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Malta: Staff Report for the 2014 Article IV Consultation

Author(s):
International Monetary Fund. European Dept.
Published Date:
February 2015
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Context and Outlook: Resilient Economy

1. Malta’s economy has remained resilient since the global crisis. Spillovers from turmoil in financial markets have been contained because of low reliance on external finance by domestic banks and the government. Real GDP has increased at one of the highest rates in the euro area since the crisis, supported by relatively diversified exports and, more recently, by domestic demand. At the same time, unemployment has declined close to its historical lows—among the lowest in the euro area—despite increasing labor participation rates.

Annual Growth Rate 1/

(Percent)

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook.

1/ Shaded area represents maximum and minimum.

2. Growth is strong while inflation has declined along with the euro area trend (Table 1). The economy expanded by 2.5 percent in 2013, driven by domestic demand. Growth further accelerated to 3.6 percent (y-o-y) in the first nine months of 2014, supported by investment in large scale energy infrastructure projects and consumption. Inflation remained subdued at around 0.75 percent, reflecting lower oil prices, a decline in electricity tariffs, and low inflation in the euro area. Core inflation has been running higher, at about 1.5 percent, reflecting a closed output gap.

Table 1.Malta: Selected Economic Indicators, 2010–16(Year on year percent change, unless otherwise indicated)
Projections
20102011201220132014 est20152016
(Year on year percent change)
Real GDP3.52.22.52.53.13.12.7
Domestic demand4.6−2.2−2.03.04.33.92.5
Consumption0.22.61.91.33.63.22.2
Private consumption−0.22.50.41.62.72.82.1
Public consumption1.62.86.30.56.14.32.4
Fixed investment26.4−18.0−0.52.37.66.84.0
Exports of goods and services6.92.57.9−1.20.03.13.2
Imports of goods and services7.6−0.45.2−1.00.53.63.1
Contribution to growth(Percent)
Real GDP3.52.22.52.53.13.12.7
Domestic demand4.6−2.3−1.92.84.03.72.4
Consumption0.22.01.51.02.72.51.7
Private consumption−0.11.40.30.91.51.61.2
Public consumption0.30.61.20.11.20.90.5
Fixed investment4.6−3.8−0.10.41.31.20.7
Inventory accumulation 1/−0.2−0.4−3.31.5−0.10.00.0
Foreign balance−1.14.44.3−0.4−0.7−0.50.3
Exports of goods and services10.23.812.1−2.00.04.74.8
Imports of goods and services−11.30.6−7.81.6−0.7−5.2−4.5
Potential GDP growth2.02.12.32.32.83.22.8
Output gap (percent of potential GDP)−0.6−0.5−0.30.00.30.20.1
HICP (period average)2.02.53.21.00.81.11.4
GDP deflator3.82.22.12.01.12.11.4
Unemployment rate EU stand.6.96.46.36.45.86.16.3
Employment growth2.02.52.42.14.83.21.6
Gross national savings (percent of GDP)17.724.319.320.322.723.323.6
Gross capital formation (percent of GDP)23.619.315.717.017.818.318.6
Balance of payments(Percent of GDP)
Current account balance−5.95.03.63.24.94.95.0
Trade balance (Goods and services)−2.57.66.86.65.95.96.0
Exports of goods and services159.6174.2165.9157.0149.8146.7145.4
Imports of goods and services−162.1−166.6−159.0−150.3−143.9−140.8−139.3
Goods balance−19.0−17.5−15.4−14.6−14.0−13.7−13.5
Services balance16.425.122.221.219.919.619.5
Primary income, net−4.5−3.9−4.9−5.4−3.5−3.5−3.5
Secondary income, net1.21.31.62.02.52.52.5
Financial account, net10.45.812.6−6.97.17.27.2
Memorandum item:
Nominal GDP (millions of euros)6599.56893.27212.87543.97865.68279.58624.1
Sources: National Statistics Office of Malta; Central Bank of Malta; Eurostat; and IMF staff estimates.

Includes statistical discrepancy.

Sources: National Statistics Office of Malta; Central Bank of Malta; Eurostat; and IMF staff estimates.

Includes statistical discrepancy.

Malta: Contributions to GDP Growth

(percent change, year-on-year)

Source: National authorities

Annual HICP Inflation

(percent, SA)

Source: Haver Analytics and IMF staff calculations

3. Malta has made impressive strides in improving its external balances, but unit labor costs are rising faster than in trading partners (Figure 5, Appendix 1). The trade balance reverted from a deficit of 2.5 percent of GDP in 2009 to a surplus of 9.2 percent of GDP in the first three quarters of 2014. Robust export growth after the crisis has reflected a diversified export base, both geographically and across sectors, and rapidly growing exports of services. Exports, however, grew only marginally in 2014, partly reflecting a drop in the semiconductor sector. The current account remained positive at 8.1 percent of GDP, mainly driven by lower goods imports and a shrinking deficit in the primary income account. At the same time, unit labor costs have been increasing at one of the fastest rates in the euro area, posing risks for competitiveness when many euro area neighbors are undertaking structural reforms and internal devaluations.

Figure 1.Malta: Non-Performing Exposures, 2014

Source: ECB and IMF staff calculations

Figure 2.Malta: Economic Indicators, 2003–2016

Sources: Central Bank of Malta; Eurostat; IMF World Economic Outlook; and IMF staff calculations.

Figure 3.Malta: Short-Term Indicators, 2008–2014

Sources: European Central Bank; Central Bank of Malta; European Commission; and IMF staff calculations.

Figure 4.Malta: Fiscal Developments, 2005–2014

Sources: Eurostat, IMF World Economic Outlook; and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Data are ESA1995, since ESA2010 data are not yet available for Belgium, Cyprus, Spain and Slovakia.

Figure 5.Malta: External Sector, 2001–2014

Sources: Central Bank of Malta; Eurostat; Malta NSO, UNCTAD, and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Real exchange rate measures disseminated by the Eurostat differ from those used in CGER calculations (based on INS data). Eurostat exchange rates assign greater weight to euro area trading partners making the impact of recent euro nominal depreciation appear more muted.

2/ All available real exchange measures use weights that are based on trade in goods only. For Malta, whose primary exports are in services they should be interpreted with caution.

3/ The decline in other services is driven by insurance and pension services and the use of intellectual property.

Current Account Balance 1/

(Percent of GDP)

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook.

1/ Shaded area represents maximum and minimum.

Unit Labor Costs

(2005=100)

Source: Eurostat

4. Despite a growing economy, credit to corporations has remained weak, and the cost of capital has remained relatively high. Loans to non-financial corporations (NFCs) had been declining and only recently have stabilized at around a zero growth rate. At the same time, NFCs’ lending rates have remained high relative the euro area average—despite the decline in ECB policy rates and a sound banking system—making it difficult for viable firms, particularly smaller ones, to access credit. High lending rates could reflect various factors, including higher funding cost of banks (relative to the ECB policy rates), limited competition, high level of NPL ratios, and relatively high corporate sector leverage, particularly for smaller firms and in certain sectors (Appendices 2 and 3).

Loans to NFCs1/

(percent change, SA)

1/ Outstanding amounts.

Source: Haver Analytics and IMF staff calculations.

Lending Rates on Loans to NFCs1/

(percent)

1/ Outstanding amounts; EA, Total: EA16, excluding Estonia and Latvia.

Source: Haver Analytics.

5. Overall, the baseline outlook is strong. In particular:

  • Growth is projected to remain robust, at around 3 percent in 2015–16. The output gap is slightly positive and is expected to close over the next two years. Domestic demand is supported by large scale investment projects in the energy sector and strong household income from rising wages and employment. Lower oil prices are expected to raise growth marginally in 2015. Over the medium-term growth is projected at 2.6 percent, slightly higher than the average since the EU accession on account of increased labor force participation.

  • Inflation is projected to rise slowly as upward pressures from a small positive output gap and higher unit labor costs are expected to be dampened by planned reduction in energy tariffs, the pass-through of lower global oil prices and euro area inflation.

  • The current account surplus will persist, supported by lower oil prices in 2015, the projected gradual recovery in external demand, Malta’s continued competitiveness in the services sector, and the planned transfers of EU structural funds, despite the uncertainty surrounding the primary income account reflecting transactions of international banks (Table 3).

Table 2.Malta: Fiscal Developments and Projections, 2010–16(Percent of GDP, unless otherwise indicated)
Projections
20102011201220132014 est.20152016
Revenue37.738.338.839.740.542.141.4
Taxes25.425.826.027.027.728.028.1
Indirect taxes12.913.312.913.013.714.013.9
Direct taxes12.212.313.013.813.913.914.0
Other taxes (capital taxes)0.20.20.20.20.20.20.2
Social contributions6.97.17.07.07.17.27.2
Grants and Capital revenue1.41.41.81.81.92.71.8
Other revenue4.04.04.04.03.84.34.3
Expenditure41.040.942.542.442.744.043.1
Expense38.838.239.239.639.640.640.1
Compensatiom of Employees13.012.812.813.013.113.113.1
Use of goods and services6.16.26.66.16.36.56.5
Interest3.13.23.02.93.03.02.9
Subsidies0.80.71.11.11.41.71.8
Social benefits12.812.812.912.812.812.712.7
Other expense3.12.52.83.62.93.63.1
Net acquisition of nonfinancial assets2.22.73.32.83.13.53.0
Gross Operating Balance−1.10.1−0.30.10.91.61.3
Net lending/borrowing (overall balance)−3.3−2.6−3.6−2.7−2.2−1.9−1.7
Net financial transactions−3.3−2.6−3.6−2.7
Net acquisition of financial assets2.03.61.61.7
Currency and deposits0.70.9−3.2−0.3
Shares other than shares0.00.00.00.0
Loans0.51.21.70.5
Shares and other equity0.00.20.60.3
Other financial assets0.81.22.51.2
Net incurrence of liabilities5.16.25.14.4
Currency and deposits0.10.10.10.1
Securities other than shares4.44.62.44.4
Loans−0.20.21.20.4
Other liabilities0.81.41.5−0.4
Statistical discrepancy−0.20.0−0.20.1
Memorandum items:
Overall balance excl. one-offs−4.4−3.3−4.5−3.0−2.4−2.1−1.8
Cyclically adjusted overall balance−3.0−2.4−3.5−2.7−2.4−2.0−1.8
Cyclically adjusted overall balance, excl. one-offs−4.1−3.1−4.4−3.0−2.6−2.2−1.9
Primary balance−0.20.5−0.70.20.71.01.2
One-offs1.10.70.90.30.20.20.1
Public debt67.669.867.569.570.369.868.4
Government guaranteed debt11.812.516.415.815.513.312.7
Nominal GDP (millions of euros)6,6006,8937,2137,5447,8668,2808,624
Sources: Maltese authorities and IMF staff projections.
Sources: Maltese authorities and IMF staff projections.
Table 3.Malta: Balance of Payments, 2010–16
Projections
20102011201220132014 est.20152016
(Millions of euros)
Current account balance−391345261241385409433
Trade balance (Goods and services)−168525494500464492520
Goods balance−1,251−1,208−1,108−1,098−1,104−1,134−1,166
Exports2,5272,8453,1952,8542,8392,9283,021
Imports−3,778−4,053−4,303−3,952−3,944−4,061−4,187
Services balance1,0841,7331,6021,5981,5681,6261,686
Exports8,0059,1658,7708,9878,9429,2199,514
Imports−6,921−7,432−7,168−7,388−7,373−7,593−7,828
Current income, net−300−267−351−406−275−290−302
Current transfers, net7787118147197207216
Private−13−23−23−30111213
Public90110141178185195203
Capital account, net12982135130175184192
Financial account, net687398910−521560594625
Direct investment−3,104−11,554−8,815−7,130−5,443−5,729−5,968
Portfolio investment4,82811,4849,3198,90312,64813,31413,868
Other investment−798767723−2,155−7,250−6,924−7,205
Reserves (− inflow; + outflow)24−53121−3918100
Errors and omissions949−28513−893000
(Percent of GDP)
Current account balance−5.95.03.63.24.94.95.0
Trade balance (Goods and services)−2.57.66.86.65.95.96.0
Goods balance−19.0−17.5−15.4−14.6−14.0−13.7−13.5
Exports38.341.344.337.836.135.435.0
Imports−57.2−58.8−59.7−52.4−50.1−49.1−48.6
Services balance16.425.122.221.219.919.619.5
Exports121.3133.0121.6119.1113.7111.3110.3
Imports−104.9−107.8−99.4−97.9−93.7−91.7−90.8
Primary income, net−4.5−3.9−4.9−5.4−3.5−3.5−3.5
Secondary income, net1.21.31.62.02.52.52.5
Private−0.2−0.3−0.3−0.40.10.10.1
Public1.41.62.02.42.42.42.4
Capital account, net2.01.21.91.72.22.22.2
Financial account, net10.45.812.6−6.97.17.27.2
Direct investment−47.0−167.6−122.2−94.5−69.2−69.2−69.2
Portfolio investment73.2166.6129.2118.0160.8160.8160.8
Assets70.9168.4123.7109.1160.8160.8160.8
Liabilities−2.21.8−5.5−8.90.00.00.0
Other investment−12.111.110.0−28.6−92.2−83.6−83.6
Assets−15.770.429.019.811.111.111.1
Liabilities−3.659.219.048.3103.394.794.6
Reserves (− inflow; + outflow)0.4−0.81.7−0.52.30.00.0
Errors and omissions14.4−0.47.1−11.80.00.00.0
Memorandum items:
Official reserves, end of period
(Millions of euros)404.9395.9533.8435.4
(In months of imports of goods and services)0.50.40.60.5
Gross external debt (Percent of GDP)500.1487.9487.9463.4469.3470.8477.0
Net external debt (Percent of GDP)−157.6−148.6−164.4−159.4−153.2−145.8−140.1
Sources: National Statistics Office of Malta; and IMF staff projections.
Sources: National Statistics Office of Malta; and IMF staff projections.

6. Risks to the outlook are balanced (Risk Assessment Matrix). In the short-term, prolonged stagnation and deflation in the euro area would reduce external demand and make fiscal adjustment more challenging. Medium-term risks of delays in implementing energy infrastructure projects and restructuring state-owned enterprises are balanced by the possibility of positive spillovers to private investment and consumption from ongoing large scale investment projects. Broader than expected changes in the EU regulatory framework and tax reforms could erode Malta’s competitiveness especially if implementation of structural reforms in Malta is delayed while many other euro area countries continue to reduce their unit labor costs. Fiscal slippages and a further increase in public debt could feed into higher financing costs, crowding out private investment.

Box 1.Exchange Rate Assessment

Since the last Article IV consultation, the real effective exchange rate (REER based on INS), is depreciated by about 1.5 percent. Real effective exchange rates remain elevated relative to trading partners, and the gap between the ULC and CPI based REER persists (Figure 5).

Nevertheless, estimates of exchange rate valuation are broadly in line with fundamentals. While the macro balance and external sustainability approaches show a small undervaluation, the equilibrium exchange rate approach points at an overvaluation of about 6 percent.

Estimates of Exchange Rate Valuation 1/(Percent)
Art IV 2012Art IV 2013Current
Macro Balance−1.7−1.2−3.0
Equilibrium RER 2/5.9−0.56.4
External Sustainability5.65.0−1.5
Sources: IMF article IV staff reports; and IMF staff estimates.

+/− indicates exchange rate over/undervaluation; see IMF Occasional Paper No. 261 for details on the methodology underlying the estimates in this table. Numbers are not comparable with previous Art IV due to data revisions.

To compute the medium term RER we use data up to October 2014.

Sources: IMF article IV staff reports; and IMF staff estimates.

+/− indicates exchange rate over/undervaluation; see IMF Occasional Paper No. 261 for details on the methodology underlying the estimates in this table. Numbers are not comparable with previous Art IV due to data revisions.

To compute the medium term RER we use data up to October 2014.

Authorities’ views

7. The authorities broadly agreed with the outlook and risks. Staff’s growth projections are marginally more optimistic than the Central Bank’s, reflecting recent oil price and exchange rate developments, while the Ministry of Finance expected higher growth rates in 2015 and 2016 (3.5 and 3.4 percent, respectively) on account of more favorable external assumptions. Continued strong performance of the tourism industry was also expected to support growth. The authorities saw the external environment as one of the main sources of downside risks, including for the recovery of semiconductor exports. They noted that the downside risk of investment project delays is balanced by the possibility of stronger than expected consumption due to improved confidence and labor market conditions. The risk of loss of competitiveness from changes in regulation and tax reform was seen as modest as the authorities emphasized still-relatively-low labor costs, flexibility and availability of skilled labor, and Malta’s overall diversification and dynamism as the main sources of competitiveness.

Policy Discussions: Sustaining Growth and Reducing Vulnerabilities

8. Despite the broadly favorable outlook, Malta faces important challenges: public debt is still high; non-performing loans are elevated; the cost of capital is relatively high despite abundant liquidity; and maintaining competitiveness is increasingly difficult. To raise growth in a sustainable manner and reduce vulnerabilities, the policy agenda should focus on: 1) strengthening fiscal sustainability; 2) maintaining financial stability; and 3) enhancing competitiveness and reducing the cost of capital.

A. Strengthening Fiscal Sustainability

9. Malta has made significant progress in reducing its overall deficit and strengthening fiscal governance since the last Article IV consultation. Stronger than expected growth helped lower the fiscal deficit by almost 1 percentage point to 2.7 percent of GDP in 2013, and debt reached 69.5 percent of GDP, partly reflecting stock-flow adjustments. Fiscal consolidation has continued in 2014, despite rapidly growing current expenditures, financed by stronger-than-expected revenues. Staff estimates the fiscal deficit to decline to 2.2 percent in 2014. The authorities enacted the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) over the summer, introducing i) a balanced-budget rule and a debt rule in line with EU requirements; ii) an independent fiscal council to monitor fiscal rules; iii) the Medium Term Fiscal Policy Statement and the Fiscal Policy Strategy; iv) a fiscal risk statement; and v) a contingency reserve to be built over the next five years.

Staff’s views

10. The budgetary targets for 2015-2017 are welcome but meeting them will be challenging. The authorities aim at bringing the structural deficit to -0.4 percent in 2017, implying an annual average fiscal consolidation of about 0.6 percent of GDP. The implied pace of adjustment strikes an appropriate balance between adjusting towards the MTO of balanced budget in structural terms and limiting its impact on growth. However, the authorities’ target for 2015 (-1.6 percent of GDP) is based almost entirely on revenue measures, and the underlying growth projections rely on favorable external assumptions. To ensure that the proposed fiscal targets are met, additional expenditure measures should be considered. These measures should be designed to contain the fast growth in current spending—including through prudent wage agreements and further restraint on public sector employment—while preserving incentives for labor participation and education, and capital spending. Given weaker growth assumptions, possible slippages in the wage bill and subsidies relative to the targets, and lack of specific measures beyond 2015, staff project an overall deficit of 1.9 percent of GDP in 2015 and 1.5 percent for 2017 (Table 2). Staff project debt to reach 69.8 percent in 2015, gradually declining to around 62 percent of GDP by 2020. Low inflation and growth, and contingent liabilities are the key risks (DSA Annex).

11. Broad-based reforms—on expenditures, pension, and healthcare—are critical to contain fiscal pressures going forward. The authorities have started a Public Expenditure Review (PER) process, and the main progress has been made in social security spending. Building on this initiative, a comprehensive spending review would help prioritize and contain spending. In addition, such a review would facilitate improvements in the efficiency of spending, for example on education and health, where outcomes remain weak despite high spending levels. On pension reforms, while a private third pillar pension scheme was introduced in 2014, progress has been limited. Further measures—such as accelerating the planned increase in the retirement age and linking pensionable income to a longer period of working years—are needed to curb the projected increase in public pension outlays.1 On health care, initial steps in improving medical procurement have been taken, increasing access to drugs and controlling costs. The government is also planning to establish cost centers within hospitals aiming to enhance management practices. However, progress in reforms and its impact on the budget are expected to be modest and gradual. Accelerating the implementation of planned health care measures—such as increasing the administrative efficiency and strengthening primary care—will help contain spending growth.

Efficiency of Tertiary Education, 2011

Source: Eurostat, OECD, WDI, and IMF staff calculations

Change in Age-related Spending, 2010-60

Source: Eurostat

Note: The age-related spending is going to be updated given new populations statistics. New estimates will likely yield lower expected expenditure.

12. The authorities should continue to push forward with restructuring of state-owned corporations and overall fiscal reforms. Given the extent of ongoing restructuring efforts and implications on the budget, it is important to disclose, analyze, and manage risks to public finances from the state owned enterprises in a consolidated manner. Enemalta’s (the utility company) restructuring, once completed as planned, will bolster public finances, reduce guaranteed debt (16 percent of GDP in 2014, about 60 percent of which is due to Enemalta) and help lower energy costs.2 As the privatization agreement is at its final stages, a part of the proceeds has been already used to cover the tax arrears, and the rest is going to be used to reduce bank loans. Regarding the infrastructure projects—essential to reduce production costs—the interconnector to Sicily is almost complete, but the completion of one of the power plants, originally scheduled for 2015, is now delayed to 2016. To ensure a sustainable financial position, tariff reductions should be backed by cost containment. The restructuring of Airmalta is continuing (involving a total government injection of €130 million, about 1¾ percent of GDP, to be completed by 2016), but the company is facing challenges in breaking even as planned. Recent nationalization of the public transport company has led to an increase in subsidies (about 1/3 percent of GDP). The authorities are in the process of its re-privatization. Staff encouraged the full implementation of the FRA for the next budget period, which would help manage risks, including from the SOEs, in a multi-year framework. In addition, ongoing initiatives to integrate the revenue administration agencies will help improve the overall budgetary process.

Authorities’ views

13. The authorities acknowledged the risks, but were confident that their deficit targets would be met. They noted that the fiscal deficit declined by 1 percentage point in 2013, and additional expenditures in 2014 were concentrated on priority areas, such as health care and education. On SOEs, the authorities anticipate that the expected cost and efficiency gains from Enemalta’s restructuring would cover the tariff reductions implemented in 2014 and 2015. In addition, they noted that SOEs are subject to public scrutiny individually. On pension reforms, the authorities noted that they would wait for the results of the updated projections for pension spending based on new population statistics before taking any additional measures. On fiscal reforms, the authorities intend to implement the FRA for the next budget period, starting with the appointment of a fiscal council. They also noted that the National Audit Office reviewed the macro and fiscal projections for the 2015 budget. On spending review, they emphasized that progress has been made on social security, and they are considering expanding it to other sectors, including through technical assistance by the IMF.

B. Financial Sector Policies

14. The Maltese financial system remains resilient. Solvency and liquidity of banks remain well above regulatory requirements, and profitability is good (Table 5). Solid performance of core domestic banks reflects their conservative business model, particularly limited external assets and liabilities and relatively low loan-to-value ratios. As a result, the largest banks passed the ECB’s recent Comprehensive Assessment (CA) without a need to raise additional capital. The large segment of international banks has very limited links with domestic residents, and as a result the recent significant deleveraging of some of these banks had minimal impact on the local economy (Box 2)3. While there may be some spillovers to domestic financial system from stronger cross-border deleveraging and/or regulatory changes elsewhere, the impact on the economy is likely to be limited.

Table 4.Malta: General Government Financial Balance Sheet(Millions of euros)
200820092010201120122013
Opening balanceTransactionsOEFClosing Opening balanceTransactionsOEFClosing Opening balanceTransactionsOEFClosing Opening balanceTransactionsOEFClosing Opening balanceTransactionsOEFClosing Opening balanceTransactionsOEFClosing Opening balance
Net worth and its changes............................................................................
Nonfinancial assets............................................................................
Net Financial Worth:−2,352.7−276.4−273.4−2,902.4−221.3105.2−3,018.5−224.655.3−3,187.9−178.2−34.0−3,400.1−215.3121.9−3,493.5−205.9−32.3−3,731.6
Financial Assets1,661.239.2−89.51,610.9140.930.11,781.9132.233.81,947.9259.0−37.22,169.7112.1215.22,497.0116.734.12,647.8
Currency and deposits487.9−5.9−5.5476.6135.8−34.8577.652.1−40.5589.270.3−3.5656.0−231.53.0427.5−9.1−3.3415.1
Debt securities0.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.00.0
Loans27.55.30.032.8−3.30.029.533.50.063.184.80.0147.9120.20.0268.145.80.0313.9
Equity and inv. fund shares836.1−5.1−91.2739.8−0.958.9797.8−0.858.5855.516.1−27.8843.844.0212.21,100.123.237.31,160.6
Other financial assets309.744.97.2361.79.36.0377.147.215.8440.187.9−5.9522.0179.40.0701.456.70.0758.2
Liabilities4,013.9315.6183.94,513.4362.2−75.14,800.4356.8−21.55,135.8437.2−3.25,569.8327.493.35,990.5322.666.36,379.5
Currency and deposits8.322.90.031.26.00.037.23.80.041.04.90.045.84.60.050.54.80.055.3
Debt securities3,308.6214.3139.93,662.9371.7−40.33,994.3291.421.84,307.5316.90.64,625.0174.390.44,889.6334.470.15,294.1
Loans272.8−9.921.2284.1−46.70.0237.4−0.30.3237.422.70.0260.285.8−0.1345.930.10.0375.9
Other liabilities424.188.422.8535.331.2−34.8531.661.8−43.6549.992.7−3.9638.862.83.0704.5−46.7−3.7654.1
Memorandum items:
Net financial worth (in % of GDP)−40.947.4−49.2−48.3−49.348.4−45.1
Financial assets (in % of GDP)28.926.329.029.531.5l34.632.0
Liabilities (in % of GDP)69.773.678.277.880.883.177.1
GDP nominal prices5,757.56,128.76,138.66,599.56,893.27,212.88,279.5
Sources: Eurostat; National Statistics Office of Malta; and IMF staff calculations.
Sources: Eurostat; National Statistics Office of Malta; and IMF staff calculations.
Table 5.Malta: Financial Soundness Indicators, 2010–13(Percent, unless otherwise indicated)
Core domestic banksNon-core domestic banksInternational banksTotal banks
2010201120122013201020112012201320102011201220132010201120122013
Core FSIs
Regulatory capital to risk weighted assets12.913.514.114.929.829.128.924.2104.7115.5115.6118.454.656.855.846.1
Regulatory Tier 1 Capital to risk weighted assets9.29.610.211.127.927.325.722.9103.1114.4115.1118.452.154.253.343.8
Nonperforming loans net of provisions to capital55.954.457.059.49.88.97.67.70.40.10.30.86.96.810.311.6
Nonperforming loans to total gross loans7.47.38.29.23.64.54.14.70.60.50.50.53.03.33.85.6
Return on assets1.41.31.61.41.30.51.41.01.11.21.30.81.21.21.41.0
Return on equity22.419.523.919.94.31.46.55.83.13.93.62.75.05.15.95.0
Interest margin to gross income70.772.566.865.363.470.028.952.962.089.0124.3176.866.079.183.1100.4
Non-interest expense to gross income49.754.145.548.035.545.528.441.18.28.97.110.330.034.127.434.4
Non-interest income to gross income (iv)29.327.533.234.736.630.071.147.138.011.0−24.3−76.834.020.916.9−0.4
Liquid assets to total assets24.924.128.829.410.914.714.416.55.87.49.928.215.116.119.626.8
Liquid assets to short-term liabilities42.944.149.148.982.990.482.494.986.2111.0146.3401.447.849.655.659.5
Other FSIs
Coverage ratio34.335.637.639.543.854.359.742.476.0107.795.152.240.243.343.640.8
Domestic Investment Securities to Total Assets12.312.812.012.12.22.22.94.30.00.00.00.03.53.83.64.1
Foreign Investment Securities to Total Assets11.911.510.711.935.136.138.339.228.831.536.538.324.826.429.530.4
Unsecured Loans to Total Lending20.019.819.521.854.739.550.761.530.854.257.861.929.440.642.441.9
Assets to Total Capital and Reserves (Ratio)15.815.514.513.84.14.24.95.01.61.61.51.33.13.13.13.7
Large exposure to capital144.9138.5123.1136.172.9131.2111.7108.86.410.210.917.325.432.031.446.5
Gross asset position in financial derivatives to capital2.24.93.22.10.71.50.61.30.50.40.50.00.71.00.90.5
Gross liability position in financial derivatives to capital7.911.610.85.51.12.52.70.80.10.10.10.11.01.51.51.1
Personnel expenses to non-interest expenses55.652.453.951.234.536.239.643.919.421.226.333.848.146.548.648.1
Customer deposits to customer loans141.7137.5142.7150.538.255.768.888.481.971.976.1139.6102.699.8106.6139.8
Net open position in equities to capital16.117.717.417.480.479.775.980.70.90.90.30.07.57.77.610.6
Source: CBM/MFSA
Source: CBM/MFSA
Malta: Results of the ECB’s Comprehensive Assessment(Percent)
Year-end 2013

CET1
AQR-adjusted

CET1
Adjusted CET1

Ratio after

Baseline

Scenario
Adjusted CET1

Ratio after

Adverse

Scenario
Bank of Valletta11.2010.7111.938.92
HSBC Bank Malta9.919.029.268.91
Deutsche Bank (Malta)281.40281.40280.60138.76
Average40.2039.5040.7034.00

Box 2.Malta: Overview of the Financial Sector

The Maltese financial sector is very large compared to the size of its economy. As of mid-2014, assets of banks were close to 7 times GDP and assets of non-bank financial institutions (insurance companies and investment funds) were around 2 times GDP. The financial institutions in each of these groups can be classified as either domestic or international, depending on the scope of their involvement in activities with residents. Risks and vulnerabilities related to domestic institutions differ substantially from those related to international institutions. For banks, the Central Bank of Malta (CBM) also separates the category of domestic institutions into core domestic banks and non-core domestic banks.

  • Core domestic banks have a traditional business model of attracting household and corporate deposits and providing loans to the economy. These banks have limited external assets and liabilities, provide around 97 percent of bank lending to residents in Malta, and collect around 94 percent of resident deposits. Two banks account for over 90 percent of both loans to and deposits from residents. Core domestic banks that are subsidiaries of big foreign parent banks have not relied on parent funding for their operations in Malta. As of end-June 2014, the core domestic banks had an aggregate capital adequacy ratio of 14.9 percent and liquidity ratio (liquid assets to short-term liabilities) of 42.6 percent, well above the minimum requirements of 8 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

  • International banks rely mostly on wholesale (including intra-group) funding and nonresident deposits of relatively long maturities. These banks concentrate on activities for the group (custodian services, trade finance, investment banking). While international banks are particularly large compared to the size of the economy, risks to systemic financial stability arising from these banks are rather low. With negligible direct balance sheet links to the domestic economy both from the assets and the liabilities sides, the systemic financial implications in the event of materialization of solvency or liquidity risk affecting international banks would be contained. Furthermore, with abundant capital and liquidity, these banks should be able to absorb significant pressures before the point of non viability.

  • Non-core domestic banks have limited links with the domestic economy and are funded primarily from wholesale markets and non-resident deposits. Unlike the international banks, these banks have some (albeit still small) exposure to residents in the form of loans and deposits. Around 9 percent of assets and 12 percent of liabilities are respectively claims on and due to residents. Therefore, the main risks related to these banks stem from possible cross-border deleveraging pressures and claims on the local deposit compensation scheme in the event of bank failure.

The non-bank financial institutions are relatively small, and the main systemic risk arising from these institutions relates to their interconnectedness with core domestic banks. Around one third of insurance companies (with assets of €2.4 billion as of end-2013) and investment funds (with assets of €0.8 billion) are classified as domestic. The insurance sector is dominated by one company, which has a market share of around 60 percent in terms of assets. Assets of insurance companies and investment funds mainly consist of shares and equity holdings, of which over one half is issued outside Malta. Core domestic banks hold a significant shareholding in several domestic insurance companies, while over 10 percent of insurers’ assets consist of deposits held with the Maltese banks. The investment funds have significant investments in local bank equity.

15. The regulatory and supervisory frameworks have recently been strengthened in several areas (Box 3). In late 2013, the Malta Financial Supervisory Authority (MFSA) amended the regulation on loan provisioning, requiring banks to allocate higher provisions for nonperforming loans. As a result, the coverage ratio increased from 39.5 percent in 2013 to 40.3 percent in June 2014, and expected to increase further. The CBM Act was also amended in late 2013, adding the formulation and implementation of macro-prudential policy as an explicit objective of the CBM. In this context, work on developing a macro-prudential toolkit has started. At present, the CBM and the MFSA are conducting research on the macro-prudential toolkit, such as possible use of broad-based and sector-based capital buffers for banks. The Joint Financial Stability Board (JFSB) has enhanced inter-agency cooperation on financial stability. In November 2014, the supervision of the largest banks was transferred from the MFSA to the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM).

Box 3.Malta: Bank Regulatory and Supervisory Frameworks

The Malta Financial Supervisory Authority (MFSA) is a unified supervisor of all financial institutions and markets. The MFSA periodically conducts internal audits or commissions external experts to review compliance of its regulatory and supervisory arrangements with the best international standards. However, there has been no Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP) in Malta since 2003.

In response to the past recommendations of staff and the EC, the authorities have taken measures to increase loan loss provisions. Following a consultation with stakeholders, the new regulations (Banking Rule BR/09) became effective as of end-2013. The amended regulations require banks to allocate a higher amount of provisions for NPLs, by allocating reserves of 2.5 percent of a bank’s NPLs.

The institutional set up for macro-prudential policymaking has been recently strengthened. The amendments to the CBM Act of November 2013 augmented the responsibilities of the CBM by adding the formulation and implementation of macro-prudential policies to the functions of the CBM. A second deputy governor was appointed with a focus on financial sector issues. The amendments also gave a legal status to the JFSB that was set up in early 2013 and made up of representatives from the CBM, MFSA, and Ministry of Finance, the latter as observer.1

1 The main objective of the JFSB is to facilitate cooperation between domestic authorities in matters related to systemic financial stability, including the identification and assessment of macro-prudential policy instruments.

Staff’s views

16. While noting solid performance of the Maltese banks and welcoming recent legal and regulatory changes, staff pointed to several areas where resilience could be further strengthened. In particular:

  • Although the two largest banks were found to be adequately capitalized under the ECB’s CA, their NPL ratios were revised substantially upwards, suggesting that the NPL ratio for the rest of the banking sector could also be higher under stricter loan classification rules. Swift implementation of the action plans resulting from the CA would be essential. Of particular importance is the need to align definitions of impairment triggers and forbearance used by individual banks with those used by the European Banking Authority and the SSM, and continued efforts to boost provisioning.

  • The MFSA should maintain sufficient resources as needed by the intensity of the regulatory and supervisory work, including in the AML/CFT area. The transfer of supervision of the largest banks from the MFSA to the SSM has been smooth. Continued close cooperation between the MFSA and the SSM is needed to ensure no reduction in supervision of these banks.

  • Enhanced focus of the MFSA on smaller banks is now appropriate, given forthcoming changes in ownership. Two mid-sized core domestic banks (Banif and Lombard) are in the process of ownership change.4

  • One of the main risks facing core domestic banks relates to their exposure to the real estate sector. Around two thirds of loans extended by banks are secured with real estate collateral, and mortgages are one of the few segments of bank loans which have been increasing recently (unlike loans to NFCs). It is important to continue mitigating the risk of exposure concentration to the real estate sector by the application of a cautious collateral valuation and conservative loan-to-value ratios. There is also room to enhance the loan foreclosure process by advancing judicial reform.5 This risk can be exacerbated by the weak performance of the EU countries, generating negative spill-over effects on the Maltese economy and its financial sector.

  • The contingency framework should be strengthened in line with reforms at the EU level. This includes boosting the ex-ante funds of the deposit compensation scheme while lowering the share of banks’ special contribution (ex-post payment commitments).6 Also, legal amendments are needed to implement the EU Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, establishing a resolution fund and introducing a bail-in requirement.

  • The MFSA and FIAU should continue to aim for high standards in the AML/CFT framework, particularly in light of the large financial and online gaming sectors.

  • To get a fuller assessment of the financial sector’s condition and oversight, an update of the FSAP—which took place in 2003—would be appropriate.

Authorities’ views

17. The authorities agreed with staff on the need to adapt the financial sector policy framework to the changing environment. They intend to maintain local laws and regulations on loan classification, macroprudential oversight, deposit insurance, and bank resolution in line with the EU requirements, and stressed that work is under way in all these areas. In particular, there are plans to amend the MFSA Act with the aim to establish a Resolution Board under the auspices of the MFSA. The authorities were positive about the move toward a banking union in the EU, and both MFSA and the ECB emphasized the importance of close cooperation in supervising the largest banks. The MFSA noted that two mid-sized banks are now in the process of asset quality review similar to the one conducted for the largest banks under the ECB’s auspices, and two more banks will be subject to a similar review in 2015. The authorities agreed with the recommendation to ensure high standards in the AML/CFT framework, and indicated that efforts are under way in several areas to address shortcomings noted by the 2012 MONEVAL report. The authorities stated that they would soon request an FSAP update.

18. The authorities broadly shared staff’s views on possible sources of risk to the financial sector. They noted that a slow economic recovery in the EU represents a risk to the domestic economy and financial sector. While they agreed that high NPL ratios are an important challenge for core domestic banks, they expected a reduction going forward as growth picks up. The authorities were less concerned than staff about the exposure of banks to the real estate sector. They were of the view that delinquency rates on mortgages have traditionally been one of the lowest, the exposure of banks to speculative property trading is very small, and household income (the main source of vulnerability for mortgages) is growing at a healthy rate.

C. Structural Policies

19. The authorities are making progress in a number of structural reform areas—energy, judicial reform, and labor market. These priorities are outlined in the National Reform Program (NRP), which aims at increasing competitiveness of the economy and ensuring long-term fiscal sustainability. These steps should help address the low female participation, skill gaps in the labor market, difficulties of early school leavers, Malta’s dependency on oil as the main energy source, and inefficiencies of public procurement.

20. The government is implementing a three year plan for judicial reform based on the recommendations of the Justice Reform Commission. The first year focused on amendments to criminal law, with improvements to civil and commercial law planned in the upcoming year. Planned reforms include: increasing the number of courts assistants, greater use of information technology in court administration, raising the thresholds for streamlined judicial procedures, and introducing alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation.

21. A number of labor market and education reforms have been aimed at increasing labor participation and enhancing skills. The authorities have improved incentives to work by introducing free childcare for working mothers, and gradual tapering of social benefits for those entering employment. The government is improving search and matching efficiency by introducing electronic platforms for job vacancies and involving the private sector in finding jobs for youth. Planned measures on education include compiling an employability index for higher education courses to assess how they correspond to labor market requirements, and introducing private tuition support for youth experiencing difficulties in primary education.

Staff’s views

22. Maintaining Malta’s competitiveness will require sustained productivity and value-added growth. In global competitiveness assessments, Malta is lagging behind in some key areas, such as ease of starting a business, access to credit, and legal rights. While Malta’s comparative advantage in the services sector has helped support its exports, some sectors (e.g. remote gaming) remain vulnerable to regulatory and tax changes elsewhere. Competitiveness may also be threatened by increased mismatch between wages and productivity growth, especially when many euro area neighbors continue to reduce their unit labor costs (Appendix 1). At the same time, Malta’s dynamic economy should be supported by affordable lending to viable firms (Appendices 2 and 3). The following areas are priorities for structural reforms.

  • Skills upgrading: Ensuring sufficient growth in labor productivity requires better upgrading and utilization of skills. Malta has one of the lowest tertiary education enrollment rates and one of the highest drop-out rates in the EU. Measures to boost tertiary education enrollment and the quality of vocational training need to continue in order to reduce skills mismatches and improve the quality of labor.

  • Female labor participation: Female labor force participation has increased, helped by government policies, but it is still one of the lowest in the euro area. With growth increasingly dependent on financial and niche services, the authorities need to ensure ample and well-qualified labor force. Budget measures that incentivize labor participation, especially female participation, should be prioritized over other forms of current spending. Vocational education should be strengthened further by identifying and expanding programs that deliver best employment outcomes.

  • Judicial reforms: While Malta has made some progress in reducing the time needed for dispute resolution, including insolvency proceedings, it remains high compared to EU peers (see e.g. the 2014 EU Justice Scoreboard). The government should continue planned judicial reforms and monitor their outcomes focusing on the speed of resolving judicial cases and the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation. Encouraging greater use of the insolvency regime, as well as more out-of-court workouts, accelerating collateral recovery, and reforming bankruptcy procedures are crucial for the resolution of the growing stock of nonperforming loans on bank balance sheets and dealing with the debt overhang of some SMEs.

  • Reducing the cost of capital: A number of measures should be considered to reduce the relatively high cost of capital.

    • Creating a credit registry, as planned by the authorities, should help reduce financing costs and, in the medium-term, help facilitate other forms of market financing, such as securitization. This would complement initiatives to jump start markets for risk capital. Full benefits of the credit registry can be obtained if it is comprehensive (collecting data also from non-financial institutions) and includes not only indebtedness information, but also payment history (including positive history).

    • High NPLs are contributing to high interest rates, particularly in certain sectors, as implied by the correlation between NPL ratios (and relatively high corporate leverage) and lending rates on new loans (Appendix 3). There is a need for a strategy for NPL resolution. Such a strategy should include accelerating NPL write-offs, encouraging greater use of the insolvency regime, faster enforcement of creditor rights, and developing options for out-of-court workouts.

    • While the reliance on domestic funding across sectors (government, banks, and corporates) has helped shield Malta from the global financial crisis, encouraging a moderate increase in cross-border financing should help lower funding costs across the economy.

    • A development bank—which is being considered by the authorities—could in principle help stimulate markets for long-term financing of risky projects and stimulate nascent markets. However, it should not be in direct competition with commercial banks, should have a clear and periodically re-evaluated mandate, be effectively supervised, and have strong governance.

Early Leavers from Education and Training, 2013

(percent total, ages 18 to 24 years)

Source: Eurostat

Female Labor Participation

(Percent)

Source: Eurostat

NPL Ratios and Interest Spread on New Loans

(Percent)

Source: ECB; CBM; NPL ratio is non-performing loans to gross loans and is interpolated from quarterly data on FSI indicators.

Authorities’ views

23. The authorities agreed with staff on the importance of structural reforms. Specific areas such as judicial reform and labor market improvements are priorities for the government. The authorities emphasized that reforms would take some time owing to a large amount of institutional changes requiring consensus building, approval by Parliament, and a cultural change in some cases.

24. The authorities agreed that the cost of capital is relatively high. They expected positive results from the planned credit registry and tax measures to stimulate venture capital investments. On credit registry, the authorities expected to finalize the consultation with banks in early 2015 and introduce the registry in two stages. The first stage is expected to be completed by mid 2015, in line with data requirements at the euro area level (the ECB’s Anacredit project with a deadline of December 2017). They saw the influence of NPLs as limited only to certain sectors such as construction. The authorities agreed that there may be scope to facilitate increased cross-border financing, but pointed to a number of structural obstacles and trade-offs with financial stability, particularly the small size of issuance and high resulting liquidity premiums.

Staff Appraisal

25. Malta continues to weather the global crisis well. Real GDP growth has been one of the highest in the euro area since the crisis and remains solid going into 2015. The external position has stayed strong, and unemployment is close to historical lows and among the lowest in the euro area. These developments reflect a relatively diversified economy and a stable banking sector.

26. The economic outlook is strong and risks are balanced. Staff project continued robust real GDP growth in 2015–16, driven by domestic demand. Inflation is projected to remain subdued. In the short-term, a prolonged stagnation and deflation in the euro area would reduce external demand and make fiscal adjustment more challenging. While risks related to the delays in restructuring of various state owned enterprises remain, there are potential positive spillovers to private investment and consumption from large infrastructure projects. In the longer term, Malta’s competitiveness could be eroded if Malta falls behind in implementing structural reforms while many euro area countries continue to reduce their unit labor costs, including through stepped up regulatory and tax reforms elsewhere.

27. Now is an opportune time to push forward with policies to raise growth in the medium-term in a sustainable manner and reduce vulnerabilities. Despite a robust outlook, Malta faces important challenges: public debt is still high; non-performing loans are elevated; the cost of capital is relatively high despite abundant liquidity; and maintaining competitiveness is increasingly challenging. The policy agenda, therefore, should focus on three areas: (i) strengthening fiscal sustainability; (ii) maintaining financial stability; and (iii) enhancing competitiveness and reducing the cost of capital.

28. The budgetary targets for 2015-2017 are welcome but meeting them will be challenging. The fiscal deficit declined to 2.7 percent of GDP in 2013, and with the output gap closed, there is a window of opportunity to reduce public debt. The consolidation measures proposed by the government for 2015 are mostly on the revenue side, and the underlying growth projections rely on favorable external assumptions. To ensure that the proposed fiscal targets are met, additional expenditure measures should be considered. These measures should be designed to contain the fast growth in current spending while preserving incentives for labor participation and education, and capital spending. If revenues turn out to be higher than projected, they should be used for debt reduction. In this context, full implementation of the comprehensive spending review would help prioritize and contain spending, while increasing efficiency.

29. Broad-based reforms—on pension, healthcare, and public corporations—are critical to contain fiscal pressures going forward. Further measures are needed to curb the projected increase in public pension outlays and health care spending. Authorities should continue to push forward with restructuring of state-owned corporations. More generally, it is important to disclose, analyze, and manage risks to public finances from state owned enterprises in a consolidated manner.

30. The government’s efforts to strengthen fiscal governance are welcome. The full implementation of the FRA for the next budget period is encouraged. Ongoing initiatives to integrate the revenue administration agencies will help improve the budgetary process.

31. Overall, the financial sector remains stable. Malta continues to host a relatively large financial sector without exposing itself to excessive risk. The regulatory and supervisory frameworks have recently been strengthened. A fuller assessment of the financial sector’s condition under the Financial Sector Assessment Program would be useful.

32. Remaining financial sector vulnerabilities stem from the relatively high level of NPLs and exposure to the property market. The NPL ratios of the largest banks were revised upwards under the AQR. At the same time, exposure of the core domestic banks to the property market remains substantial, leaving the banking sector vulnerable to developments in the real estate sector, particularly in the case of direct exposure to the construction sector.

33. Efforts are needed to further boost the resilience of Maltese banks and ensure robust supervisory and contingency arrangements. Policies should focus on: (i) a swift implementation of the action plans resulting from the ECB’s comprehensive assessment, and applying the same standards across the rest of the banking sector; (ii) strengthening the contingency framework in line with reforms at the EU level, including by boosting the resources of the deposit compensation scheme and lowering the share of banks’ special contribution; (iii) following through legal amendments needed to implement the EU Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, establishing a resolution fund and introducing a bail-in requirement; and (iv) continuing to aim for high standards in the AML/CFT framework.

34. Maintaining Malta’s competitiveness will require sustained productivity growth. The priorities include improving labor participation and productivity, and reforming the judicial system to improve the business environment. Malta’s dynamic economy should be supported by affordable lending to viable small firms. Therefore, policy actions are needed to reduce the cost of capital, including by developing a strategy for NPL resolution, implementing the planned credit registry, and encouraging a moderate increase in cross-border financing.

35. Staff proposes that the next Article IV consultation with Malta follows the standard 12-month cycle.

Malta: Risk Assessment Matrix1
Source of RiskRelative LikelihoodImpact if RealizedPolicy Response
1. Protracted period of slower growth in the euro area, and emerging economiesHigh

Highly open nature of the Maltese economy makes it particularly vulnerable to developments in the euro area and external demand
Medium

Impact on growth and financial flows
Reduce the pace of fiscal consolidation, in line with the flexibility under the SGP.

Continue to diversify trade and financial activities with non euro area countries.
2. Geopolitical fragmentation: i) Russia/Ukraine; ii) fragmentation/state failure in the Middle EastMedium

Direct links with Russia and Ukraine are low
Low

Indirect effects through confidence and external demand might be partially offset by additional tourists given Malta’s stability
Focus on eliminating vulnerabilities (fiscal and financial) to ensure stability.
3. Inconsistent and partial implementation of the EU regulatory frameworkMedium

Malta’s attraction as a financial center for crossborder banking activities and advantages in some services sector (such as online gaming) may diminish
Low/Medium

Further deleveraging of the international banking and business sector may adversely affect tax revenues and employment

Some services sectors (sources of export revenue) may shift out of Malta
Diversify the economy while scrutinizing associated new risks
4. Delays in implementation of SOE restructuring and investment projectsLow

Delays in undertaking due diligence procedures could push back planned capital investments and availability of financing.

Delays in achieving profitability may increase fiscal pressures
High

Large budgetary support may be required, and growth impact would be lower than projected
Rapid implementation of the project plans

Improve the governance structure of SOEs, including through managing fiscal risks in a consolidated manner
5. Delays in implementing structural reformsMedium

Lack of social consensus may lead to reform paralysis
High

Delayed implementation of required structural reforms would negatively affect long-term fiscal sustainability, competitiveness, and mediumterm growth
Pursue structural reforms vigorously, particularly given that cyclical conditions are favorable
6. A sharp correction in housing pricesLow

After a period of downward correction in 2008-09, Malta’s housing market seems to have stabilized
Medium/High

Core domestic banks are significantly exposed to the housing market
Monitor risk and be prepared to use macroprudential measures

The Risk Assessment Matrix (RAM) shows events that could materially alter the baseline path (the scenario most likely to materialize in the view of IMF staff). The relative likelihood of risks listed is the staff’s subjective assessment of the risks surrounding the baseline (“low” is meant to indicate a probability below 10 percent, “medium” a probability between 10 and 30 percent, and “high” a probability of 30 percent or more). The RAM reflects staff views on the source of risks and overall level of concern as of the time of discussions with the authorities. Non-mutually exclusive risks may interact and materialize jointly.

The Risk Assessment Matrix (RAM) shows events that could materially alter the baseline path (the scenario most likely to materialize in the view of IMF staff). The relative likelihood of risks listed is the staff’s subjective assessment of the risks surrounding the baseline (“low” is meant to indicate a probability below 10 percent, “medium” a probability between 10 and 30 percent, and “high” a probability of 30 percent or more). The RAM reflects staff views on the source of risks and overall level of concern as of the time of discussions with the authorities. Non-mutually exclusive risks may interact and materialize jointly.

Figure 6.Malta: Financial Soundness Indicators

Sources: Central Bank of Malta; and Malta Financial Services Authority.

Annex I. Implementation of IMF Recommendations

The Maltese authorities have taken on board the majority of policy recommendations made by theFund in previous Article IV consultations (Annex Table 1).

Table 1.Implementation of IMF Recommendations
2013 Art. IV AdviceActions since 2013 Art. IV
Fiscal issuesAdopt additional consolidation measures to contain the widening of the budget deficit, particularly containing the fast growth in current expendituresFiscal consolidation was pursued in 2013 and 2014, assisted by the strong economic growth. Current expenditures continue to grow at a rapid rate
Restore the profitability and viability of large public corporations in order to alleviate fiscal pressuresRestructuring of the large public corporations is under way
Advance efforts to strengthen fiscal governanceFiscal Responsibility Act was enacted and the Fiscal Council was appointed
Financial sector issuesClosely monitor liquidity developments in banks and take action if spillovers from abroad (eg, from Cyprus) become imminentDone; there have been very limited spillovers from the developments in Cyprus
Tighten loan loss provisioning rulesNew provisioning requirements were adopted
Strengthen the bank resolution framework in line with forthcoming reforms at the EU levelWork is under way in line with developments at the EU level
Continue the move to Basel III capital frameworkOngoing in line with the EU-wide timetable
Work closely with the ECB to ensure a smooth transition of supervision of the largest banks to the SSMThe transition of supervision has been smooth
Conduct an FSAP updateAn FSAP update may be requested shortly
Maintain an effective anti-money laundering frameworkEfforts are ongoing
Reevaluate the merits of the intended establishment of a developmental bankA working group was formed to assess the benefits of a developmental bank
Structural reformsAdvance pension and healthcare reformsA private third pillar pension scheme was introduced and steps to improve medical procurement have been taken
Strengthen female labor participationIncentives to work were improved, eg by introducing free childcare for working mothers
Enhance education attainmentSeveral measures were initiated
Improve the business climateA credit registry is to be established at the CBM; broad judicial reform has been launched
Annex II. Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA)

1. The public debt to GDP ratio has been rising since 2008, but is projected to decline after 2014. The general government debt-to-GDP ratio is projected to increase from 62.7 in 2008 to 70.3 in 2014. Under the baseline scenario the debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to peak in 2014, before declining to 62.7 percent in 2020.

2. The stock of contingent liabilities is expected to stabilize in 2015. Government guaranteed debt is projected to increase from 7.5 percent of GDP in 2008 to 16 percent of GDP in 2014. This increase is largely attributable to Enemalta (the national utility company), whose financial performance has been poor. With Enemalta’s ongoing restructuring plan and its partial privatization, its guaranteed debt and the fiscal pressures are expected to decline in 2015.

3. To assess the sustainability of government debt, a number of adverse scenarios are considered. Although under the baseline scenario the debt-to-GDP ratio converges to a level below 70 percent of GDP, the ratio is sensitive to shocks, if they were to materialize.

  • Under a growth shock that lowers output by 1.9 percent (equivalent to 1 standard deviation of growth over the past 10 years) in 2016–2017 and inflation declining by 0.9 percent in 2016, debt would peak at 73.4 percent of GDP in 2017, 6.1 percentage points higher than in the baseline.

  • A sustained interest rate shock of 200 bps would slow down the rate of debt decline so that by 2020 the debt-to-GDP ratio is 1 percentage points higher with respect to the baseline.

  • A primary fiscal balance shock of 0.4 percentage points over 2016–17 (1/2 standard deviation of the historical 10-year average) yields a debt-to-GDP ratio 1 percentage point higher in 2020 relative to the baseline.

  • A combined macro-fiscal shock including the three shocks above would lead to debt peaking at almost 73.5 percent of GDP in 2017, 3.2 percentage points higher relative to the baseline, and declining slowly to about 70.6 percent of GDP in 2020.

  • Under a financial contingent liability shock there is a one-time increase in non-interest expenditures equivalent to 10 percent of the banking sector assets—which could also be contributed partially by contingent liabilities stemming from SOEs—that leads to a real GDP growth shock as the one above (with growth declining for 1 standard deviation over 2016–17), revenue-to-GDP ratio remains the same as in the baseline while the deterioration of the primary balance leads to higher interest rates and the decline in growth lowers the inflation rate. This leads to debt jumping to 82.3 percent of GDP in 2017 and declining only to 78.5 percent of GDP in 2020.

  • A low inflation shock lowers inflation by 0.7 percentage point in each year from 2016 to 2020 with respect to the baseline (equivalent to a decline in 1 standard deviation of inflation over the past 10 years), output growth is lower by 0.5 percentage points with respect to the baseline in 2016 to 2020, revenue decreases by 2 percent each year, expenditures remain the same, and there is a 100 basis points increase in risk premium with feedback to growth each year. As a result, the debt-to-GDP ratio follows an upward trend and reaches about 78.4 percent of GDP in 2020.

4. Risks stemming from Malta’s high external financing requirements are mitigated by large holdings of foreign assets. In fact, 85 percent of outstanding short-term debt is for other monetary and financial institutions (OMFI) and is fully backed by foreign assets. Excluding OMFI’s and intra company lending, outstanding short-term debt at the end of 2013 was 31.8 percent of GDP and total net debt is about minus 120 percent of GDP.

Figure 1.Malta Public DSA Risk Assessment

Source: IMF staff.

1/ The cell is highlighted in green if debt burden benchmark of 85 percent is not exceeded under the specific shock or baseline, yellow if exceeded under specific shock but not baseline, red if benchmark is exceeded under baseline, white if stress test is not relevant.

2/ The cell is highlighted in green if gross financing needs benchmark of 20 percent is not exceeded under the specific shock or baseline, yellow if exceeded under specific shock but not baseline, red if benchmark is exceeded under baseline, white if stress test is not relevant.

3/ The cell is highlighted in green if country value is less than the lower risk-assessment benchmark, red if country value exceeds the upper risk-assessment benchmark, yellow if country value is between the lower and upper risk-assessment benchmarks. If data are unavailable or indicator is not relevant, cell is white. Lower and upper risk-assessment benchmarks are: 400 and 600 basis points for bond spreads; 17 and 25 percent of GDP for external financing requirement; 1 and 1.5 percent for change in the share of short-term debt; 30 and 45 percent for the public debt held by non-residents.

4/ Long-term bond spread over German bonds, an average over the last 3 months, October 11, 2014 through January 9, 2015.

5/ External financing requirement is defined as the sum of current account deficit, amortization of medium and long-term total external debt, and short-term total external debt at the end of previous period.

Figure 2.Malta Public DSA – Realism of Baseline Assumptions

Source: IMF staff.

1/ Plotted distribution includes surveillance countries; percentile rank refers to all countries.

2/ Projections made in the spring WEO vintage of the preceding year.

3/ Malta has had a positive output gap for 3 consecutive years, 2012–14 and a cumulative increase in private sector credit of 478 percent of GDP, 2011–14. For Malta, t corresponds to 2015; for the distribution, t corresponds to the first year of the crisis.

4/ Data cover annual observations from 1990 to 2011 for advanced and emerging economies with debt greater than 60 percent of GDP. Percent of sample on vertical axis.

Figure 3.Malta Public Sector Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA) – Baseline Scenario

(in percent of GDP unless otherwise indicated)

Source: IMF staff.

1/ Public sector is defined as general government.

2/ Based on available data.

3/ Long-term bond spread over German bonds.

4/ Defined as interest payments divided by debt stock (excluding guarantees) at the end of previous year.

5/ Derived as [(r − π(1+g) − g + ae(1+r)]/(1+g+π+gπ)) times previous period debt ratio, with r = interest rate; π = growth rate of GDP deflator; g = real GDP growth rate; a = share of foreign-currency denominated debt; and e = nominal exchange rate depreciation (measured by increase in local currency value of U.S. dollar).

6/ The real interest rate contribution is derived from the numerator in footnote 5 as r − π (1+g); the real growth contribution as -g.

7/ The exchange rate contribution is derived from the numerator in footnote 5 as ae(1+r).

8/ Includes asset changes, interest revenues (if any) and debt reduction related to Enemalta’s restructuring. For projections, includes exchange rate changes during the projection period.

9/ Assumes that key variables (real GDP growth, real interest rate, and other identified debt-creating flows) remain at the level of the last projection year.

Figure 4.Malta Public DSA – Composition of Public Debt and Alternative Scenarios

Source: IMF staff.

Figure 5.Public DSA – Stress Tests

Source: IMF staff.

Appendix I. Developments in Malta’s Competitiveness in Goods Sector1

1. Malta has made impressive strides in improving its trade balance since its accession to the european union in 2004. The trade balance reverted from a deficit of 6 percent of GDP in 2006 to a surplus of 6.6 percent of GDP in 2013. Given the high degree of openess of Malta’s economy, maintaining its competitiveness is key in sustaining the current growth rates. This appendix analyzes the recent progress in Malta’s external competitiveness focusing on the goods sector (given data availability).

2. To better assess Malta’s competitiveness in the goods sector, Malta’s export market shares are decomposed into structural and performance effects. This appendix looks beyond the growth in exports and real exchange rate developments, which could reflect other factors such as an increase in trade partner’s demand and hide developments in various subcomponents, providing only a partial picture of competitiveness gains. To better measure improvements in Malta’s performance, this section uses econometric shift-share decomposition, with data covering 2005 to 2013: Q1 at the 6-digit Harmonized System (HS) classification (Cheptea and others, 2014; and Gaulier and others, 2013). This decomposition isolates the effects of a change in demand and a change in export composition from other determinants of export performance that account for competitiveness.

3. This decomposition identifies the determinants of changes in market shares. In particular, changes in market shares are decomposed into three components: a geographical composition effect (a change in market share due to growth in imports of specific markets), a sectoral composition effect (a change in market share due to growth in exports of individual products), and a pure performance effect (indicating the degree to which the exporting country has been able to gain or lose market share after controlling for composition effects). The first two effects are structural and the latter is usually taken as a proxy for competitiveness. The pure performance effect may also include other determinants not explained by the structural effects, since it implies that a country is more competitive than another one if its exports and market shares increase above those of countries that have the same composition of exports.

4. The gains and losses in Malta’s market shares were mainly driven by performance effects. Overall there is a large variation in terms of the evolution of market shares and their determinants. In particular:

  • Prior to the crisis, Malta’s market share expanded slightly (2006–2007). This increase is mainly explained by a sectoral composition effect, suggesting that Malta specialized in products and sectors that on average have had a relatively higher growth. During this period, the geographical composition and export performance effects played broadly a neutral role.

  • The global financial crisis affected export growth negatively. The dramatic drop in market shares in 2008 is linked to the collapse in global trade during the global financial crisis and not driven by developments in Malta itself. In fact, world trade suffered an unprecedented collapse in the last quarter of 2008 (see Levchenko and others 2011). The performance effect has been the main driver.

  • Market shares in Malta recovered in 2010 and 2011, driven by gains in performance. In 2011, this was partly offset by the losses stemming from geographical and sectoral effects—implying that despite the specialization in sectors that had lower growth and countries that had lower import demand, Malta managed to increase its market share.

  • During 2012 and 2013: Q1, Malta lost market share with respect to their trading partners. This decline in market shares is mainly explained by a negative contribution of performance. While in 2012 sectoral effects were negative, they contributed positively in 2013: Q1. While a part of the declines in market shares in recent years could be driven by the semiconductor sector—which has suffered significantly during recent years—it is not possible to isolate this effect given data availability.

Export Market Share Decomposition (Values)

Source: Bank of France, Export Competitiveness Database, and IMF staff calculations

5. While non-price competitiveness has improved since 2010, price competitiveness has worsened. It is illustrative to differentiate the effects stemming from volumes and prices.2 We follow the common practice and use changes in unit values as a proxy for changes in prices. Unit values are calculated as the ratio between value and quantity exported. While the decomposition based on volumes shows gains in market share since 2010, the decomposition based on prices shows a decline—driven by performance effects.

Export Market Share Decomposition

Source: Bank of France, Export Competitiveness Database, and IMF staff calculations

6. Maintaining Malta’s dynamic export performance and boosting its competitiveness will require actions in various fronts. The determinants of Malta’s market shares have varied across time. First, it is important to diversify the export base both geographically and across sectors. Second, policies aiming at improving productivity and competitiveness will help support market share gains. Indeed, historically, performance effects have been an important driver of Malta’s export shares. Finally, price competitiveness is as important as non-price competitiveness in maintaining market shares.

Appendix II. Interest Rate Pass-Through in Malta1

This appendix estimates the short-term and long-term interest rate pass-through coefficients in Malta. Interest rate pass-through is low in Malta both in an absolute sense and relative to the rest of the euroarea. This is driven by significant reliance on deposit funding, limited competition in the banking sector, and, possibly, by rising share of non-performing loans.

A. Context

1. Interest rates in Malta have remained relatively high and constant for an extended period of time. Even as the ECB policy rate has declined to historically low levels, interest rates on deposits and loans fell only marginally in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. In this appendix we estimate the pass-through from the ECB policy rate to a set of deposit and lending rates for Malta and compare it with the rest of the euro area. The second part of the appendix focuses on the lending rates to nonfinancial corporations (NFCs).

Interest Rates on Outstanding Amounts

(Percent)

Sources: Central Bank of Malta

Notes: HH denotes households and NFC: non-financial corporations.

B. Methodology

2. An autoregressive distributed lag model (ARDL) is used to calculate short- and long-term pass-through in Malta. The model for a range of lending and deposit rates is:

Where r stands for lending or deposit rates, p stands for the policy rate, and i* and j* refer to optimal lag lengths (Micallef and Gauci, 2014). Policy rate is the main refinancing rate set by the ECB, and lending and deposit rates are interest rates available to the Maltese residents. Deposit rates cover households, businesses and the weighted average of these two. Lending rates cover mortgages, consumer loans, loans to businesses and also a weighted average for loans overall. The interest rates are for the “outstanding amounts” to maintain compatibility with earlier published analyses of interest rate pass-through in Malta.2

This, however, creates a downward bias in the pass-through rates, because the pass-through from policy rates to interest rates on new loans is higher than the pass-through to the rates on outstanding amounts (which represent an average rate that includes loans granted before the change in the policy rate). The estimation period is for January 2008 to November 2014 (post-EA accession). Since all interest rates series are non-stationary and integrated of order 1, they are used in the model in a form of first differences.

3. The appendix considers both long-and short-run pass-through. The short-run pass-through is obtained by estimating coefficient β0 in equation (1), whereas the long-run pass-through is calculated using the following equation that assumes an inter-temporal equality across interest rates in the long-run:

C. Pass-through for Lending and Deposit Rates

4. The estimated long-term pass-through is less than 50 percent for both deposits and lending rates. The pass-through range is between 5.8 and 37.4 percent in the short-term and 21.5 and 42.2 percent in the long-term. These results broadly match earlier findings by Micallef and Gauci (2014). The number of lags for both policy rate (i*) and the applicable interest rate is chosen to ensure that residuals do not display autocorrelation.3

Table 1.Malta: Estimations of Interest Rate Pass-through from ECB Policy Rate(Percent, period: January 2008-November 2014)
Short-termLong-termi*j*
MFI interest rates on deposits
NFCs17.238.434
Households5.824.002
Weighted average6.521.502
MFI interest rates on loans
NFCs23.541.324
Households37.442.213
Mortgages25.042.024
Weighted average28.838.813
Sources: CBM; and Staff estimates.
Sources: CBM; and Staff estimates.

5. The long-term pass-through for Maltese NFCs is one of the lowest in the euro area. Using comparable data for all countries from the ECB4, and the model in (1)5 suggests that the pass-through rates for loans and deposits to non-financial corporations in Malta is one of the lowest in the euro area. For household loan and deposit rates the pass-through from policy rates is slightly larger, but still ranks in the bottom half of the distribution. Low pass-through to NFC rates may reflect limited competition in the banking sector, as well as considerations specific to Maltese NFCs, including their high leverage and relatively large level of non-performing loans on the balance sheets of core domestic banks.

Figure 1:Long-term Interest Rate Pass-Through Estimates in the Euro Area

(Percent)

Source: ECB, Staff estimates.

Notes: Symbol * next to a country name indicates not a statistically significant coefficient. These results show a rough comparison of Malta and other euro area member states, but do not represent a comprehensive analysis and should be interpreted with caution. Not only does the use of rates on outstanding amounts introduce a bias, but there are country specific considerations such as loan rejection frequencies that change the extent to which loan rates on outstanding amounts are informative about financial conditions.

D. Closer Look at the NFC Lending Rates

6. Additional determinants of lending rates to NFCs. Limited pass-through is especially important in the case of lending rates to NFCs, which remain high in Malta. This can discourage viable firms (especially SMEs) to invest and grow, which in turn can inhibit economic growth. In order to analyze the drivers of low pass-through and high interest rates the previous ARDL model is augmented by additional variables, capturing bank funding costs as well as growth outlook (uncertainty index and confidence indicators). Consequently, the estimated equation takes a following form:

Where l refers to interest rate on outstanding business loans to NFCs, b refers to ECB policy rate, d refers to average interest rate on outstanding business deposits (a weighted average of both household and NFC deposits), i*, j* and k* refer to optimal lag lengths, and X is a vector of additional variables such as economic uncertainty index6 or confidence indicators.7 Bank funding costs are proxied by deposit rates since Malta’s two core domestic banks are predominantly funded by residential deposits. The method for lag choices for the baseline model remains as in Section C. The number of lags for deposit rates is chosen based on the Akaike selection criterion.

7. The short-term pass-through to NFC lending rates remains low but robust. The first column in Table 2 corresponds to the basic model of the equation (1), which includes only ECB policy rate and lagged lending rates as explanatory variables. The coefficient of the short-term pass-through is 23.5 percent and is statistically significant. Both its value and significance remain robust when deposit rates are included (in the second column (2), as well as when crisis dummy is added (for periods before June 2009).8

Table 2.Estimated Models for Pass-through to Interest Rates
Rates on Loans to NFCs (outstanding)
(1)(2)
ECB0.235***0.217***
(0.057)(0.056)
ECB (-1)0.130**0.080
(0.064)(0.060)
ECB (-2)0.127*0.043
(0.066)(0.063)
Loans to NFCs (-1)0.1830.134
(0.123)(0.119)
Loans to NFCs (-2)0.1120.079
(0.116)(0.107)
Loans to NFCs (-3)−0.357***−0.149
(0.112)(0.211)
Loans to NFCs (-4)−0.130−0.240**
(0.102)(0.097)
Ave. Deposits0.876***
(0.213)
Ave. Deposits (-1)−1.294***
(0.388)
Ave. Deposits (-2)0.413*
(0.238)
Constant−0.0040.009
(0.008)(0.024)
Adjusted R-squared0.580.66
Observations7878
Short-term pass-through from policy rate23.520.3
Long-term pass-through from policy rate41.331.6
Notes: Standard errors in parentheses. Stars denote significance levels as follows: * p < 0.1; ** p < 0.05; *** p < 0.01.
Notes: Standard errors in parentheses. Stars denote significance levels as follows: * p < 0.1; ** p < 0.05; *** p < 0.01.

8. The short-term pass-through from deposit rates is significant and close to a 100 percent. This reflects the aforementioned core banks’ dependence on deposit funding. The short-term pass-through from ECB policy rate drops to slightly to around 19 percent, when deposits rates are added to the model, however the adjusted R-squared increases by almost 10 percentage points and the coefficients on deposit rates are statistically significant.

9. Confidence and uncertainty indicators are not statistically significant. After accounting for the policy rate and deposit rate, including these additional variables (either in levels or in differences) does not improve the fit of the model.

10. High NPL levels may increase the spread between lending rates and policy rates and limit pass-through. The spread between the loan rate on short-term small loans (less than one year and less than one million euro) and the policy rate has been increasing in tandem with the NPL ratio since mid 2011, after reaching previous peaks in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Consistent series on longer maturities and larger amounts are not available. Anecdotal evidence suggests that NPL levels may affect interest rates in certain sectors more than others, especially construction.

NPL Ratios and Interest Spread on New Loans

(Percent)

Source: ECB; CBM; NPL ratio is non-performing loans to gross loans and is interpolated from quarterly data on FSI indicators.

Appendix III. Small and Medium Enterprises in Malta1

This appendix reviews the financial position of Maltese SMEs. Maltese SMEs have comparable profitability to that of their European peers; however, there is a larger share of firms experiencing losses and there a heterogeneity across industries and sizes. The smallest firms have the highest levels of leverage. Maltese SMEs rely primarily on bank finance, which is generally available, although at high interest rates. SME sector could be strengthened further by improving credit information sharing and reducing non-performing loans.

A. Context

1. SMEs2 generate three quarters of employment and value added in Malta. The European Commission (EC) estimates suggest that this share in Malta is close to other smaller countries in the European Union and higher than for the European Union as a whole. However, the EC estimates explicitly exclude financial and insurance sectors of the economy3 (European Commission, 2014a).

Source: European Commission (2014a). Notes: Shares are a proportion of the total for non-financial business economy.

2. Financial sector is unusually important for Malta. In 2013, the share of financial and insurance services (including all enterprises not just SMEs) in gross value added was 7.8 percent, behind Cyprus, but significantly above the euro area average of 4.9 percent. Business registry data suggests that 13 percent of firms are in the financial services sector and that the vast majority of these firms employ less than 10 people.

Share of Financial Servicesin Gross Value Added, 2013

(Percent)

Sources: Eurostat

3. Malta’s SMEs have weathered the crisis better than European peers. The number of registered business units employing less than 250 people was 8 percent higher in 2013 than in 2008. Similarly, the number of people employed and value added from 2008 to 2013 have also increased by 8 and 15 percent respectively. In terms of value added Maltese SMEs outperformed large firms, which may have suffered more due to their greater exposure to exports markets (European Commission, 2014b). Significantly stronger growth, investment and exports than in the euro area overall helped support SMEs. As a result, unemployment in Malta has actually been lower after the crisis, and overall economic sentiment, having diverged from the euro area average around 2012, is now close to historically high levels.

Notes: Economic sentiment indicator is the weighted average of the industrial, service, consumer, construction and retail trade confidence indicators.

Source: Eurostat, European Commission

4. Concerns about the SME sector center on the availability of financing and particular industries. Lending volumes in Malta have declined and interest rates remain higher than in the euro area overall. At the same time, Maltese firms are relatively highly leveraged, especially in certain industries such as construction. In addition, a number of structural gaps limit the effectiveness of SME financing, earning Malta one of the lowest ranks on the “Getting Credit” component of the World Bank Doing Business Indicators (World Bank, 2014).

B. Financial Position of Maltese SMEs

Non-financial business economy

5. Malta’s SME sector is dominated by small firms, primarily in services and trade. Most of Maltese SMEs are family owned (Malta Business Bureau, 2013). Firms with less than 10 employees have close to 45 percent of total employment and value added compared to the average of 37 percent for the European Union. Almost half of the value added in the non-financial sector is generated by services, and an additional third is generated by trade. Services are the most productive sector in Malta (in terms of value added per employee), followed by construction.

Source: European Commission SME Performance Review

Notes: Micro enterprises defined as employing 0 to 9 people. Small enterprises employ 10 to 49 people, while medium enterprises employ 50 to 249 people.1 Manufacturing, etc. is defined as the sum of mining and quarrying (B), manufacturing (C), electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply (D), and water supply (E). Services are defined as the sum of transportation and storage (H), accommodation and food service activiries (I), information and communication (J), real estate (L), professional, scientific and technical, as well as administrative and support service activities (M and N).

1 There are also limits on the amount of assets or turnover—less than 2 million euro for micro enterprises and less than 10 million euro for small enterprises.

6. Within the dominant services sector, considerable changes have occurred over time. Turnover in accommodation and food services as well as administration and support services is now at historically high levels. On the other hand, turnover in information and communication sector and professional, scientific and technical activities has declined in 2012–13. Employment, hours worked and wages followed similar trends, except they have been steadily increasing in the professional, scientific and technical activities.

7. Malta’s SMEs are more leveraged than larger firms. Grima and Vella (2014) show that leverage (defined as the ratio of assets to equity) of Maltese NFCs by size over the period from 2004 until 2011 was relatively stable, even in the years of the global financial crisis. The smallest companies had the highest levels of leverage.

8. Firm-level data and sample selection. In order to get a more granular picture of the financial characteristics of Maltese SMEs, we rely on firm-level data from ORBIS dataset by Bureau van Dijk. The ORBIS database in principle aims to cover all private and publicly listed firms. Nevertheless the data available covers only a small subset (1615 of an estimated 35,000 Maltese SMEs), even with the generous sampling criteria.4

9. Data on employment. The ORBIS dataset lacks data on employment for most Maltese firms making the application of this part of the SME definition problematic. We therefore define two samples: a broad sample, which includes the firms for which no data on employment is available and a narrow sample where the employment criterion is applied as well. The narrow sample includes 313 firms.

10. How representative is the sample? Suitable benchmarks to judge the representativeness of the sample could be its composition by firm size and industry because the European Commission estimates population sizes by these criteria. The EC, estimates, however do not include financial firms, which makes it necessary to consider them separately.

Table: ORBIS SME sample for Malta (Broad Sample), 2011-2013, percent Mal
Manufacturing, etc.ConstructionTradeServicesTotal
Micro9.21.96.13.34.5
Small14.79.013.111.612.4
Medium61.353.364.739.050.5
Source: ORBIS, European Commission, Staff estimates
Source: ORBIS, European Commission, Staff estimates
Table: ORBIS SME sample for Malta (Narrow Sample), 2011–2013, percent of total
Manufacturing, etc.ConstructionTradeServicesTotal
Micro0.30.20.30.20.2
Small9.85.610.66.98.6
Medium58.153.355.935.646.0
Source: ORBIS, European Commission, Staff estimates
Source: ORBIS, European Commission, Staff estimates

11. Available firm level data are skewed towards larger firms in particular industries. Even though the vast majority of Maltese firms are small, they are relatively poorly represented in the sample with less than 10 percent of firms included in the broad sample and less than 1 percent in the narrow sample. This suggests that firms for which no employment data is available are primarily small in terms of assets and turnover. On the other hand, for medium-sized firms, more than half of the population for manufacturing, trade and construction sectors is included. To correct for the particular characteristics of the sample, we use probability weights in estimating population parameters. Probability weights are the inverse of the sampling fractions. For example, in weighted sample observations from micro firms in manufacturing count more than six times as much as observations from medium firms.

12. A significant proportion of firms report zero profits. Out of 1615 firms in the broad sample, 997 (62 percent) of mostly smaller firms report exactly zero profits. In the narrow sample only 12 (4 percent) of firms report zero profits. This may reflect either a gap in the data gathering procedure or tax specific considerations. Thus, while median leverage can be computed for the entire sample, firms with zero profits are excluded from the sample for calculation of median profitability indicators and the share of loss-making firms.5

Table: SME Profitability Indicators, 2011–2013
WeightedUnweighted
ROAROEShare of

Loss-making Firms
ROAROEShare of

Loss-making Firms
Malta (Broad)5.322.428.36.722.022.8
(1.1)(4.7)(2.7)(0.6)(2.1)(1.7)
Malta (Narrow)5.314.026.66.919.317.9
(1.9)(5.9)(5.4)(0.7)(2.5)(2.2)
Austria2.38.136.24.814.218.8
(1.0)(2.8)(4.2)(0.3)(0.8)(1.1)
Belgium4.112.724.83.711.524.2
(0.0)(0.1)(0.2)(0.0)(0.1)(0.1)
France5.616.022.95.415.722.1
(0.0)(0.1)(0.1)(0.0)(0.1(0.1)
Germany6.621.014.16.622.611.8
(0.2)(0.6)(0.4)(0.1)(0.3)(0.2)
Netherlands3.57.231.85.215.519.2
(0.7)(1.5)(2.1)(0.2)(0.3)(0.6)
United Kingdom5.211.726.05.915.519.2
(0.2)(0.5)(0.5)(0.1)(0.2)(0.2)
Source: ORBIS, Staff estimatesNotes: Median return on assets (ROA) and returns on equity (ROE) are reported. Standard errors are reported in brackets. Share of loss-making firms is in percent to the total.
Source: ORBIS, Staff estimatesNotes: Median return on assets (ROA) and returns on equity (ROE) are reported. Standard errors are reported in brackets. Share of loss-making firms is in percent to the total.

13. Median profitability of Maltese firms is relatively high compared to peers6, however so is the share of loss-making firms. This is true for both narrow and broad samples. The unweighted estimates of profitability are similar in both narrow and broad samples, while weighted estimates for narrow sample have lower ROE, but not ROA, in other words, lower leverage. Note that estimates for Malta have relatively larger standard errors illustrating greater uncertainty arising from a small sample (especially in the narrow sample).

Malta and Peers: Leverage Ratio, 2011-2013

Source: ORBIS, European Commission, and IMF staff estimates

14. Median leverage ratios for Maltese firms are higher than for peers. Median leverage ratio is 2.4 for the weighted broad sample and 2.3 for the unweighted sample, suggesting, similar to Grima and Vella (2014), that smaller companies have higher leverage ratios. For the narrow sample, where smaller companies receive larger weighting, the difference between weighted and unweighted numbers estimates is larger still (2.7 and 2.3 respectively). In absolute magnitudes firm-level estimates are higher than suggested in Grima and Vella (2014), who argue that smaller companies are more likely to be leveraged and since the share of smaller firms is higher in Malta, higher leverage is a “structural feature” of the economy.

15. Differences by sector and size. Returns on assets are comparable across all three size classes, however returns on equity are higher for smaller and micro-sized firms7, confirming that smaller companies may have higher leverage in Malta. On the other hand, micro-sized companies also have the largest proportion of firms experiencing losses. Among sectors, construction has notably lower returns on assets as well relatively higher share of firms experiencing losses, suggesting continued difficulties within this sector. On the other hand, the services sector has the highest returns on assets and equity, suggesting also greater leverage. Construction has by far the highest leverage ratio of 3, followed by services at 2.5.

Sources: ORBIS, European Commission, Staff estimates

Financial Services

16. Financial services sector has low profitability, comparable leverage and high share of loss-making firms. The broad (without employment data) sample of financial and insurance firms yields 676 firms, a substantial addition to the overall sample size of 1615. Of these, 117 firms have exactly zero profits. Another 271 have assets less than equity, which is likely another tax issue or imperfection in data collection. After removing such firms from the sample, the median leverage ratio of financial services firms is 2.4, comparable to the non-financial business economy firms. However, median profitability is lower with an estimated 2.3 percent return on assets, 8.7 percent return on equity and 35 percent of firms experiencing losses.8

C. SME Financing in Malta

17. Besides own finance, bank based financing is the main source of SME finance. The dominant forms of bank finance have been overdraft facilities and credit cards, followed by trade credit and bank loans. Surveys suggest that loans are generally used by larger SMEs, while in the case of smaller companies only about half have used them before (Malta Business Bureau, 2013).

18. Bank lending standards and loan demand for SMEs are similar to large firms. After a significant tightening in 2008 and 2012 (as well as additional tightening for SMEs in 2011), lending standards remained unchanged for both large firms and SMEs. Survey evidence suggests that the last tightening was related to changes in the perception of firm outlook and risk on the collateral demanded. Demand for loans has been volatile, especially for SMEs.

Source: ECB Bank Lending Survey

19. The frequency of application rejections for loans is lower in Malta than in the euro area. According to the European Commission (2014) it was almost zero in 2013, compared to the average of 14.4 percent for the euro area. No rejections have been documented by the SME survey performed in Malta Business Bureau (2013).

20. However, interest rates on new loans are significantly higher in Malta than in the euro area. The difference is larger for large loans (for amounts greater than 1 million euro). The existence of a large spread between Maltese and euro area rates may in part be driven by the limited competition in the financial sector. However, this spread has not been constant suggesting that other factors may also be important.

Note: Rates on maturities of less than 1 year are used since that is the series with the largest continuous availability for Malta.

Source: European Central Bank

21. Surveys suggest substantial financial constraints for manufacturing but not services firms. The share of firms in the manufacturing industry reporting financial constraints has been persistently higher in Malta than in the euro area overall. The spike in the third quarter of 2014 is especially worrying, although evidence derived from surveys with small samples as may be the case in Malta can be volatile, and in the last quarter of 2014 the share of firms reporting financial constraints return to it. On the other hand, service firms appear relatively less constrained in Malta than in the euro area overall and, unusually so, less constrained than Maltese manufacturing firms. Firms also indicate availability of labor as a constraint. Different from many other euro area countries, demand is relatively less important.

Source: European Commission

22. Non-bank finance for the most part is not used in Malta. A number of venture capital initiatives have existed in the past but met with limited success. Stakeholders indicated various reasons for this such as low quality of the projects by start-ups, unwillingness to dilute ownership, administrative difficulties, and past experiences of failed local mergers (Malta Business Bureau, 2013).

D. Policies to Strengthen the SME Sector

Existing Policies

23. The government has supported SMEs extensively through a mix of various subsidies, grants as well as measures to improve access to finance. Most of the support is provided through Malta Enterprise, a national development agency responsible for the growth and development of Maltese firms (Malta Business Bureau, 2013). Support measures include both subsidies and grants. The authorities have also successfully utilized and leveraged EU structural funds. For example, the JEREMIE (Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises) Malta fund is the first loss portfolio guarantee vehicle set up in Malta to grant SMEs and self-employed loans of up to 500,000 euro at advantageous interest rates and considerably lower collateral requirements. A similar scheme is being planned in the future.

Policy Proposals

24. There is scope for improvement in the legal framework of access to credit. The World Bank Doing Business indicators highlight access to credit as the area where Malta has the largest distance to the frontier of the best performing economies. The reasons are the lack of credit information sharing as well as relatively weaker legal rights of creditors. To the extent that structural gaps or slow enforcement of collateral weaken creditor’s rights, they will likely be reflected in higher overall risk premiums on loans and therefore higher interest rates.

25. Ongoing work on credit information sharing could improve the efficiency of bank lending and strengthen competition. There is empirical evidence that after the introduction of a credit bureau, the likelihood that a firm has access to finance increases, interest rates drop, maturity lengthens, and the share of working capital financed by banks increases (Peria and Singh, 2014). Introducing credit information sharing can also overcome one of the most significant barriers to SME loan securitization – heterogeneity of SME loans.

26. High leverage in certain sectors and sizes suggests that there may be scope to reduce debt overhang. From the SME side possible steps could include reforming bankruptcy procedures, including by introducing time limits to expedite reorganization or pre-packaged insolvency. Greater reliance on online court filings could speed up foreclosures, while best practice guidelines for restructuring would encourage more out-of-court workouts. From bank side, NPL write-offs could be accelerated by, for example, higher capital charges or time limits for writing off NPLs. Regulatory changes could also be used to encourage banks to establish NPL asset management companies.

References

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The retirement age is set to gradually reach 65 years for both genders only in 2027, whereas 16 EU member states will have already reached or exceeded this level by 2020. No further increases are envisaged. While recently revised population projections will likely result in lower projections for age-related spending, there is still a gap between the projected outlays and available resources.

During recent years, Enemalta’s losses have averaged at around 1 percent GDP, partially met by subsidies, and led to buildup of the guaranteed debt. The authorities signed a memorandum of understanding for a strategic partnership with the Shanghai Electric Power in 2013 and are in the process of completing the deal, selling a 33 percent stake in Enemalta and undertaking energy infrastructure projects.

Total assets of international banks declined from about 490 percent of GDP in 2012 to 410 percent o GDP in early 2014.

Banif Bank Malta is majority-owned by Banif Financial Group of Portugal and Lombard Bank is 49 percent owned by Popular Bank of Cyprus. The Portuguese and Cypriot banks received state aid in recent years, which—in accordance with the EU rules on state aid—obliges them to sell their overseas investments.

As noted by the 2014 World Bank Doing Business report, Malta scores relatively unfavorably compared to the EU average in terms of the time needed for loan foreclosure and recovery rates in insolvency.

Currently, the ex-ante contribution paid by banks to the deposit compensation scheme is equivalent to at least 0.2 percent of eligible deposits, while the special contribution is equal to at least 0.8 percent of eligible deposits. In accordance with the 2014 EU Directive on Deposit Guarantee Schemes (Directive 2014/49/EU), the target level for ex-ante funds should be 0.8 percent of the covered deposits.

Prepared by Luciana Juvenal.

One limitation about this methodology is that when disentangling between price and quantity effects, only the intensive margin of trade is taken into account. Incorporating the extensive margin is non-trivial from a computational point of view.

Prepared by Bartek Augustyniak and Sergejs Saksonovs.

Micallef and Gauci (2014) point out that the series on new rates exhibit considerable volatility in Malta that complicates estimation of pass-through coefficients.

More precisely the model selection strategy is as follows: (i) begin with the model with i* = 0 and j* = 1. We then augment first j* and then i* by 1 each time using Breusch–Godfrey LM test for autocorrelation in the residuals of up to 12th order. The most parsimonious model where autocorrelation is rejected for all 12 lags is then chosen.

There are slight differences between the CBM and the ECB data, which result in small differences in long-term pass-through estimates.

For all countries i* = 3 and j* = 4, based on the largest number of lags that produced uncorrelated residuals as shown in Table 1.

The uncertainty index measures European policy-related economic uncertainty and it is based on newspaper articles regarding policy uncertainty. The source of the data can be found here: http://www.policyuncertainty.com/europe monthly.html

These include economic sentiment indicator, industrial confidence indicator and services confidence indicator, all of which come from Eurostat.

The crisis dummy is insignificant and not reported in Table 2

Prepared by Sergejs Saksonovs.

SMEs are defined in the EU as firms with less than 250 employees and a turnover of less than 50 million euro or total assets of less than 43 million euro.

Estimates cover sections B to J and L to N of NACE (classification of economic activities) Revision 2.

We focus on firms that met the limits for turnover and assets in at least one of the years from 2011 until 2013. For calculations, the year in which the enterprise matched this limited definition of SME is used. We exclude firms with more than 250 employees (when employee data is available). To avoid double counting, we focus our search on firms with unconsolidated accounts and exclude firms that have only consolidated accounts available. We also exclude firms with zero or negative equity and/or negative liabilities.

This requires computing a new set of weights.

For peer countries because of greater data availability, the SME sample is composed by applying a full definition (including the number of employees), based on 2013 data. Those estimates were originally obtained in IMF (2014).

Only results based on the broad sample are reported to maximize representation by firm sizes and industry.

Note that these estimates are subject to somewhat higher uncertainty given even smaller sample sizes. Employment data is available only for 45 firms of the above sample.

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