The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
2008 Article IV Consultation-Staff Report; Staff Supplement; Public Information Notice on the Executive Board Discussion; and Statement by the Executive Director for The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

This 2008 Article IV Consultation highlights that the Ethiopian economy has been growing rapidly in the last four years. Favorable weather conditions and pro-growth policies have helped sustain recovery from a sharp drought-related contraction in 2002/03. Growth has averaged 11 percent since 2003/04, far exceeding the minimum growth target of 7 percent in the Program for Accelerated and Sustainable Development. The rise in world oil prices has significantly added to pressures on international reserves. Surging coffee prices have helped to limit the impact on the terms of trade.

Abstract

This 2008 Article IV Consultation highlights that the Ethiopian economy has been growing rapidly in the last four years. Favorable weather conditions and pro-growth policies have helped sustain recovery from a sharp drought-related contraction in 2002/03. Growth has averaged 11 percent since 2003/04, far exceeding the minimum growth target of 7 percent in the Program for Accelerated and Sustainable Development. The rise in world oil prices has significantly added to pressures on international reserves. Surging coffee prices have helped to limit the impact on the terms of trade.

I. Background and Recent Developments

1. The Ethiopian economy has grown rapidly in the last four years, despite continuing regional political tensions.1 Favorable weather conditions and pro-growth development policies—with an emphasis on public investment, commercialization of agriculture, and nonfarm private sector developments—have helped sustain recovery from the sharp drought-related contraction in 2002/03 (Table 1).2 Growth has averaged 11 percent since 2003/04, far exceeding the minimum growth target of 7 percent in the Program for Accelerated and Sustainable Development (PASDEP), that is estimated to be consistent with keeping the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) within reach.3

Table 1.

Ethiopia: Selected Economic and Financial Indicators, 2005/06–2012/13 1

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Sources: Ethiopian authorities; and IMF staff estimates and projections.

Except for data on external sector which is based on July 1-June 30, data pertain to the period July 8-July 7.

Whole series was revised.

Including debt to major public enterprises.

After enhanced HIPC and MDRI relief.

2. Over this period, Ethiopia has continued its transition to a market economy, although some sectors have yet to be fully liberalized.4 Public enterprises still play a major role in many areas, including the financial, energy, and communication sectors. Market pricing is not fully functioning in the financial sector where interest rates are not responsive to changes in demand and supply conditions.

3. In recent years, it has become clear that demand is running ahead of efforts to expand the capacity of the economy through public investment in physical and social infrastructure investment and through private entrepreneurship. Inflation rose to 39 percent in the twelve months to May 2008 with food price inflation reaching 54 percent (Box 1). International reserves fell to 1.5 months of imports at end-April 2008.

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Consumer Price Index

(Annual changes, in percent)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

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Gross Official Reserves

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

4. Economic growth may be slowing but remains high. The authorities consider that agricultural production is continuing to expand rapidly, notwithstanding the poor performance of the short rainy season in some regions, and expect broad-based growth of 11 percent in 2007/08, with significant contributions from manufacturing, construction, and services. However, tempered by estimates that export and import growth has slowed to 4–9 percent in real terms, staff projects real GDP growth is closer to 8½ percent.

Causes of Recent Inflation

Both domestic and external factors account for the recent increase in inflation. Estimating the impact of each factor is difficult, given continuing structural changes, but higher inflation than in neighboring countries points to some Ethiopia-specific factors and imbalances, including from demand pressures and increasing inflation expectations. The direct impact through global food price hikes has been limited in light of the small import share of non-aid food.

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Food CPI in Ethiopia’s Neighboring Countries

(Annual changes, in percent)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

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Nonfood CPI in Ethiopia’sNeighboring Countries

(Annual changes, in percent)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

Some supply-side factors probably explain part of the rise in food prices: (i) farmers have recently been equipped with better access to credit, storage facilities, marketing information and income, leading to better negotiation powers for higher prices, (ii) the total supply of cereals has fallen as some donors have switched from food to cash aid; and (iii) local food prices may be converging to high (and rising) world grain prices. However, the mechanism of the last of these factors is unclear. One possibility is that convergence to world prices is being driven by unofficial food exports attracted by high food prices in neighboring countries.

5. The rise in world oil prices is hitting Ethiopia’s economy hard. Although surging coffee prices have helped limit the impact on the terms of trade, and private remittances have risen sharply, the higher oil and fertilizer import bill is placing considerable pressures on international reserves (Table 5). The inflationary impact of high oil prices has so far been relatively contained as they have only been partially passed through to consumers. This has resulted in sizable government subsidies (estimated at about 1 percent of GDP), which are being provided off-budget through the Oil Stabilization Fund.5

Table 2.

Ethiopia: General Government Operations, 2004/05–2007/08

(In millions of Birr)

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Sources: Ethiopian authorities; and IMF staff estimates and projections. The Ethiopian fiscal year ends July 7.

Including the disbursements under the PBS operations starting from 2005/06.

Debt relief from the IMF under the MDRI is recorded in 2005/06. Withdrawal from the special account at the NBE is assumed to take place from FY2006/07 and FY2007/08.

Excluding special programs (demobilization and reconstruction).

Poverty-reducing spending is defined to include total spending on health, education, agriculture, roads, and food security.

External interest and amortization are presented before I-IIPC debt relief from the World Bank and African Development Bank.

Demobilization and reconstruction.

Table 3.

Ethiopia: General Government Operations, 2004/05–2007/08

(In percent of GDP)

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Sources: Ethiopian authorities; and Fund staff estimates and projections. The Ethiopian fiscal year ends July 7.

Including the disbursements under the PBS operations starting from 2005/06.

Debt relief from the IMF under the MDRI is recorded in 2005/06. Withdrawal from the special account at the NBE is assumed to take place from FY2006/07 and FY2007/08.

Excluding special programs (demobilization and reconstruction).

Poverty-reducing spending is defined to include total spending on health, education, agriculture, roads, and food security.

External interest and amortization are presented before I-IIPC debt relief from the World Bank and African Development Bank.

Demobilization and reconstruction.

Table 4.

Ethiopia: Monetary Survey, 2004/05–2007/081

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Sources: National Bank of Ethiopia; and IMF staff estimates and projections.

Year ending July 7. Including commercial bank claims and liabilities to Eritrea.

Claims on general government (federal and regional governments and other public agencies) by the banking system less deposits of the general government with the banking system.

Table 5.

Ethiopia: Balance of Payments, 2004/05–2012/131

(In millions of U.S. dollars, unless otherwise indicated)

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Sources: Ethiopian authorities, and IMF staff estimates and projections.

Data pertain to the period July 8-July 7.

For 2006/07, incorporates MDRI debt relief.

Excluding aircraft.

6. Overall public sector borrowing has remained high in part because of heavy public enterprise expenditures. In 2006/07, the general government fiscal balance (including grants) improved because of cuts in spending and increases in grants (Tables 2 and 3). For 2007/08, helped by some revenue measures (notably, the introduction of an import surcharge on consumer goods) and increased external financing and privatization revenues, domestic financing of the general government is being contained below the 2.5 percent of GDP budget target. In this context, measures to alleviate the impact of high food price inflation—the lifting of VAT, turnover tax, and surtaxes on some food items—have been limited. But with significant borrowing by public enterprises, staff estimates that overall domestic public sector borrowing would reach 5 percent of GDP for 2007/08 compared with 4.8 percent in 2006/07 (Box 2).

Public Enterprise Investment

A key element of Ethiopia’s growth strategy is to rapidly scale up infrastructure investment in power, telecommunication and transport. The power company is in the process of building five new hydro-power plants and one wind-power plant with an installed capacity of over 3,000 MW by 2012, compared with Ethiopia’s current installed capacity of 663 MW. The telecommunications company is expanding the mobile phone coverage with plans for coverage of 6 percent of population by 2009/10. The national airline has put in a request for up to 10 Dreamliner planes for delivery between 2009 and 2012. Future financing for these projects is mostly confined to external funds (partly on nonconcessional terms), but some domestic financing from commercial banks has recently been used.

Financing to Public Enterprises

(in percent of GDP)

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Sources: Ethiopian authorities, ETC, EEPCo, EAL, and staff estimates.

The Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo), and Ethiopian Airlines Enterprise (EAL).

Unidentified financing is a residual between planned investments and identified financing.

7. Credit expansion to the public sector has to a large extent also driven relatively rapid broad money growth (Table 4 and figures below). The National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) raised minimum reserve requirements on commercial bank deposits from 5 to 10 percent (July 2007), and to 15 percent (April 2008), and raised the minimum time and saving deposit rate from 3 to 4 percent (July 2007). This has helped reduce banks’ excess reserves and slow private sector credit growth somewhat. But broad money growth has been propelled by credit to the public sector, particularly to public enterprises, while the NBE resumed the provision of direct advances to the government in late 2007 in response to commercial banks’ request to rediscount treasury bills.

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Contribution to Broad Money Growth

(Annual change in percent of beginning period stock)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

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Contribution to Net Dometic Credit Growth

(Annual change in percent of beginning period stock)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

8. The real effective exchange rate has continued to appreciate. The official exchange rate for the Birr against the U.S. dollar, and in nominal effective terms has steadily depreciated since end–2007. In parallel markets, the Birr weakened significantly, and the premium widened to 10 percent by mid-March 2008, prompting the authorities to close the markets at the end-March.6 Nonetheless, the real effective exchange rate has appreciated due to Ethiopia’s much faster inflation rate than in its trading partners.

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Nominal and Real Effective Exchange Rates

(2000=100)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

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Exchange Rates (per 1 U.S. Dollar) in Official and Parallel Exchange Markets

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

II. Adjusting to Shocks and Imbalances

9. Discussions focused on how Ethiopia could reduce inflation and adjust to the global food and oil price shocks in a manner that would least affect the momentum for growth and poverty reduction. There was full agreement that the authorities’ targets of reducing inflation to single digits and raising international reserve coverage, over time, to 10-12 weeks of imports are consistent with sustaining development over the medium-term. At the same time, policies to achieve a soft landing will have to judiciously balance the risks to growth, inflation, and the balance of payments. The consultation explored these risks and their implications for policies in the period ahead.

Twin challenges

10. The authorities recognized that the twin challenges of high inflation and low international reserves considerably limited their policy options. On inflation, the authorities placed somewhat more emphasis on the role of structural factors driving an increase in the relative price of food, but agreed that policies to dampen demand were called for. The authorities in this regard viewed rapidly rising agricultural prices as a mixed blessing: they were expected to encourage a strong supply response, but in the short term had an adverse impact on many vulnerable groups, including the urban poor, and reduced the real value of food aid.7 On the oil price surge, staff and the authorities agreed that it should be best treated as a permanent, and very large, shock to the balance of payments: in 2008/09 the import bill was expected to be 600 about US$1 billion higher (over 3 percent of GDP) than two years 300 earlier and to persist at its new high level over the medium term. Staff agreed that, in the circumstances, it was unrealistic to rebuild the foreign exchange reserves rapidly, and moving toward the authorities’ intermediate target of 8-10 weeks of imports should be the goal in 2008/09.

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Fuel Import and Export of Goods

(In millions of U.S. dollar, unless otherwise indicated)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

11. The authorities were hopeful that adjustment to low inflation and high oil prices could be achieved without a significant slowdown in economic growth. They agreed that monetary and fiscal tightening was a necessary response, but felt that the potential growth of the economy had been raised as a result of past infrastructure investment and reforms, with the export sector in particular likely to make a rising contribution to growth and the balance of payments in the years ahead.

12. By contrast, the staff’s analysis, summarized in an illustrative baseline medium-term adjustment scenario, suggested that sustainable medium-term growth would be significantly below rates achieved in recent years. With front-loaded tightening of monetary and fiscal policies, inflation could be brought down to single digits over the course of the next two years. Full pass through of fuel prices would help adjustment to the oil price shock, but given the need to build foreign reserves to 10-12 weeks of imports and pay for higher oil imports, the scope for domestic demand and import growth would be circumscribed in the medium term, notwithstanding strong concessional and nonconcessionsal official inflows. Export growth might be buoyant as the authorities expected—although there were questions about competitiveness (see below)—but given the small size of the export base, staff estimated that average GDP growth would be around 7 percent (the PASDEP floor) in the medium term and lower than this in the near term.

13. Moreover, staff pointed to considerable downside risks to growth. There was a risk that inflation expectations were becoming ingrained and more aggressive policy tightening might be required. The external environment might deteriorate or oil prices could rise further.8 And the scenario abstracts from potential adverse weather effects on agriculture—Ethiopia’s growth has benefited in recent years from the absence of severe droughts, which in the past have occurred every 5-6 years. Notwithstanding the authorities efforts to encourage the development and resilience of the agricultural sector, the recurrence of droughts would lead to both high variability of output and inflation as well as lower average growth.

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Medium-Term Projections—Baseline and Alternative Scenarios

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

14. Necessary adjustment therefore posed a serious threat to Ethiopia’s efforts to reduce poverty. Even if the more worrisome downside risks do not materialize, the projected growth slowdown is substantial and budget resources for development and pro-poor spending will be squeezed because of slower growth of tax revenue and the need for tight fiscal policy. Staff argued that policy tightening could not be avoided if high inflation was to be curtailed and demand adjusted over the medium term to accommodate the oil bill: failure to do so could lead to more costly and disorderly adjustment later.

15. The impact on development and pro-poor spending could, however, be alleviated by additional donor financing as illustrated in staff’s alternative scenario. The scenario assumes just over 1 billion U.S. dollar of additional grants—on top of the already identified financing—concentrated in the next two fiscal years. This would create room for additional public spending with some finance assumed to be allocated for capital projects that have high import content and raise longer-term growth. Short-term growth is also higher than in the baseline because finance for imports helps alleviate shortages of key commodities.

Staff Medium-Term Projections

(Percent of GDP, unless otherwise indicated)

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After enhanced HIPC relief. Exports of goods and services used.

Adjustment, the real exchange rate and external debt sustainability

16. An appreciating real exchange rate is beginning to raise questions about competitiveness, although the authorities were confident that exports would remain strong. Ethiopia’s export market shares, for example, have increased in recent years, pointing to productivity advances and broader improvements in supply and business conditions that are not reflected in CPI-based measures of the real effective exchange rate (REER). However, with Ethiopian inflation continuing to run ahead of that in competitor countries, the REER has moved above historical levels.

17. Staff analysis points to some potential overvaluation of the REER, although there are several qualifications. Forward-looking analysis of the sustainable current account deficit, for example, suggests that some real depreciation of the exchange rate might be necessary to support balance of payments adjustment. However, estimates are highly sensitive to assumptions about what is a reasonable medium-term pace of reserves accumulation to underpin external stability, the availability of external financing, and the degree of domestic imbalance in the economy.9 Likewise, estimates of the fundamental equilibrium REER are sensitive to specification uncertainties with some evidence that earlier debt relief has until recently compensated for the adverse impact on the equilibrium REER of the terms of trade decline, and the actual REER has closely followed its equilibrium level.

18. The authorities agreed that an active structural reform program is needed to improve productivity and efficiency so as to strengthen external competitiveness. The PASDEP calls for a range of public investment and services to (i) expand investments in farm-to-market roads; (ii) encourage private sector involvement; (iii) build agricultural credit markets; and (iv) enhance the security of land tenure. Staff pointed to the importance of stimulating private sector development (with special attention to the investment climate) and building the financial sector in light of recent declines in the private investment rate.

19. The updated debt sustainability analysis incorporating borrowing by some of the major public enterprises shows a moderate risk of debt distress. Under the baseline scenario, the risk of debt distress is low, but stress tests point to breeches of the threshold on the NPV of debt to exports if new public sector loans are negotiated on less favorable terms, export growth is lower than the historical average, and simultaneous adverse shocks apply to growth, exports and grants. To limit these risks, staff stressed that securing grant and concessional financing and containing domestic borrowing remained vital and urged the authorities to draw up a comprehensive public debt strategy that specifically includes public enterprise debt and contingent liabilities, and to strengthen debt management capacity.

Monetary policy tightening

20. In view of the still high growth of broad money after the initial monetary tightening, the authorities were stepping up their tightening efforts. The initial measures had helped to significantly reduce excess reserves of commercial banks, and improve the efficacy of monetary policy instruments, with better control over liquidity developments. However, money growth remained buoyant in the first half of 2008 with the surge in credit to public enterprises and the temporary resumption of NBE direct advances to the government (which replaced treasury bills held by commercial banks). The authorities concurred with staff that central bank advances to the government would need to be contained, and the sale of treasury bills facilitated by attracting more market participants possibly through higher Treasury bill interest rates.

uA01fig09

Excess Reserves of Commercial Banks

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

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Currency in Circulation

(In percent, annual changes)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

21. The money growth target for 2008/09 is relatively conservative, but needs to be kept under close review especially if high inflation persists. The authorities’ broad money target of under 20 percent appropriately factors in a rise in money velocity (Box 3). However, setting the money target was further complicated by the uncertainties surrounding the inflation process. Staff agreed that underlying inflation was likely significantly below the headline rate because food price inflation was partly driven by convergence to world prices, a process that had finite (albeit uncertain) limits. Nevertheless, there remained a significant risk that excess demand and inflation expectations were driving inflation, in which case the authorities needed to stand ready to tighten monetary policy further.

Ethiopia: Rising Income Velocity of Money

Broad money velocity typically trends downward in low income countries (LICs), reflecting monetization and financial deepening. Against this backdrop, the NBE has set monetary targets under the assumption that velocity declines by about 2 percent each year.

uA01bx03fig01

Velocity

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

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Inflation

(In percent, annual changes)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

However, in recent years, double-digit inflation, substantially above the LIC average, has eroded the birr’s purchasing power as well as its credibility as a store of value. With interest rates also highly negative in real terms, there has been a shift from deposits to cash and from saving to consumption. This has caused monetary deepening to stall, with broad money velocity in 2006/07 increasing by 8 percent.

Fiscal support for adjustment

22. The authorities recognized the need to support monetary tightening with a reduction in public sector domestic borrowing. With some rebuilding of net foreign assets, the money supply target would imply a sharp decline in private sector credit in 2008/09 if public borrowing were not curtailed. This would lead to imbalanced development and slower output growth. In this context, staff recommended roughly halving domestic public sector borrowing to 2–3 percent of GDP in 2008/09, a level that was also historically consistent with single-digit inflation (Box 4). To the extent that this might require lowering the budget domestic borrowing ceiling to 1½ percent of GDP, real government expenditure growth would be negligible in 2008/09 absent measures to strengthen tax revenue. This would place additional emphasis on the need for careful project selection that emphasizes productivity and contribution to growth as well as prioritization to preserve pro-poor spending.

Inflation and Role of Public Sector

Public sector borrowing (defined to include the borrowing by public enterprises from the banking system) is highly correlated with inflation, reflecting the dominant role of the sector in the economy. During previous disinflation periods (late‐1980s and mid‐1990s), inflation was lowered by 8–18 percentage points, following the reduction of public sector borrowing by 1½–4½ percent of GDP. This is broadly in line with the empirical results of cross‐country analysis.10 Based on this experience, borrowing would need to be reduced by 2–3 percent of GDP to help achieve single‐digit inflation.

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Public Sector Borrowing and Inflation

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

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Public Sector Borrowing

(In percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

23. While the authorities expressed their intention to limit overall public borrowing, they were concerned that going as low as 1½ percent of GDP for domestic budget borrowing would imply too large a squeeze on government spending and the investment budget. Nevertheless, until there were clear signs that inflation was turning, they intended to keep domestic borrowing well below the 2007/08 budget ceiling of 2½ percent of GDP and implement import-intensive capital spending cautiously to mitigate the impact on the external position. At the same time, the top economic policy makers, who now meet regularly to coordinate the macroeconomic policy strategy, would keep a close eye on the activities of public enterprises.

24. Staff reiterated that, if strong control over the activities of public enterprises is not feasible, budget policy would have to react to pressures on domestic borrowing. Effective controlling measures—including the introduction of performance contracts and/or approval of their budgets and borrowing plans—should be explored. It also stressed that allowing full pass through of oil prices should be part of the strategy in order to reduce the growing quasi-fiscal liability of the Oil Stabilization Fund. The authorities noted their intention to raise fuel prices further.

25. The need to keep fiscal policy tight in the medium term to help the economy absorb the oil price shock puts the spotlight on the poor performance of revenues. The tax-to-GDP ratio has been on a downward trend in recent years because the rebounding agricultural sector is lightly taxed and newly emerging sectors in services and industry benefit from tax breaks. Unless the trend is reversed, the budget arithmetic would become increasingly difficult going forward. Therefore, the authorities were undertaking a comprehensive study of tax reforms, based on earlier technical assistance recommendations.

26. Improved public financial management would also ensure greater value for money in public expenditure. Staff welcomed progress in performance budgeting and also encouraged the authorities to seek help from development partners to strengthen the vetting and selection of capital projects.

Exchange rate policy

27. The staff argued that greater exchange rate flexibility is needed to better reflect demand for and supply of foreign exchange. Absent effective competition in the interbank foreign exchange market, and with the central bank the major supplier of foreign exchange, exchange rate movements have been highly circumscribed.11 However, in light of potential strains on competitiveness and the need to adapt to higher oil prices, staff stressed it was important to avoid overvaluation. Moreover, the wide spread that had opened up in the parallel market suggested supply and demand imbalances, and the closure of the market could push some transactions further underground, possibly resulting in a wider exchange rate premium. The authorities agreed that more flexibility could in principle be beneficial, but were anxious to avoid sharp corrections of the exchange rate—not least, because they could fan inflation expectations. They agreed to consider measures to foster a more liquid and flexible interbank foreign exchange market, such as allowing banks to bid for foreign exchange more freely.

Financial sector soundness and development

28. Staff reiterated that increasing competition in the banking sector is central to improving the environment for implementing monetary policy and encouraging private sector development. Private sector commercial banks have grown in importance in recent years, but even so the stateowned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) still accounts for about two thirds of banking system assets. The concentrated nature of the system, along with the significant role of the public sector in the system, partly explains lack of competition for deposits and loans and a distorted interest rate structure.

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Interest Rates and CPI

(In percent)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2008, 264; 10.5089/9781451812831.002.A001

29. The authorities remain reluctant to open the banking system to foreign competition and to privatize the CBE. However, they took note of staff suggestions to allow banks to explore commercial links with foreign partners, which might lead to the development of new financial products and cost savings that would reduce high spreads between lending and deposit rates and fees/charges for financial services.

30. Financial sector soundness indicators are not signaling problems, but because this is probably the high point of the economic cycle, continued close scrutiny by supervisors will be important (Table 7). A slowdown of economic growth and unwinding of high inflation could expose credit risks, particularly as interest rates have been highly negative in real terms. The implications of quasi-fiscal liabilities in the banking system should also be carefully examined in any process of normalizing interest rates.

Table 6.

Ethiopia: Millennium Development Goals

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Source: World Development Indicators databaseNote. Figures in italics refer to periods other than those specified.