The level of registered unemployment had declined steadily from 8.7 pct in late May 2004 to 4.8 pct in November 2007. Since November the tendency is now up again. This is yet more indication of the presence of an economic slowdown in Latvia.
The unemployment rate in Latvia at the end of 2007 was 4.9 pct of the economically active population, while at the end of 2006 it was 6.5 pct. The unemployment rate increased 0.1 percentage point in January 2008 over December and reached 5 pct of the economically active population. There were 53,325 unemployed registered with NVA in late January 2007.
So my feeling is that Latvia is now out of the "extreme overheating" stage - and probably came out around in May-June (which isn't to say there wasn't a lot of momentum left in the system at that point). If you look at the charts included in my December Retail Sales post earlier this month you will see that retail sales growth really peaked during the first quarter.
Also manuafacturing output has been in fierce retreat since July, while the property market seems to have turned around May-June. In part this exiting from overheating will have happened becuase a process as fierce the one which took place in Latvia almost has to choke itself out of its own accord, and also possibly because of the tightening of the credit conditions applied after April, and the impact of this tightening on the housing market.
Also if we look at this unemployment data, it is clear that the labour market turned in October/November, and employment is normally a lagged indicator, which means it only responds after the horse has started to bolt. So my feeling is the overheating situation is now dead and gone, and what people need to think about are cushions to try and soften the landing. Which is why I am not 100% opposed to the idea of fiscal loosening at this point.
Exports and Imports
According to the latest data from Latvijas Statistika:
Compared to November 2007, the value of exports in current prices in December 2007 decreased by 10.8% or 39.8 mln lats, but in comparison with December 2006 it increased by 12.9 % or 37.4 mln lats, reaching 328.0 mln lats, according to Central Statistical Bureau data.
However, the value of imports in current prices in December 2007 was 8.4% or 54.3 mln lats lower compared to November 2007, but in comparison with December 2006 the decrease comprised 6.2% or 39.5 mln lats, reaching 593.0 mln lats.
The total foreign trade turnover in December 2007 was 0.2% or 2.1 mln lats lower than in the corresponding period of the previous year and its value was as high as 921.0 mln lats.
The value of exports in current prices in 2007 reached 4025.2 mln lats – more by 732.0 lats or 22.2% compared to 2006.However, the value of imports in current prices in 2007 was more by 1342.5 lats or 21.0% compared to 2006 and reached 7721.0 mln lats.
So while year on year exports were still up by 12.9% year on year, they were DOWN by 10.8% on November, and indeed exports in November were down on those in October. And although the trade deficit reduced slightly, this is not the result of exports powering ahead to drive growth.
In fact the reduction in the trade deficit is basically a result of the fact that imports were falling even faster than exports, and indeed the year on year rate for imports is now negative. Which is a reflection I feel of the way in which internal demand in Latvia is now contracting rapidly. But if internal demand is contracting, and exports start to fall, then, if the governemnt go for a fiscal surplus, we should expect Latvian GDP to start to contract at some point, shouldn't we?
What we should note about the above chart is the slope of the imports chart. We should be getting used to seeing this in internal demand charts for the Baltic economies at the moment. We may also not that while year on year the rate of export growth was positive, the rate of increase is slowing by the month. One reason, apart from the slowdown in Germany, that this shouldn't surprise us is the degree of trade interlocking among the Baltic states. Latvia's two most important export destinations - and by quite a long way - are Estonia and Lithuania, and if internal demand is about to subside in these two countries, then so are Latvian exports.
Latvian producer prices in January were up 10.9 pct year on year and 1.3 pct compared with December last year, according to the latest data from the country's central statistics office.
Obviously the rate of increase in the PPI is now slowing rapidly, although there is still some considerable distance to go. Perhaps the most noteworthy trend in January was that export prices reversed to downward trend of recent months, and were up 1.7% on December. This is not good news. It certainly won't help to reverse that downward trend in exports.
Bottom line, the Latvian economy is now cooling rapidly, and looks to be headed towards contraction at some point in the not too distant future.