Croatia’s new government: Turning point or business as usual?

Written by Michael Glazer (SEE Regional Advisors) and Tatjana Halapija (Nada Projekt), EECFA’s Croatian members

Near Senj, Croatia – Photo by Tatjana Halapija

It’s at last becoming possible to assess the consequences for Croatia’s construction sector of the country’s July 2020 elections. Jockeying for governmental positions, COVID-19- and tourism-season-related priorities and other pressing matters prevented the new Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) led government from moving on its larger agenda until recently. Now, though, the political picture, and the impact of the elections on Croatia’s construction sector, is getting clearer.

The July elections were particularly important to the Croatian construction sector for a number of reasons. They occurred mid-COVID-19-pandemic, when a change in government or even just a change in government policy would have had large consequences for Croatia’s fight against the disease and so for public- and private-sector finances and accordingly for the resources that would be available in the next few years for construction projects. This was especially true as the elections were called in the midst of Croatia’s tourism season, a critically sensitive time, as the survival of the country’s hospitality sector, which is responsible for much of Croatia’s building construction, was at stake, and relatively soon after the Zagreb earthquake, which caused on the order of EUR 12bln in damage to the city’s buildings and infrastructure that must be repaired.

Making the elections still more consequential, they seemed likely to decide the fates of several political parties and movements, some with significant influence on Croatia’s construction sector, as well as those of a few individually powerful politicians important to that sector. Finally, they also seemed likely to affect Croatia’s relationship with the new EU Commission and EU Parliament, relations determinative of the amount and nature of EU COVID-19- and earthquake-related aid that Croatia could secure.

So, how have things turned out? Regarding winners and loser, the center-right HDZ was by far the biggest winner (increasing by five the number of seats held by its coalition in the one hundred fifty-one seat parliament) and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) the biggest loser (with its coalition’s seat count falling by ten). Far-right defectors from the HDZ did well as a new party (securing sixteen seats), but paradoxically lost power, since the HDZ’s strong performance made them irrelevant to the formation of an HDZ-led government.

The consequences of the HDZ victory are mostly positive for the construction sector. Importantly, there will be substantial continuity in the government’s construction policy. While by no means certain, it’s possible that a victory by the SDP and its coalition could have led to months of fractious conflict within the coalition, and indeed within the SDP itself, and put in power a party that after many years out of government might no longer have been familiar with how to rule.

As to the policies that the new government will adopt, further simplification of bureaucratic procedures relating to construction is likely, as is a continued emphasis on large infrastructure projects and COVID-19- and earthquake-damage amelioration measures. Crucially as to the latter, Andrej Plenković, Croatia’s prime minister both before and now again after the elections, has great pull with the European Commission, since he played a major role in brokering the selection of Ursula von der Leyen as the Commission’s president. (In fact, von der Leyen, while EC president, made a controversial video supporting Plenković’s candidacy, for which she later apologized.) For the same reason, he has similar influence with the European People’s Party, of which the HDZ is a member. These relationships have very likely already been reflected in the large sums that the EU proposes to allocate to Croatia for earthquake and COVID-19 relief. They probably also mean that the EU will be more flexible in how Croatia spends the money that it receives for these purposes. All good news for construction in Croatia and in particular for civil engineering projects.

Construction forecast for Croatia is available in the EECFA Forecast Report Croatia that can be purchased on

Also important to the construction sector is the dramatic decline of the Croatian People’s Party (HNS) as a national political force and the eclipse of its leaders. The HNS kept only one parliamentary seat and no ministries. The party’s formerly extensive influence on energy matters is now very much past tense, and its members are being gradually removed from positions of power in Croatian state-owned enterprises, a process likely to be accelerated by the arrest of the CEO of JANAF, Croatia’s gas pipeline company, who was formerly a HNS member is said to still be close to that party. The result is likely to be a better alignment of Croatia’s energy policy with its policies in other spheres. In particular, it will likely lead to a construction program for electrical-power facilities more in keeping with Croatia’s energy needs than with its government’s political makeup.

Other developments have been less positive. The HDZ has not followed through on some of its electioneering promises. One important one is that the number of Croatian sub-sovereign administrative divisions would be reduced from the present 428 municipalities (the smallest of which has 137 inhabitants), 128 cities and twenty counties to a more sensible number. The cost of maintaining so many governmental organizations is quite high, with, for example, a mayor, municipal secretary, administrator/bookkeeper, etc. required for each municipality and city not to mention the offices, office cleaners, doorkeepers, official automobiles and the like. that lead to even more expense. It appears, though, that the internal political cost of rationalizing Croatia’s local governments, which would be a painful task for a government of any political stripe, is too high for the current one, and so significant reductions in numbers and payrolls are unlikely. The rub here is not just that Croatia’s surfeit of local governments is expensive and leads to corruption. It’s also that reduction in their number and related reforms are high on the priority list of the EU. So a failure to follow through on the promised reforms could lead to friction in the release of EU funds, including construction-related money.

The new government has also scored some own goals with its post-earthquake and anti-COVID-19 policies. As to its response to the devastation that the earthquake wrought in and near Zagreb, promised relief has been slow in coming, and the legislation governing it was not well drafted. While matters are now being clarified, funding delays have caused real suffering for those whose residences and offices the earthquake rendered unsafe.

Zagreb upper town, Croatia, after the March 22 earthquake – Source: Cropix

As to the COVID-19 pandemic, the prior HDZ government’s success in the spring in tamping down COVID-19 infections eroded dramatically in the summer and fall. Daily infections are now at record levels, likely a result of lax enforcement of preventive measures in the summer (to accommodate tourists and electioneering) and continued lack of enforcement into the fall (reflecting public resistance to inconvenience and a loss in confidence in the government figures leading Croatia’s COVID-19 response). The upshot may be a weaker tourism season in 2021 as travelers no longer see Croatia as safe. This would in turn hurt the hotel construction sector directly and, because tourism is such a large part of the Croatian economy, many others indirectly. A failure to get COVID-19 back under control could also have other, nearer-term economic consequences through mounting health-care costs (including those relating to the disease’s long-term consequences) and worker absences due to self-isolation and disease symptoms. The latter absences could be quite prolonged given COVID-19’s effects.

Split, Croatia – Photo by Tatjana Halapija

Budgetary problems, including those alluded to above, are another problem facing the new government, and only a few of them are of its own making. Income and value-added tax receipts are down dramatically. Combined with the pandemic support payments needed to prevent massive unemployment and company failures, these shortfalls have blown a large hole in Croatia’s budget that the government has covered by borrowing. Earthquake relief and further COVID-19 measures will exacerbate the budgetary problem, and borrowing more is not a viable solution. While Croatia has been promised substantial EU aid, indeed more on a per capita basis than most EU members, it’s still not clear when that aid will arrive or how fast the government can disburse it once received. Progress at the EU level in this matter has so far been slow, and the consequences could be severe for all Croatian construction sectors, including civil engineering, if it does not speed up soon.

All in all, the outcome of Croatia’s July elections is likely the best that the country’s construction sector could have hoped for. Policy continuity, experience in governing and good relations with the EU are essential to Croatia at the present time. By triggering reform and renewal in the SDP, the elections may even have laid the groundwork for a more competitive, and hence more responsive, political environment in Croatia, which would also likely be a positive not just for the country, but for the sector.

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

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

A visual summary to Euroconstruct Special Update August 2020

by János Gáspár – Buildecon, Hungarian member to Euroconstruct

In most countries the stories after the August revision remained pretty similar to those Euroconstruct forecast in June. Charts below are organized by region, the dotted black line represents the 2019 level. At Europe’ heartland and in the Nordic countries (in the top row) there are very stable markets. Except for Finland and Sweden, each of them foresees the total market in 2021 to be around the level of 2019. Out of the largest countries, the most sluggish recovery could be in the Netherlands, in the UK and in Spain. Poland seems to be crisis-resistant.


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

Figures on the pandemic impact on Hungarian construction

Press Release on EBI Construction Activity Report Q2 2020 – Hungary

When assessing the first quarter of 2020, analysts of EBI Construction Activity Report Q1 2020 already highlighted the impact of the pandemic on the Hungarian construction industry. Back then, they did it with the help of a forecast based on limited available data, but since then actual data have been released and the impact of the pandemic on the sector can be assessed in detail.

Prepared by Buildecon, Eltinga (creation of indicators and development of algorithms for aggregation) and iBuild (project research and project database), EBI Construction Activity Report examines the domestic construction industry on a quarterly basis, including the volume of newly started construction works, and the value of projects completed in a given quarter by aggregate and by subsector as well. Owing to the pandemic, the analysts of EBI decided to follow the changes affecting the construction industry even more closely and run a monthly update of the EBI visualizations for Start, Completion and the resulting Output for each segment. Full publications can be purchased at

In Hungary, the pandemic imposed major restrictions from mid-March on, which only slightly affected construction works starting or getting completed in Q1 2020. However, April and May were marked by severe measures. Figures for the second quarter of the year show that even though the pandemic had had an impact on the sector, there was no drastic fall. It is certain that construction projects did not start at such a low value in Hungary since the last quarter of 2016, and there was a big slump against the beginning of 2020, but compared to the figures of the last and first quarters of 2019, the difference is not so much. It is therefore worth taking a closer look at exactly which segments saw a downturn, as some of the drop may have been caused by other market processes in addition to the pandemic.

While in Q2 2020 construction works started in the construction industry on a total value of HUF 418 billion, in Q1 2020 this figure was HUF 606 billion. Thus, a strong start to the year (an increase over the end of last year) was followed by a 30% decrease. Yet, the renovation works of M3 metro line and the next phase of the Samsung project in Göd started in Q1, contributing with a significant amount to the high Activity Start Indicator of EBI Construction Activity Report Q1 2020. Overall, the first half of the year has not yet seen a major decline in the value of construction works that started in the construction industry, although it is true that it has now hit its lowest level since 2016.

In H1 2020 a major share (45%) of started construction works were concentrated in the Central Hungary region. This was mainly thanks to the higher investment numbers in Q1, so in Q2 the region had a similar share to the previous years. The rest of the country also had a very similar share of started new construction works to previous years.

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 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 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

Q1 2020 sees rush to complete ongoing projects in Romania

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

The first quarter of the year 2020, mostly starting with mid-February, was marked by ominous economic forecasts. Thus, some decline in construction activity was to be expected, and indeed newly started construction projects dropped to just over EUR 1.3bln in Q1 2020. This amounts to a 14% decrease compared to the equivalent period of 2019, according to the latest edition of the EBI Construction Activity Report for Romania.

At the same time, the amount spent on construction increased by 25%. Coupled with the record amount of completed construction works (nearly double that of the first quarters in each of the previous 5 years), lends us to the conclusion that investment was increased in order to rush and complete the (at the time) ongoing projects, before the anticipated negative economic impact of Covid-19 took place.

Covid-19 changes in reporting frequency

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic impact, the data visualization for EBI Construction Activity Report is currently updated on a monthly basis, rather than quarterly.

Renovation activity increases in building construction

Building constructions started for the first quarter of 2020 dropped by 3% over the same period of 2019. However, the amount of new building construction for Q1 2020 is actually higher than in the first quarters of 2014-2018, and thus this small drop is more due to the good performance in 2019 than a clear sign of decline for 2020.

Looking at renovation figures, however, we can notice a somewhat new trend: that of increased renovation activity. While new building construction can, and in some cases was, pushed back due to uncertainty regarding the economic conditions, renovation works are less prone to this effect since they are more urgent in nature. Furthermore, as government measures started to be implemented in March, individuals and businesses alike needed to make adjustments to their living and working conditions: spaces were converted to quarantine centres, offices and industry alike had to adapt to new conditions and started to ensure layouts that allow more social distancing, hospital wings were relocated and so on.

Civil engineering output exceeds expectations, but low activity starts caution about future

The first quarter of 2020 saw an estimated expenditure of EUR 804mln on civil engineering projects, exceeding any single quarter since data aggregation started in 2014. The high level of output achieved came with the completion of many ongoing works and comes with a significant caveat: the quarter was also markedly worse than the previous year in terms of Activity Starts, with a 38% drop over Q1 2019. The most notable drops in new projects were in the segments of road and public utilities. Both reportedly had quite an increase in output over the same period, and thus the focus here seemed to be completion, rather than starting new projects.

Regional disparities in new construction activity

Despite the national-level decline in new activity, a large level of regional disparity can be noticed. The Center, South and West regions are showing an actual increase in construction starts compared to Q1 2019 in several segments, moving against the overall trend of the country. This could be an indicator of the higher level of resilience of local construction markets and a higher investor confidence in local economies. These regions might also be tardier in their response to the anticipated crisis, but it’s something to keep an eye on in the future and more data will show how resilient they are.  

EBI Construction Activity Report

The EBI Construction Activity Report is a quarterly publication that relies on the project information database of iBuild and is prepared by Buildecon and Eltinga. It comprises an analysis of projects based upon several object types: multi-unit residential construction, non-residential (further split into 9 segments) and civil engineering (split into 8 segments). The report offers information about the number and value of projects started or completed, and an estimate of the total amount spent on each segment in that quarter. If you would like to receive a data visualization for the EBI Construction Activity Report free of charge, please write to us at the e-mail address.