Potential impact of the war in Ukraine on the Serbian construction market

Written by Dejan Krajinović, Beobuild Core d.o.o., EECFA Serbia

Serbia’s construction market was booming when the economic and geopolitical situation changed, so the complicating circumstances in the world are stifling the potential growth and slowing down the ongoing recovery. Inflationary pressures have exploded with the start of the war in Ukraine and the effects of the current crisis are still unforeseeable.

Ada Bridge over the Sava River, Belgrade, Serbia. Photo by Beobuild, EECFA Serbia

Although Serbia is not directly involved in the economic war between the EU and Russia, spillover inflation in construction materials and energy will inevitably shake the construction market and its outlooks. At the moment, it is very hard to predict the developments as many political and economic decisions in the coming months will actually decide the exact scenario. Inflation has deep roots in EU monetary policies, and it started long before the war in Ukraine, so there is no simple and easy solution. What tools monetary and fiscal authorities will choose to combat inflation will be a crucial factor, but without trade normalization with Russia, any recovery is hard to imagine.

Worse than a high price is an unstable price, and the continuous increase in building material costs are already causing problems in contracting new projects. Construction companies are updating their contracts to allow flexibility in costs, particularly on projects with long deadlines. In 2021, construction costs rose 8.8% against 2020, with double-digit contribution of construction materials during the second half. This strong negative trend extended with even more steam in 2022, as global commodities reached record prices in decades. The rise in construction material prices reached 17% in Q1 2022, but this is hardly the end. Luckily, until now there has been no shortage of materials on the market, but the disruption in flow of oil and natural gas could halt production and create serious supply problems across Europe. In order to avoid any shocks, the Serbian government has put a cap on oil prices in retail and revises its levels weekly. Furthermore, state tax on gasoline has been lowered to mitigate the pressures.

So far, this crisis hasn’t had a significant impact on construction volumes, but this could be just too early to assess. Uncertainty has exploded, but it appears everyone is still waiting for the conclusion. There have been no project halts or cancellations, on contrary, both permits and volumes are still growing in most segments. The second half of the year will be painting a much clearer picture when all current developments take full effect.

EECFA (Eastern European Construction Forecasting Association) conducts research on the construction markets of 8 Eastern-European countries, including Serbia. The current reports were issued on 6 December 2021 and the next reports will be issued on 27 June 2022. For orders and sample report: eecfa.com

Residential construction seems unrelenting as it entered its 8th year of consecutive growth in 2022. The segment is leading the construction of buildings and the outlook is generally positive. Prices were growing faster than costs, interest rates were at historic lows and demand seemed endless. This environment will certainly change, so residential construction will have to adjust as well. The fact that Serbia has a heated and growing economy is excluding any sharp decline in short term, but mid- and long-term prospects became much dimmer. Following the move of the US Federal Reserve, the Serbian National Bank also started tightening its loose monetary policy by increasing interest rates from 1% to 1.5% in Q1 2022. This is just the first step and further increases are inevitable, so financial conditions will largely change in the coming period, especially the mortgage market and the availability of home loans.

Non-residential construction in Serbia is also standing strong, with some segments cooling off after strong growth cycles. There were some delays during the pandemic, but the realization of planned and ongoing projects continued unabated in 2021. All major segments have been rising in volume, supported by both private and public investments. Still, the latest cycle was already peaking, so some consolidation was expected even without external shocks.

Civil engineering saw record levels in 2021, and we believe another record year is on the horizon in 2022. Key large-scale energy, road and railroad projects in Serbia are already contracted and well underway, so we expect this construction segment to remain a strong contributor in this or next year’s output. On the other hand, prices could affect future contracts and volumes if inflation and stagnation pair up.

Potential impact of the war in Ukraine on the Croatian construction market

Written by Michael Glazer, SEE Regional Advisors – EECFA Croatia

For Croatia, as for other EECFA countries, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been both a supply shock and a demand shock. And many of the elements of these shocks are the same for Croatia as for other EECFA countries. On the supply side, energy costs are rising as are the costs of construction materials and of construction finance. Supply chains and labor markets have also been disrupted. On the demand side, inflation has cut into consumers’ real disposable income, consumer confidence has been shaken as a result and finance for real estate purchases has become more expensive.

EECFA (Eastern European Construction Forecasting Association) conducts research on the construction markets of 8 Eastern-European countries, including Croatia. The current reports were issued in December 2021 and the next reports will be issued in June 2022. For orders and sample report: eecfa.com

Admittedly, these disruptions are to a significant extent a prolongation and exacerbation of existing trends. For a considerable time before the invasion, consumer and producer price levels were rising broadly, construction costs were going up faster than overall inflation and central banks were considering tightening monetary policy to get inflation under control. Bank lending criteria were also getting stricter and consumer confidence was declining. All of this had a negative effect on Croatia’s construction output, but the sector was booming, nonetheless.

That said, the invasion’s impact has by no means been just more of the same for Croatia, and indeed its specific effects may weaken certain of the country’s construction sectors, at least in the short term. One cause for concern is the sharp, invasion-caused rise in Croatian food and energy prices. These threaten to both significantly reduce consumer resources available for home purchases and to exacerbate potential homebuyers’ concerns for the future. They may also, by forcing large price rises that in turn diminish demand, reduce industrial output, at least to an extent.

Mrtvi kanal, Rijeka, Croatia. Photo by Danijel Durkovic on unsplash.com

Also, Croatia’s tourism industry, which contributes as much as 20% of its GDP and is a major driver of its hotel, residential and commercial construction, is extremely sensitive to geopolitical developments, especially those in Europe. For example, in late 2021 and very early 2022, Croatia benefited greatly from Russian vaccine tourism, as Russians sought vaccines other their domestic Sputnik, both because Sputnik wasn’t very good and because, for that reason, European Union countries wouldn’t accept it. Now, though, the invasion has shut off even the normal flow of Russian and Ukrainian tourists and will continue to do so for this summer and fall at the least.

The uncertainty that the invasion has created in the minds of potential EU visitors as to future energy costs, and so as to their disposable income, may also damage Croatia’s tourism season this year. Or benefit it if as a result of these uncertainties EU tourists opt for cheaper, closer to home, holidays. Either way, Croatian construction output will likely be significantly affected as hotels change their capital spending plans to adapt, builders of coastal dwellings respond to alterations in demand and Zagreb construction residential and office developers adjust their products and their output levels to reflect buyer interest.

One sector that the invasion has not had a significant effect on is civil engineering. Work on, for example, Croatia’s large rail projects continues as before. The same holds true for industrial construction and to a large extent warehousing and storage, the former because the invasion has not changed the medium-term supply/demand calculus for those building such projects, the latter because even if one of the main drivers for such projects, consumer Internet purchasing, is uncertain in the short term, it will clearly rise substantially in the near future.

In the medium term, Croatian civil engineering may actually benefit from an invasion-induced turn to sources other than Russia to satisfy the EU’s need for gas. Such a shift would likely mean that the storage capacity of Croatia’s Krk Island LNG terminal would be increased, and pipelines built to enable the terminal to furnish more gas to more countries.

Potential impact of the war in Ukraine on the Turkish construction market

Written by Prof. Ali Turel, Cankaya University, EECFA Turkey

Compared to neighbouring countries to Ukraine, Turkey has been relatively less affected by the human consequences of this war. The number of refugees coming from Ukraine, disclosed by the Minister of Interior of Turkey on 21 March, accounts for 58 thousand, a much smaller figure than the at least 5 million refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who escaped from armed conflicts or wars in their countries and are still in Turkey.

The direct effects of the war in Ukraine on the construction output of Turkey may not be determined yet, because construction statistics are made available by the Turkish Institute of Statistics in 2-3 months from the end of the coverage period of statistics. Indirect effects, however, are mixed with macroeconomic problems that have been in place since November 2021; the most notable one being the falling exchange rate of the Turkish Lira against foreign currencies, leading to high inflation. The annual rate of inflation according to the Consumer Price Index was 19,89% at end October 2021 and grew to 48,69% by the end of January 2022 and further rose to 61,14% two months later. The yearly rate of change in Domestic Producer Price Index was already 46,31% at end October 2021, and with steeper rises, it went up to 93,53% and to 114,97% by the end of January and March 2022, respectively. Rises in petrol and natural gas prices in international markets connected to the war in Ukraine should be an important contributing factor to further increases in inflation.  

Cappadoccia, Turkey. Photo by Afdhallul Ziqri on unsplash.com

Construction cost is primarily affected by the rates of change in Domestic Producer Price Index in Turkey. The annual rate of change in the Construction Cost Index was 41,93% in October 2021 and rose sharply to 79,91% at the end of January 2022, which is the latest available statistic in construction cost. Housing Price Index had a similar trend to Construction Cost Index as the annual housing price growth was 77,4% in nominal, 21,2% in real prices by the end of January 2022. Since wage increases are indexed with the Consumer Price Index in Turkey, the 21,2% real rise in housing prices should be an indication of the lower affordability of housing.

Russia and Ukraine are important trade partners to Turkey. The value of trade with Russia increased by 25,3% and the one with Ukraine by 63,8% in February 2022 from the same month of 2021. The war could cause disruption in the movement of goods, particularly between Turkey and Ukraine. We will be able to know its effects when statistics on international trade are published for March and the following months of 2022.

EECFA (Eastern European Construction Forecasting Association) conducts research on the construction markets of 8 Eastern-European countries, including Turkey. The current reports were issued in December 2021 and the next reports will be issued in June 2022. For orders and sample report: eecfa.com

Potential impact of the war in Ukraine on the Romanian construction market

Written by Dr. Sebastian Sipos-Gug – Ebuild srl, EECFA Romania

Construction in Romania is not directly impacted by the conflict in Ukraine, however, there are several issues that would be indirectly made worse by it: construction costs, interest rates and inflation.

Construction costs already grew at a fast rate in 2021 (+25% yearly average over 2020), and even more so in early 2022, with January seeing a 41% increase in costs compared to January 2021. In these circumstances, an increase in energy costs and base materials due to both import difficulties and increases in global prices would lead to even higher costs and discourage investment in new construction. The Romanian economy is not strongly connected to that of Russia, Ukraine or Belarus, with imports from all three countries totaling at less than 5% of all imports into Romania in 2019 and exports to them totaling less than 2.5% of all exports in 2019 (last year unaffected by the pandemic, source: NSI). However, there are some segments where trade intensity is much higher: energy and ores. In 2019, 37% of all mineral fuels and oils and 40% of ores came from one of the three countries. Thus, trade difficulties would negatively impact the availability of fuel and materials and, thus, the price of construction.

Brasov, Romania, 3 March, 2022. Photo by Traian Titilincu on unsplash.com

While construction costs impact supply, the other two issues (interest rates and inflation) work together to negatively impact demand. The National Bank of Romania increased the reference rates to 3%: the 5th raise since September 2021. This will have a knock-on effect on the costs of consumer and new mortgage loans, making them more expensive, at a time when the residential real estate prices are highest since 2008 with asking prices for apartments up 20% in March 2022, compared to the same month of 2021 (source: imobiliare.ro). Coupled with record levels of inflation, especially related to fuel, heating and food, this would make financing new home purchases exceedingly difficult, and will push demand down.

Although the non-residential construction market, thanks to the easing of restrictions, was on recovery track, all the previously mentioned factors would hinder recovery. Additionally, the subsector would also have some specific challenges such as global supply chain disruptions due to sanctions, rising energy and transport costs at a time when there is a moderate worker shortage and increased pressure from employees for more remote work options.

When it comes to civil engineering, demand for construction remains high, but the ability of the government to deliver on that demand will be hindered by reductions in the available budget for investment. Increased construction costs make public investment more difficult. The increasing current account deficit, the need for subsidies to counter the effects of inflation and energy costs on the most vulnerable citizens and increased defense spending (to 2.5% of GDP in 2023, from 2% in 2022) are all eroding the public funding available for construction of civil engineering projects. The saving grace of the segment will be the availability of EU funding, however even that will be made less effective by the increases in costs. 

Potential impact of the war in Ukraine on the Slovenian construction market

Written by Dr. Ales Pustovrh – Bogatin, EECFA Slovenia

The impact assessment of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine on the Slovenian construction market must take into account the current volatile situation associated with the pandemic. Even before the war in Ukraine started, building material manufacturers reduced their capacity, either due to logistics problems resulting from the global closure of countries, or due to declining demand. As the last wave of the pandemic ended, supply failed to keep up with increased demand and construction material prices began to rise. According to statistics, building material prices in Q3 2021 compared to Q3 2020 rose by a fifth. The implicit deflator of the value of construction put in place (which measures prices in construction) exceeded 14%, the highest in 20 years. Additionally, rising energy prices – electricity, gas and other fuels – contributed most to the overall construction cost increase. At end February 2022, annual inflation rate in Slovenia was 7%.

Bled, Slovenia. Photo by Florian van Duyn

Despite high inflation, construction output in Slovenia has increased. Following a gradual decline in construction activity in 2021, the value of construction works rose again in the beginning of 2022. Construction companies performed 5,8% less construction work in 2021, mainly due to a decrease in the number of projects in non-residential buildings. Yet, non-residential grew most among all construction subsectors in January 2022. High activity was also recorded in housing construction at the end of 2021 and in early 2022. Residential construction output remains high, but is still lagging behind demand for housing, resulting in a fast increase in prices for residential real estate. In nominal terms, prices at end 2021 were 26% higher than the 2008 average. In the housing market, the growth of residential real estate prices in the last quarter of 2021 accelerated further. Construction output has also increased in the civil engineering sector, backed by public investment. The state is investing in the construction of the second track to Port Koper, the third development axis in road connection, the modernization of railways, the renovation of state roads and cycle paths, the construction and renovation of the electricity network; and there are large investments in water supply infrastructure. The state is also planning to invest in healthcare. As 2022 is an election year, an increase in public expenditure was expected, but its growth has exceeded even the most optimistic expectations.

Construction activity in 2022 and beyond will be highly dependent on the development of events related to the war in Ukraine. The direct dependence of the Slovenian economy on the Russian and Ukrainian markets is relatively small, but this conflict can have a strong impact on inflation in Slovenia, the global financial markets, trust, and supply chain operations. The Russo-Ukrainian war will continue to raise commodity prices, too. Not only iron will rise in price, but also nickel and aluminium whose price has jumped to a new record. The prices of oil and natural gas are also rising, which will also raise the price of cement. Ukraine was a major exporter of clay to produce ceramic tiles, so we can expect that the price of tiles will hike due to the lack of clay and rising energy prices. Construction companies want to pass on such increases to public contracting authorities (built-in inflation), but they have only been partially successful so far. In the coming months, the measures taken by the Slovenian government will reduce energy prices, so it is projected that prices will no longer exceed the February level, but they will not decrease either. The rise in prices in construction is also affected by the lack of workers. There is still a large surplus of demand in the labour market over the supply of skilled workers in the industry.