Malta Insights

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Annual inflation rate in April above EU average

Malta’s annual inflation rate in April stood at 1.1 percent, the eighth highest among EU member states according to figures by Eurostat. The EU average was 0.7 percent, down from 1.9 percent a year before; in the euro area, the rate dropped from 1.7 percent in April 2019 to 0.3 percent in April 2020.

The decline reflects the impact of containment measures against the spread of the coronavirus introduced in March and April in most European countries. The highest annual rates were recorded in the Czech Republic (3.3%), Poland (2.9%), and Hungary (2.52%). Slovenia registered the lowest annual rate at -1.3 percent, preceded by Cyprus (-1.2%), Estonia and Greece (both -0.9%).

Compared with March, annual inflation fell in all EU states except Italy, where it remained stable at 0.1 percent. The rate in Malta for March was 1.2 percent, right at the EU average.

Food, alcohol, and tobacco were the main contributors to the annual inflation rate in the euro area, increasing by 0.67 percentage points, followed by services (+.52pp). The contribution of energy slipped to -0.97 percentage points.


Imports and exports down in first quarter

Malta registered a decrease in both imports and exports between January and March this year, according to data released by the National Statistics Office. Figures show a total value of €1.4 billion in imported goods and €827 million in exported goods over the three-month period, narrowing the trade deficit to approximately €628 million compared with the first quarter in 2019.

Nearly half of total imports came from the European Union, reaching €714.7 million or a four percent decrease over a year. The biggest drop in imports came from the United Kingdom which was the biggest exporter to Malta in 2019; incoming goods fell by more than four-fifths to €121 million. The main increase in imports was registered from China, jumping by 150 percent to reach €147 million in 2020.

Exports to EU countries accounted for 40 percent of total outgoing goods, with a value of €324 million. The main decrease was registered by Italy, falling by nearly 60 percent from last year to reach €32.8 million. The highest increase was directed to Germany, with outwards trade growing by €32.5 million. In fact, trade in goods with Germany went from a €3.8 million deficit in the first quarter of 2019 to a surplus of almost €52 million this year.

Malta also registered a trade surplus with Singapore (€35 million), Japan (€19 million) and the United States (€11 million).

A decrease of €502 million in imported machinery and transport equipment was the main contributor to the general decline in the value of imports, whereas a €63.8 million fall in dispatched mineral fuel propelled the decrease in exports.


Registered unemployment grows fastest among 25-29 age group

The number of people registering for work rose by more than 1,800 from March to April this year. Data by the National Statistics Office shows that registered unemployment reached 3,979 in the April, a sharp increase from 1,748 compared with the same month last year.

The figures represent those registered with the government employment entity Jobsplus under its Part I and Part II schemes. The former includes people who are new to the jobs market, are re-entrants, or have lost their jobs; the latter comprises those who left their jobs, turned down offers or were subject to disciplinary dismissal. Except for 106 people, all those registering for work in April fell under the Part I category.

The highest rate of increase in registered unemployment was observed among the 25-29 age bracket, rising by around 300 people from 179 in March. The 45-and-over age group recorded the lowest rate of month-on-month increase (52%) but, at 1,474 registrations, represent the largest number of jobseekers.

Three in four of those on the register have been looking for work for under 21 weeks, but the majority were added between March and April. This category numbers more than 3,000 people, well above the roughly 700 counted a year ago.

Clerical support workers make up 26 percent of the current job seeking population, the biggest share among registered unemployed, followed by technicians and associate professionals (19.5%) and service and sales workers (15%).

Compared with the previous month, however, the proportion of clerical support workers in registered unemployment decreased by a slight 0.3 percentage points while technicians and associated professionals increased by 4.4 points, translating into 454 new registrations. People registering for work in managerial positions recorded the second-highest rate of increase jumping from 6.3 percent of jobseekers in March to 8.6 percent in April, rising from 138 to 342.


Industrial production down by 7 percent

Industrial production fell by 6.9 percent in March from the previous month, reflecting an EU-wide slump of 10.4 percent. Figures by Eurostat show that only four countries registered increases: Ireland (15.5%), Greece (1.9%), Finland (1.9%) and Lithuania (0.7%).

Production in the euro area was even more heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, dropping by 11.3 percent following a slight decrease of -0.1 percent in February.

Nevertheless, compared with March last year Malta reported a growth of 5.7 percent in industrial production, one of only four states to experience a rise and second only to Ireland where the sector output jumped by more than 25 percent. The worst performers year-on-year where Luxembourg (-32.7%), Italy (-29.3%) and Slovakia (-19.6%), scoring well below the EU and euro area averages of -11.8 percent and -12.9 percent, respectively.

Durable Consumer Goods suffered the greatest decline from February to March, falling by nearly 24 percent across EU states. On the other hand, production of Non-Durable Consumer Goods shrank by 1.2 percent. Capital Goods fell by 15 percent, Intermediate Goods by 10 percent and Energy by 3.5 percent.


Negative consumer goods sector curbs industrial revenues

Industrial turnover fell by 2.1 percent over the first quarter this year compared with the last three months of 2019. Data released by the National Statistics Office shows that the overall decrease was triggered by a significant drop in the consumer goods sector, which suffered the heaviest loss in the 15 months under review since January last year.

Durable consumer goods declined by 13.6 percent from the last quarter of 2019, which had itself registered a three percent loss from the previous quarter. The fall in non-durables stood at 5.8 percent between January and March, the first time it went into negative territory in 12 months.

The rest of the sectors, however, recorded an increase: capital goods rose by almost six percent, intermediate goods by four percent, and the energy sector grew by 3.6 percent.

Compared with the first quarter last year, industrial turnover was still up by 3.5 percent and all sectors, including consumer goods, registered gains. Capital goods surged highest, growing by 10.5 percent; consumer goods, intermediate goods, and the energy sector increased by 3.6, 1.2 and 0.2 percent, respectively.


Outbound tourism falls by a fifth from last year

The number of visitors from Malta to other countries decreased by more than 30,000 between January and March, compared to the same period last year. Figures by the National Statistics Office reveal that outbound tourism declined by 21.3 percent from the 146,841 registered in the first quarter of 2019.

The drop in the total number coincides with Covid-19 measures that restricted flights to high-risk countries over March until the airport was completely closed to all destinations on the 21st of the month.

Travel to EU states fell by over 40 percent, reaching just over 75,000 tourists – less than 10,000 of whom visited non-euro area countries. On the other hand, outbound tourism outside the EU increased by 22,500, a growth of 125 percent from under 18,000 in the first three months of 2019.

The non-EU market includes the United Kingdom which, together with Italy, represents half the outgoing travel figures. In fact, Italy remained the most popular destination receiving slightly less than 34,000 tourists from Malta while the UK received around 23,000 visitors.

Travel to Italy, however, followed the general trend and dipped by 20 percent since last year. In the case of the UK, this was the first time that it classified as a non-EU destination and, without it, the category would have still registered a decrease of five percent.

Lower numbers also meant a decline in total estimated expenditure by outbound tourists, which this year stood at €81.3 million or 28 percent less than 2019. However, the average €704 spend per person abroad is also the lowest amount in the seven years under review. Total expenditure per night per capita was calculated at €121 – only in the first quarter of 2014 did outbound tourists spend less.

The largest share of travellers were people between 25 and 44, representing close to half of all tourists, while the smallest age group were people over 65 years, at less than seven percent of the total. Most outbound travel was either for holiday purposes (57%) or to visit relatives and friends (24%). Business, educational, health and other categories of travel accounted for under a fifth of total outbound tourism.


€700 million trade deficit in first quarter

Balance of trade in Malta stood at -€700 million between January and March, according to estimates published by Eurostat. The economy registered a trade deficit of €400 million in intra-EU trading and of €300 million in extra-EU trading. The results indicated a narrower balance of trade compared with the first quarter of 2019, which reached -€1.3 billion.

The EU27 recorded a trade surplus of €42.7 billion over the same period, higher than the €34 billion produced the year before. Exports to countries outside the bloc decreased by 3.2 percent year-on-year while imports also fell by 5.3 percent.

In March, when member states were introducing drastic anti-coronavirus measures, EU exports and imports shrank by 10.2 percent and 12.2 percent, respectively. The trade balance with extra-EU partners stood at €22.2 billion, nearly six percent higher than the same month last year.

Total intra-EU trade in the first quarter of 2020 was of €760 billion, a decrease of 2.4 percent compared with the same period the previous year. In March, trade among EU members was 7.9 percent lower than March 2019, reaching just under €250 billion.

The European Union’s main trading partners between January and March were the US, the UK, and the China. Balance of trade stood at €37.7 billion and €29.5 billion with the anglophone countries, respectively, while a trade deficit of €39 billion was registered with China.