RENEW Strategies

The Economic Outlook of Ethiopia: An Overview

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Erin O'Connor
| June 30, 2017

Working in Ethiopia, we experience firsthand the economic challenges and opportunities faced by the country. Recently, two reports were published which outline the current economic state of Ethiopia and Sub-Saharan Africa. These reports give a great snapshot of the economic stability in Ethiopia, and the current outlook for opportunities and risks going forward in 2017 and beyond.

The World Bank Group took a holistic view of Sub-Saharan Africa and found that growth within this region is recovering due to “rising commodity prices, strengthening external demand, and the end of drought in a number of countries” (World Bank, 2017). In the coming year, it is expected that growth within Sub-Saharan Africa will increase to “2.6 percent in 2017 and 3.2 percent in 2018” due to rising commodity prices and improvements to macroeconomic imbalances. Growth on output over the next three years is projected to be at 0.7%, a level where we are not likely to meet the poverty reduction goals within the region.

When focusing on Ethiopia specifically, however, the report was more positive. The World Bank Group claims that countries which are non-resource intensive should have positive growth due to support from “infrastructure investment, resilient service sectors, and the recovery of agricultural production” (2017). Ethiopia particularly is slated to expand by 8.3% in 2017, 8.0% in 2018 and 7.9% in 2019, largely due to public investments. The country somehow maintains its position with the fastest and highest growth rate forecasted for any African country, followed by Tanzania and the Ivory Coast.

UNDP takes a slightly more negative stance on the economic outlook over the next year, due to continued drought in parts of the country (as a result of the El Niño) and increased fuel prices which put added “pressures on inflation and foreign exchange reserves” (UNDP, 2017). UNDP found that Ethiopia’s economic growth in 2015/16 slowed down to 8%, compared to previous years where growth was around 10%. Currently, the service sectors and government expenditures are the primary reasons for the continued growth for the country.

One major growth driver on the demand side was government expenditures. In 2015/16 these expenditures grew to 27.2%, “gross domestic savings grew by 21.4 percent and savings as percent of GDP reached 22.4 percent and gross capital formation was 28.4 percent” (UNDP, 2017). These indicators show an investment and saving gap of 16.1% of GDP. One of the main sectors affecting the country’s export earnings is the agricultural sector. In Ethiopia, this sector accounts for 73% of current workforce and generates 70% of export earnings.

During the first quarter of 2016/17, inflation appears to have been contained. There has been general increases to the price of goods at 8.5%, price of food is up 9.8%, and other items by 7.3% (UNDP, 2017). These food increases include Ethiopian staples such as wheat, teff and sorghum. Inflation price of food is usually due to the “seasonality in agricultural production” (UNDP, 2017). Interestingly, inflation usually occurs during May to October and deflates after the main harvest in November.

The Ethiopian Birr is still slowly deprecating at a rate of 6.4%. When the UNDP published the report, the Birr was exchanging at 22.81 Birr to 1 USD. The Real Effective Exchange Rate however shows the Birr appreciating in the second quarter 0f 2016/17. Money supply growth was also up during this period by 25.1% on an annual basis, compared to the same time last year, where it was at 21.7%. The main contributor to this increase was the growth in credit over the past year.

During the second quarter, exports of merchandise totalled USD 575 million, which is 20.5% lower than the same time as last year. This is due to international prices of goods declining and supply constraints affecting items such as: oilseeds, gold, flower, and leather. Imports into the country also decreased by 6% to USD 3.9 billion. This decrease, alongside rising fuel costs, indicates a lack of available foreign currency.

“Export performance remains to be the challenge of the Ethiopian economy” (UNDP, 2017). The diversification is low since agricultural exports account for 70% of items exported, and manufactured products at 4%. In order to increase performance in this area, a heavier emphasis needs to be placed on exporting processed items such as leathers and textiles.

These two recent economic reports paint an outlook for Ethiopia that identifies the challenges but is still hopeful. Despite the country’s slowed economic growth, it is still ahead of all other countries in the region. Upcoming challenges, including extended droughts for parts of Ethiopia, will continue to challenge the economic outlook and will add to the pressure “on domestic prices (inflation) and trade balance as import of food will be required” (UNDP, 2017).

For more in-depth information on Ethiopia, the two economic briefs can be found here:
A Fragile Recovery Jun3 2017 World Bank Group
United Nations Development Programme Ethiopia Volume 1 2017

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