kuna joined ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism) II on 10 July 2020 and observes a central rate of 7.53450 to the euro with a standard fluctuation band of ±15%.

Any aspirant for the euro area membership must participate in the mechanism without severe tensions and without devaluing its central rate against the euro for at least two years before it can qualify to adopt the euro. Being part of the Exchange Rate Mechanism is intended to help non-euro-area countries prepare themselves for becoming part of the euro area. It is an important milestone towards adopting the euro.

For more, check out our politics section.

Monday, 20 December 2021

Thirty Years of Croatian National Bank Observed

ZAGREB, 20 Dec 2021 - The Croatian National Bank (HNB) is the central monetary institution that had a crucial stabilizing role in the past and now has an important role on Croatia's path to the euro area, a ceremony marking 30 years of the HNB was told on Monday.

On 25 June 1991, parliament adopted a constitutional decision on Croatia's sovereignty and independence and the following 8 October, a decision severing all ties with the former Yugoslavia. That day, the government adopted a decree on the HNB which went into force on 23 December.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said the HNB was the central institution of Croatia's monetary system and that its 30th anniversary was occurring in challenging circumstances due to the pandemic as well as at a time of transformation as Croatia was integrating with the euro area.

He said the HNB had an important stabilizing role in the first decade of Croatia's independence as well as significance which manifested when the global financial crisis broke out in 2008.

Then, with monetary policy measures, the HNB cushioned the effects of the crisis on the economy, preserving exchange rate stability, releasing additional liquidity, and contributing to the state's stability, he added.

Croatia completing euro area preparations as the fourth decade of independence begins

Speaking of Croatia's goal to join the euro area on 1 January 2023, Plenković said the common currency was a logical instrument not just to achieve deeper integration, but primarily to fully exploit the potential of the single market.

With a population of over 340 million, the euro area is the second largest world economy, accounting for 15% of the world's GDP, while the euro is the second most important world currency, accounting for 38% of global transactions, the prime minister said.

Surveys show that 79% of the euro area population support the common currency, while only 15% are against it, although support has gone up during the pandemic, he added.

At the start of the fourth decade of its independence, Croatia is completing preparations for adopting the euro and achieving closer integration with the EU, he said.

"Adopting the euro will be a key step for Croatia towards boosting the economy's competitiveness and bigger economic sovereignty," he said, adding that it is certainly in Croatia's interest to share the same currency with its main trade partners.

Plenković said the decision on Croatia's accession was expected in mid-2022 and that when it joined the euro area six months later, the currency risk and exchange costs would disappear for businesses and citizens, it would have a positive effect on exports and tourist arrivals from the euro area as well as stimulate foreign investment.

He cited the example of Lithuania, which introduced the euro in 2015, saying that since then gross pay has gone up 59% and prices 10%.

In Croatia, between 2015 and 2020, gross pay went up 21% and prices 2.4%.

President wistful about Croatia losing its currency

President Zoran Milanović said that besides the Croatian Army, the HNB was the institution that had done a good job in these 30 years, while all the rest, including courts, the State Attorney's Office,  and all governments, had ups and, unfortunately, more downs.

Regarding euro area accession, the president said he was looking at Croatia's losing its currency with a dose of wistfulness.

He said the decision to adopt the euro was a political one and that it would be good for the economy because of its structure, including the high share of services and tourism.

However, he added, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland have not introduced the euro and, with good arguments and acceptance from their citizens, show tendencies and a clear direction to do things their way.

He said the Czech Republic was borrowing cheaper and more favorably than some euro area member states, wondering how to explain that. Therefore, he added, one should not have absolute views and there should be no dogmas.

The president said Lithuania was the only example of pay rises in the euro area. On the other hand, he added, there are countries where salaries are stagnating or even falling. The Italian economy has been stagnating for 20 years and has never adjusted to the euro, he said.

Speaking of cryptocurrencies, Milanović said everything should be done to control that segment and ban it if necessary. "It's terribly dangerous."

He said abolishing paper money was educationally bad as children must see money to understand its value.

Governor proud of central bank

HNB governor Boris Vujčić said he was proud that they had built such an institution, underlining the real autonomy which the political authorities had given it. Thanks to this autonomy, "we have managed to build an institution which is recognized the world over," he said, adding that the HNB promotes excellence and competence.

Asked by the press if he, too, was wistful about the changes that joining the euro area would bring, Vujčić said he was convinced that it would benefit all citizens, which would prove important in the next crisis.

He said Croatia's accession would be a new challenge for the HNB, which would keep all its functions as the central bank, except decisions on the monetary policy.

As for Milanović's mention of the Czech Republic, Vujčić said it would profit by introducing the euro, but considerably less than Croatia because it is much less euroized.

Asked about cryptocurrencies, he said everyone should be aware of the risks and advised extreme caution "because it's an absolutely speculative type of investment. It's not money that replaces the money issued by central banks."

Finance Minister Zdravko Marić told the press he did not agree with the president's claim that Lithuania was perhaps the only positive example of euro adoption, saying that Slovenia, the Baltic countries, Cyprus and Malta had benefited from it.

Deputy Parliament Speaker Željko Reiner recalled that the kuna was introduced as the national currency on 30 May 1994, replacing the dinar, but said Croatia had aspired to European monetary integration since 1991.

He noted that euro coins will have Croatian motifs, including the marten (kuna) on the €1 coin.

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Thursday, 16 December 2021

Boris Vujcic Reveals When Shops May Start Displaying Prices in Euros

December the 16th, 2021 - Croatian National Bank Governor Boris Vujcic has revealed more about when Croatia will begin displaying prices in shops and other sales outlets in both kuna and euros.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Ana Blaskovic writes, the latest forecast regarding the domestic economy has been revised once again with Boris Vujcic pointing out that the CNB is "cumulatively quite optimistic". The basic contribution to domestic GDP remains the same as before - foreign demand is primarily made up of the exports of services due to the surprisingly good tourist season this past summer, as well as the growth of the exports of goods and personal consumption.

The burning issue for people, however is the inflation rate, which will accelerate to 2.4 percent this year, and should remain at that level throughout 2022. Boris Vujcic pointed out that Croatia could meet the criteria for joining the Eurozone on time, too.

“The main logistical activity is cash withdrawals and coin minting. We'll have to borrow banknotes and ensure that from the 1st of January 2023 they end up in peoples' hands,'' said Boris Vujcic.

"Everyone is already working on it because we can't wait for next summer to start with that. IT adjustments in companies are already underway, and if we enter from January the 1st, 2023, then we will have to show prices in both kuna and euros as early as the summer months,'' explained Vujcic.

The CNB Council: Croatian GDP growth of 4.1 percent is expected in 2022

At a recent session, the Council of the Croatian National Bank discussed current economic and financial developments and adopted the Monetary Policy Projection and Macroeconomic Developments and Forecasts, as well as several other decisions within its competence. Taking into account the achievements in the first nine months of 2021 and the movement of indicators of monthly economic activity available for the fourth quarter, real GDP could grow by 10.8 percent on the level of the the whole of 2021, and thus already exceed the pre-crisis level this year.

In 2022, growth of 4.1 percent is expected, predominantly supported by foreign demand, with a positive contribution from various other components. The expected slowdown in growth is mostly the result of the base effect, ie the cessation of the effect of the low level of GDP in 2020 on the annual growth rate. The projection of Croatian GDP in 2022 is still exposed to numerous risks, with the negative ones predominating, and they're mainly related to the potential unfavourable development of the ongoing epidemiological situation and the increase in uncertainty that continues to bring with it.

The growth of Croatian tourism revenue during the main part of the summer season this year almost completely brought the current and capital account surplus closer to the record realisation from the third quarter of pre-pandemic 2019, so its level this year could exceed 4 percent of GDP, and additionally increase to 5 percent GDP in 2022. The growth of the current and capital account surplus, along with tourism, is strongly supported by net inflows of EU funds.

Consumer price inflation accelerated, which was influenced by rising food prices, and based on the achievements so far this year, it can be estimated that consumer price inflation at the level of the whole of 2021 could amount to 2.4 percent, with the growth of energy prices accounting for half of this growth. In 2022, the average rate of consumer price inflation is expected to remain at the same level, with inflationary pressures potentially becoming more pronounced in the first half and more subdued in the second half of the year.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

HNB: Perceived Inflation Rate Exceeds 24%

ZAGREB, 14 Dec 2021 - In the past few months inflation perception has grown strongly and the perceived inflation rate now exceeds 24%, which is much higher than the realized consumer inflation rate of 3.8% in October, the central bank (HNB) has said.

Based on data from a survey on consumer confidence, Lucija Fioretti, Karlo Kotarac, and Davor Kunac of the Croatian National Bank's (HNB) research department have analyzed changes in inflation perceptions in Croatia as well as the reasons for the recent divergence between inflation perceptions and the realized consumer inflation rate.

Since an unusually great divergence between inflation perceptions and the realized inflation rate may signal problems regarding the credibility of and confidence in official price statistics, the authors of the analysis have also compared the retail prices of a number of products published by the Croatian Bureau of Statistics (DZS) with microdata on retail prices in the main retail chains in the country.

The HNB says that the analysis indicates a high level of conformity between individual components of consumer inflation as calculated by the DZS and microdata on the prices of individual products available to the HNB.

The analysis notes that inflation perception, that is, the subjective consumer assessment of price growth is exceptionally important to monetary policymakers because it is closely related to the formation of expectations regarding future inflation, which, ultimately, are an important determinant of the future realized inflation.

In the past few months, inflation perception has grown strongly and now exceeds 24%, which is much higher than the realized inflation rate, which stood at 3.8% in October, the HNB analysts say.

They note that the average perceived inflation has been growing unusually fast in relation to the realized inflation and that one should look at the movement of prices of certain products as the reason for the increased inflation perception.

They note that there is a strong asymmetry in the recent increase in consumer prices, with the prices of some crucial food products such as cooking oil, milk and dairy products, bread, potato and petrol having gone up unusually strongly. All of those products belong in the categories that affect perceived inflation the most.

The analysts stress, however, that despite the strong rise in the prices of some basic consumer basket products, the price increase is not widespread for the time being.

For more, check out our dedicated politics section.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

One in Four Pays Over Half of Monthly Income for Housing Loan

ZAGREB, 11 Nov, 2021 - The average monthly housing loan installment for people who took out the loan between November 2020 and June 2021 ranges from 41 to 44% of their monthly income, according to a Croatian National Bank survey, Večernji List daily said on Thursday.

Housing loans total HRK 67 billion, up by over 10% year on year.

The high demand for real estate is accompanied by a constant rise in prices, which are up by six to seven percent. At this rate, the price of a square metre of a flat could double in ten years' time.

"Croatia is a country with too many motives for the high demand for properties, from the tax treatment, tourism and low interest rates to the moving of the capital of the extra rich from banks, the APN (Croatian Real Estate Agency), the fact that some indeed need a place to live, that some buy properties in companies' names to pay less taxes, and the presence of foreigners," Maruška Vizek of the Zagreb Institute of Economics told the daily.

"The market can't offer enough properties for so many motives for there to be a drop in prices. The only solution is an adequate tax treatment, which won't happen," she added.

The central bank is worried about potential risks and that the crisis might spill over to the banking sector. Governor Boris Vujčić said recently the prices of housing properties were increasing more than incomes but not construction costs. All of that increases the risks of their corrections in future.

Most of the new housing loans (28% of the principal) are paid out with debt-to-income ratios of 30 to 40%. For another 26% of debtors, the ratio is 40 to 50%. For as much as 23% of the new housing loans, the monthly payment is more than half the debtor's income, Večernji List said.

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Monday, 8 November 2021

Gross International Reserves Reach €24.5 Bn, New Record Amount

ZAGREB, 8 Nov, 2021 - Croatia's gross international reserves reached €24.5 billion in October 2021, their new highest level to date, increasing by €100 million or 0.6% from September, according to the data provided by the Croatian National Bank (HNB).

Since the start of the year, gross international reserves have increased by €5.5 billion or 29.3%. Compared to October 2020, they are €6.34 billion higher.

The increase is mostly the result of the government's foreign currency deposits with the HNB following the disbursement by the European Commission of €818.4 million as an advance payment for the purposes of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan.

All adequacy indicators of the country's gross international reserves suggest that they are sufficient to ensure the smooth running of the central bank's monetary policy.

Net reserves remained almost the same as in September, at €19.5 billion, the HNB said.

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Sunday, 31 October 2021

World Savings Day: Growth of Savings in Croatia Continues in 2021

ZAGREB, 31 Oct, 2021 - Increased uncertainty about future economic trends is leading to an increase in savings, according to an analysis by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK) on the occasion of World Savings Day, marked on 31 October.

Data from the Croatian National Bank (HNB) show household deposits at the end of September 2021 were HRK 240.3 billion, up HRK 20 billion or 9.1% from September 2020 and up HRK 1.6 billion or 0.7% from August 2021.

Citing HNB data from August, they underscored that a year-on-year growth of deposits was recorded in all counties.

In terms of the distribution of household deposits by banks, the concentration of deposits is the highest in the City of Zagreb, whose citizens had HRK 67.2 billion in savings at the end of August, a share of 29% percent.

Broken down by counties, per capita deposits exceed HRK 50,000 in the Adriatic Croatia counties, with the exception of Lika-Senj County, while the City of Zagreb and Zagreb County are the only continental counties to register such per capita deposits.

Istria County tops the list with per capita deposits of HRK 85,249, followed by the City of Zagreb (HRK 83,049), while Vukovar-Srijem County (HRK 26,068) ranks last. At the level of Croatia, per capita deposits amount to HRK 57,555, up from last year's HRK 53,103, the HGK analysis showed.

The share of time deposits is 33.6%, down 4.7 percentage points compared to the end of last year, while the share of savings deposits has reached 35%, up 2.2 percentage points, and the share of deposit money has reached 31.4%, up 2.5 percentage points.

Huge oscillations in savings

Josip Zaher of the HGK said in a statement carried by the press release that the increase in savings of Croatian citizens was not surprising given that in every crisis, this time caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, people always saved more.

As long as uncertainty regarding future economic trends is heightened, the same will apply to savings, said Vedran Šošić of the HNB, underscoring that oscillations in saving were huge.

Thus, amid the outbreak of the pandemic and the consequent lack of goods, and especially services, as well as caution and fear due to a potential loss of income, savings doubled overnight.

The reopening of the economy and the recovery of confidence enabled a gradual return to pre-pandemic patterns of spending and savings, although savings are generally still slightly higher than usual, said Šošić.

He also said that the majority of money surpluses accumulated after the outbreak, citizens deposited in banks. Also, savings were directed to the repayment of consumer debt, and investment in residential real estate is always popular, so housing loans grew increasingly fast, with increasingly obvious signs of overvaluation.

Member of the Management Board of the pensions funds management company Raiffeisen, Eva Horvat, stressed that nearly 400,000 Croatian citizens were saving in one of the voluntary pension funds, which contained assets of HRK 7.3 billion.

Savings growth constant in Croatia

On the occasion of World Savings Day, Zagrebačka Banka (Zaba) also released an analysis, in which Hrvoje Dolenec said that savings growth was constant in Croatia, and the reasons for that were the growth of GDP, living standards and disposable income.

"In the past two and a half years, the movement of financial assets of the Croatian population indicates an acceleration of that growth. This was especially evident during the pandemic, when the acceleration of savings was partly forced, due to limited movement and travel and less available services, such as restaurants, cafes, recreational activities, and partly voluntary, out of precaution and concern for the future," said Dolenec, noting that deposits and cash together accounted for nearly half of the total financial assets of households.

Igor Pavlović of Zaba underscored that low interest rates were certainly among the most important reasons for the reduction in the habit of opting for time deposits.

(€1 = HRK 7.509157)

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Thursday, 28 October 2021

"Vienna" Initiative, HNB Hold Annual Conference on Financial Trends in Split

ZAGREB, 28 Oct 2021 - A two-day conference on economic trends in central, eastern, and southeastern Europe, the consequences of the corona crisis, climate change, and inflation, which was organized by the European Bank Coordination "Vienna" Initiative and the Croatian National Bank (HNB), started in Split on Thursday.

The European Bank Coordination “Vienna” Initiative is a framework for safeguarding the financial stability of emerging Europe. The Initiative was launched at the height of the first wave of the global financial crisis in January 2009.

Opening this annual conference, the HNB Governor and Chairman of the Vienna Initiative Steering Committee, Boris Vujčić, said that the availability of bank lending was currently much better than in 2019, before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course, during the lockdown of economies there was no need for taking funds, as economic activity was suspended, but the price of the money today is more favorable, the governor said in his opening speech.

Asked whether he feared inflation, Vujčić said that he could now, perhaps, be more afraid of inflation than other citizens, however, inflation was not currently an important issue.

He elaborated that this year's 2.3% inflation rate should not be a rate that caused concern.

It will grow into a bigger problem if such a rate remains present for a long period, he explained.

The governor also admitted that a part of bankruptcy proceedings that had not happened during the pandemic could ensue later and that state grants for job-keeping measures helped to achieve employment even higher than before the corona crisis.

He said that Croatia would get an exact date for the euro changeover next summer.

HNB survey shows that 61% of Croats are for switching to the euro

As for a referendum initiative by a few right-wing parliamentary and non-parliamentary parties against the adoption of the euro in Croatia, Vujčić said that not one country that introduced the euro had experienced a decline in living standards.

He went on to say that opinion polls conducted by the central bank show that 61% of Croatians support the euro, 19% are against it, and the remaining respondents are also in favor of the euro on certain conditions. 

The HNB reports on its website that the participants in the Split conference include Vice-President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Mark Bowman, the European Investment Bank Vice-President, Lyiana Pavlova, World Bank Vice-President for Europe and Central Asia, Anna Bjerde, who will join virtually, as well as central bank Governors of Estonia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Ukraine.

Representatives of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the European Investment Fund will also be participating in the conference together with commercial banks and other financial sector stakeholders.

As the region recovered, the Initiative’s focus shifted to addressing the remaining and new challenges in the financial industry, including the resolution of non-performing loans, the development of local capital markets in emerging Europe, funding innovation, and green transition.

For more, check out our politics section.

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

HNB Governor Says in 2022 Exact Date for Switching to Euro Will Be Defined

ZAGREB, 27 Oct 2021 - Croatian National Bank (HNB) Governor Boris Vujčić said on Wednesday that next year Croatia would know the exact date for its changeover to the euro, adding that a strong campaign will be conducted in 2022 to inform the public of all the details.

Addressing a conference on what switching to the euro would mean for SMEs, which was organized by the 24 Sata daily, Vujčić underscored that Croatia has set a date for the introduction of the euro currency, but next year only will we know the exact date of the euro changeover.

If that is to be 1 January 2023, we have only 14 months for preparations, he said.

A law will be passed precisely regulating the changeover from the kuna to the euro, and the main principle will be to protect consumers so they are not brought into a worse position than they were prior to the conversion.

"The experience in all the countries that have entered the euro area indicate that wages increased more than prices while the standard of living increased and that is why the support for the euro in those countries is very high," he underscored. In other transition countries where the euro was introduced, the support is about 80% which Vujčić believes is proof that the fear of declining living standards is unreasonable.

Dual display of prices

The governor said that in the countries that adopted the euro the practice of dual display of prices was useful.

The dual display will also cover wages and not only prices, he also explained.

The logistics of exchanging the currencies have been worked on for a year and a half already, he said.

Payments will continue in both currencies for the next two weeks after the euro is introduced, explained Vujčić.

Finance Minister Zdrako Marić also underscored that based on current forecasts, the earliest the euro could be introduced is 1 January 2023.

He explained that prices in both currencies will be shown on articles five months prior to introducing the euro and for 1 year after its introduction. Marić believes that legislation related to the euro should be adopted in the spring of next year.

The president of the Croatian Chamber of Crafts and Trades (HOK), Dragutin Ranogajec, expects problems to occur during the 14 day period of payments in both currencies with regard to accounting and fiscalisation.

For more, check out our politics section.

Monday, 18 October 2021

Vujčić: No Room for Panic About Possible Rise in Interest Rates

ZAGREB, 18 Oct 2021 – Croatian National Bank (HNB) Governor Boris Vujčić said on Sunday that Croatian citizens should not fear a sudden rise in loan installments as a result of the rise in the inflation rate.

Speaking in an interview with the HRT public broadcaster on Sunday evening, Vujčić said there was no room for panic that interest rates would rise abruptly, and with the loan payments, for citizens who have long-term loans with variable interest rates.

He noted that the interest rates had been at record low levels since 2015 and that throughout that time the HNB was warning that at one point they would get back to normal and start increasing.

He said that this approach and the HNB's recommendation to the banks to offer fixed interest rates to citizens had led to the share of the variable interest rate in loans decreasing from 90 to the present 38 percent. He added that the majority of citizens have a fixed interest rate for the first five to ten years of loan repayment, after which the interest rate becomes variable.

"This means that in normal scenarios no one will feel any significant rise in interest rates in the short term," Vujčić said.

Should the inflation rate remain high for a longer period of time, interest rates might grow at a greater speed, he said, illustrating this with an example: "If your loan matures in 20 years or more, then a one percentage point rise in the interest rate might increase your loan installment by approximately 9.5 percent, provided you have no protection such as a fixed interest rate."

Vujčić said it was not possible to make a general recommendation to citizens with long-term loans and variable interest rates to apply for a switch to loans with fixed interest rates. He, however, recalled that in 2017 the HNB had recommended to the banks to make this possible for those who make such a request.

The HNB governor said he did not expect the rise in energy prices to have the same inflationary impact it had this year.

"Energy contributed to half of the total rise in prices, which is absolutely the greatest contribution to inflation. Looking at the markets, next year energy prices are expected to stabilize or even start falling slightly," he said.

He, however, warned there was still considerable uncertainty because if prices continued to rise, that would definitely put additional pressure on inflation.

"However, we cannot expect, in any reasonable scenario, the rise that we had this year when prices rebounded from the very low levels in the pandemic year 2020 to normal levels. I do not expect anything similar to the inflationary pressure we saw this year, but energy prices are definitely important for the overall inflation trend," Vujčić said.

The HNB expects inflation to pick up to 2.3 percent this year before slowing to 2.1 percent in 2022.

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