Samoa
2012 Article IV Consultation-Staff Report, Informational Annex, Debt Sustainability Analysis, Public Information Notice, Statement by the Executive Director for Samoa

After a moderate recovery in 2010–11, the Samoan economy has shown signs of slowing down amid rising inflation. After two consecutive years of contraction, real GDP has expanded by 2 percent in 2010–11. The Central Bank of Samoa has maintained an accommodative monetary policy to support economic activity. However, continued structural reforms are required to lift Samoa’s economic growth and to ensure financial stability. Considerable progress has been made in tapping customary land for productive use.

Abstract

After a moderate recovery in 2010–11, the Samoan economy has shown signs of slowing down amid rising inflation. After two consecutive years of contraction, real GDP has expanded by 2 percent in 2010–11. The Central Bank of Samoa has maintained an accommodative monetary policy to support economic activity. However, continued structural reforms are required to lift Samoa’s economic growth and to ensure financial stability. Considerable progress has been made in tapping customary land for productive use.

Context

1. Samoa is heavily dependent on tourism, remittances, and aid. It has a strong track record on macroeconomic management and until recently its economy had been growing more rapidly than most other Pacific island countries. The last Article IV consultation with Samoa was held in March 2010, following a delay in the aftermath of a devastating tsunami hitting the country in September 2009. A request for disbursement under the Rapid-Access Component of the Exogenous Shocks Facility was approved in December 2009. With the help of development partners, post-tsunami reconstruction is now almost complete. A general election was held in March 2011 and the incumbent government was returned to power.

2. After a moderate recovery in 2010/11, the economy has shown signs of slowing down amid rising and volatile inflation caused by weather conditions. Fiscal deficits and public debt have increased sharply in the wake of the global financial crisis and post-tsunami reconstruction, while the current account deficit has widened with the real appreciation of the tala. Foreign reserves have fallen significantly over the past year, but remain adequate. Banks are well capitalized and mostly profitable, but non-performing loans (NPLs) are rising for some banks amid weak economic activity, especially in the tourism industry.

Recent Developments and Outlook

3. After two consecutive years of contraction, real GDP expanded by 2.0 percent in 2010/11 (July/June), on account of fiscal and monetary stimulus as well as swift post-tsunami reconstruction. However, growth slowed considerably in the last quarter of 2011, to 0.8 percent (year-on-year), and is expected to remain subdued until the second quarter of 2012, when the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Samoa’s independence will attract more tourists and boost economic activity. Growth is likely to be around 1½ percent for FY2012 as a whole and to pick up pace only modestly in FY2013, as reconstruction activity continues to subside and the growth of external demand remains moderate. Over the medium term, growth is projected to rise to around 2½ percent. However, this outlook is subject to considerable downside risks given the uncertainties facing the global and regional economies and the domestic policy environment (see the section on managing risks).

uA01fig02

Real GDP Growth

(Year-on-year percentage change)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Source: Data provided by the Samoan authorities.

4. Inflation has been rising and volatile in recent months largely as a result of weather conditions that have affected the supply of agricultural products. After peaking at 11.4 percent (4 percent excluding food) in December 2011, headline inflation fell back to 4.7 percent in March but accelerated again in April to 6.7 percent. Inflation is expected to be around 6 percent (yoy) by end-June, leaving the annual average rate at about 6½ percent for FY2012. Global food and fuel prices are projected to trend downward over the medium term, offering some relief on inflation.

uA01fig03

CPI Inflation

(Year-on-year percentage change)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Source: Data provided by the Samoan authorities.

5. The Central Bank of Samoa (CBS) has maintained an accommodative monetary policy to support economic activity since the global financial crisis. Official interest rates are close to zero and the CBS has recently increased direct lending to the Development Bank of Samoa and the Samoa Housing Corporation, both of which on-lend to the private sector at interest rates lower than commercial banks charge. Banking sector liquidity has tightened considerably following recent dividend repatriation, outbound FDI and large one-off imports. The diversion of deposits from commercial banks to the newly established Unit Trust of Samoa (UTOS) has also contributed to the tightening liquidity situation in some banks.

uA01fig04

Interest Rates

(Percent per annum)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Source: Data provided by the Samoan authorities.

6. The current account deficit has widened sharply over the past three years. This has resulted from increased imports for post-tsunami reconstruction, rising world food and fuel prices, and the slow recovery of remittances and tourism. As reconstruction activity winds down, however, the current account deficit is expected to trend downward over the medium term. Foreign reserves have declined sharply over the past year, to about US$151 million (about 4.3 months of next year’s imports) at end March, following some large one-off imports, profit repatriation by banks, and outbound investment. While the tala’s nominal effective exchange rate (NEER) has been stable in recent years, its real effective exchange rate (REER) has appreciated considerably as a result of inflation differentials with trading partners.

uA01fig05

Current Account Balance

(In percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Sources: Samoan authorities; and IMF staff estimates.
uA01fig06

Tourism and Remittances

(In percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Sources: Samoan authorities; and Fund staff estimates.

7. The fiscal deficit has fallen gradually after increasing to 7½ of GDP in 2009/10 to support post-tsunami reconstruction. The implementation of the 2011/12 budget is broadly on target, but supplementary appropriations will likely result in a fiscal deficit of 6 percent of GDP, about ½ percent of GDP higher than originally budgeted and only slightly lower than the level achieved last year. Revenue collection at end-March 2012 was slightly below pro rata projections as a result of lower-than-expected imports and a delay in increasing excises. Expenditure has also been broadly in line with budget projections, with possible savings on recurrent expenditure.

uA01fig07

Fiscal Balance

(In percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Sources: Data provided by the Samoan authorities and staff estimates.

8. The authorities agreed that the Samoan economy has slowed down and has not responded to the fiscal and monetary stimuli as anticipated. Their growth forecast for the current fiscal year was slightly lower than staff’s projection, but they expect a long-term growth rate of 3 percent, slightly more optimistic than staff’s forecast. The authorities’ inflation forecast for FY2012 was similar to the staff forecast. The authorities agreed that the current account deficit has been high but noted that the imports were related to reconstruction activity. They emphasized that the foreign reserve level was still higher than the pre-tsunami level despite the sharp decline over the past year.

Ensuring Internal and External Balances

9. Rising public debt calls for fiscal consolidation, particularly now that post-tsunami reconstruction is almost over. An updated joint IMF-World Bank debt sustainability analysis suggests that Samoa’s debt distress risk has risen from a low to moderate level, increasing the urgency for fiscal consolidation. However, a precipitous withdrawal of fiscal stimulus could put further strain on the weak domestic economic activity. Given this, staff advised steady reductions in the fiscal deficit in the near term, bringing it down to about 4½ percent of GDP in 2012/13 and 3½ percent in 2013/14. The deficit should be further reduced to 2½ percent of GDP in 2014/15 and to about 1½ percent of GDP in the long run. This, based on the debt sustainability analysis, would stabilize central government debt at 46 percent of GDP in present value (PV) terms in 2016/17 and reduce it to 40 percent of GDP in 2025/26, a level that will give Samoa the needed policy buffer to mount a fiscal response in the event of shocks. Staff continued to consider it appropriate to target the PV of debt to GDP ratio at 40 percent given Samoa’s large and stable remittances (some 20 percent of GDP), which help mitigate debt distress risks.

uA01fig08

External Public Sector Debt

(In percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Source: Data provided by the Samoan authorities.

10. It would be highly advisable that this debt target and the associated fiscal consolidation path are spelled out in the government’s new medium-term fiscal strategy to increase its credibility and gain political support. Further improvements in debt management, including better coordination with fiscal policy formulation, stronger adherence to procedures to contract debt, and improved efforts to contain the level of the government’s contingent liabilities, would help achieve deficit and debt targets. The authorities reiterated their commitment to reducing public debt to a more sustainable level over the medium term. They are currently projecting a fiscal deficit of 4–5 percent of GDP for FY2013 and plan to reduce it to below 3 percent by FY2015.

11. Fiscal consolidation in 2012/13 will require rationalization of development projects, but current expenditure should also be restrained in order to maintain a relatively high level of public investment. Over the past three years, development expenditure has more than doubled, reaching 18–19 percent of GDP in 2009/10 and 2010/11, before falling back to about 13½ percent in 2011/12. Just as the government reprioritized development expenditure as part of the post-tsunami reconstruction efforts, so does it need to re-examine its priorities in a post-tsunami era, particularly in line with the Strategy for the Development of Samoa. While it is important to budget adequate resources to maintain expanded infrastructure and improve service delivery in key areas such as health and education, further restraint on recurrent expenditure, including the public sector wage bill, would be important. Samoa’s government wage bill has been one of the lowest in the region, but it has been rising over a number of years. The hiving off of agency employees from the central payroll led to some reductions in more recent years but these savings have moved to operating grants provided to these agencies. The authorities were cognizant of the recent increases in the government wage bill and planned to initiate a functional and structural review of the public service sector in FY2013 with a view to reduce duplication and overlap in government ministries and to strengthen the focus on core government functions. Staff advised that as the public service sector is streamlined, efforts should also be made to generate savings in other recurrent expenditure to ensure the attainment of the goals for medium-term fiscal consolidation.

uA01fig09

Central Government Wages and Salaries

(In percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Source: IMF APDLISC database.1/ In fiscal year July/June.

12. The authorities indicated that they would take necessary actions to achieve this year’s fiscal targets. The Ministry of Revenue was confident that the revenue target would be met despite the weak economic activity. Samoa’s recent accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) is unlikely to have any major impact on revenue collection. Ministry officials indicated that they would build on the recent progress made under the Institutional Strengthening Program (ISP)—the compliance rate has reached 85 percent for both income tax and customs—and implement the second phase of the ISP with a focus on improvements in customs administration. They also advised that further progress is being made with amendments to the Income Act and Tax Administration Act. The Ministry of Finance noted that given the uncertainty over revenue collection greater discretion would be exercised in authorizing spending—including a possible ban on non-externally funded travel—in order to meet this year’s deficit target.

13. It is critical that the government closely monitors debt incurred by public enterprises (PEs) and contain the risk they pose to public finance. Although there appear to be no increase over time, total non-current PE debt is substantial, amounting to ST366 million at end-June 2010, of which ST54 million was in default and has been taken over by the government. At the end of 2011 the value of defaulted loans fell to ST45 million and other guaranteed outstanding loans amounted to ST60 million. Some 46 percent of term loans, which account for about 52 percent of non-current liabilities, are owed to commercial banks (about 11 percent of banks’ 2011 loan portfolio), 14 percent to the Samoa National Provident Fund, 24 percent to the European Investment Bank, and the remaining 16 percent to the CBS and UTOS. The quality of loans extended by the Development Bank of Samoa has deteriorated sharply over the past 2 years, with NPLs now standing at 29 percent of total loans, up from 8 percent in June 2010. Near-to-medium term prospects for asset recovery do not look promising given the weak economic conditions. UTOS has the admirable objective of broadening investment opportunities for ordinary Samoans, but its current business model—attracting PE deposits away from commercial banks at higher interest rates to compensate for the shortage in individual investments and lending to other PEs at rates lower than bank rates—pose considerable fiscal risks as the government has guaranteed UTOS loans and agreed to underwrite some losses in the value of the shares the government continues to hold in privatized PEs and has transferred to UTOS. Moreover, the government has agreed to advance any amount to the Trust to pay its obligations, including the buyback of units should the Trust face cash flow constraints. The authorities were of the view that SOE financing operations of UTOS, with total assets of less than ST40 million, do not pose any additional fiscal risks and yet have increased competition in the credit market. Moreover, the authorities saw the benefits of rallying political support for PE reform with ordinary citizens sharing the profits earned from government-held shares in the privatized PEs.

uA01fig10

Reserves

(In millions of U.S. dollars)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Sources: Samoan authorities; and IMF staff estimates.

14. Exchange rate policy should continue to aim at protecting foreign reserves and ensure competitiveness of Samoan exports, including tourism. As noted earlier, the decline in Samoa’s reserves should slow down with continuous fiscal consolidation, but as debt repayments increase, foreign reserves may come under pressure, especially if the recovery of remittances and tourism continues to be weak. The current level of reserves is close to the estimated optimal level of about 4½ months of current year imports, although this estimate is sensitive to the assumption of the opportunity cost of holding reserves (see Appendix I). The real appreciation of the tala may have also contributed importantly to the weak recovery of tourism, especially given increasing competition from some other Pacific island countries that have either devalued their currencies (e.g., Fiji) or use the weaker U.S. dollar as the legal tender (Palau).

uA01fig11

Exchange Rates

(January 2000=100)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Source: IMF, Information Notice System.
uA01fig12

Agricultural Production

(2005Q1=100)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Sources: Data provided by the Samoan authorities and staff calculations.

15. Standard exchange rate assessments suggest that the tala is overvalued by 11-25 percent (see Box 1). Given this, a realignment of the exchange rate would be necessary and important for regaining Samoa’s competitiveness, although its impact on inflation and debt dynamics should be carefully considered in the process. The authorities agreed that the REER was probably overvalued but saw the need for further technical assistance to determine the extent of overvaluation (especially by using alternative price indices in calculating the REER) and explore options to address the possible overvaluation. They also noted that the REER appreciation had often resulted from adverse terms of trade shocks (e.g., 2007/08 food and fuel price hikes) and as such its impact on competitiveness was not clear. The authorities took note of staff’s view that declining agricultural production and slowing tourism growth in recent years may have, at least partly, resulted from reduced competitiveness as a result of exchange rate overvaluation. The authorities shared staff’s view that the pegged exchange regime remains appropriate for Samoa given its underdeveloped financial market and high price pass-through, which would render excessive exchange rate volatility if the tala were floated.

16. The staff would recommend a steady exchange rate realignment rather than a large step-devaluation, which is likely to be disruptive. Specifically, the CBS could make use of the existing rules that allow the exchange rate to move by 2 percent without cabinet approval or restrictions on frequency. The exchange rate realignment could be accomplished over time through this flexibility. Such an adjustment would have a positive impact over time on growth, which would benefit from faster expansion of tourism and other exports, but the debt stock and service would rise significantly, as would inflation (see Box 2 for an illustration of such possible effects). An alternative to a nominal exchange rate realignment would be to tighten monetary policy to facilitate the required external adjustment and avoid excessive losses in reserves. This would likely lead to large output losses and put further strain on growth recovery. The authorities indicated that a gradual exchange rate adjustment would be feasible, but noted that it would not have much impact on exports due to the lack of supply response.

17. Monetary policy can remain accommodative for the time being, but would need tightening should signs of underlying inflation pressure emerge or reserve losses continued. Given the weak state of the economy and the declining trends of world commodity prices, there appears to be little underlying inflation pressure at present. However, CBS should stand ready to stamp out such pressure—especially in the context of a possible realignment of the exchange rate—and should tighten monetary policy in a pre-emptive manner given the weak monetary policy transmissions. In view of the high pass-through of exchange rate changes, a firm monetary policy is critical to avoiding the second-round effect on inflation of a realignment. Policy tightening should begin with increases in the policy rate and open market operations, and if necessary, complemented by hiking reserve requirements. While seeing the need to watch out for inflationary pressure and to tighten monetary policy in the event of an exchange rate adjustment, the authorities noted that the monetary policy should remain accommodative in the short run given the weak state of the economy.

uA01fig13

Private Sector Credit Growth

(Year-on-year percentage change)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Source: Data provided by the Samoan authorities.

18. Staff suggested there should be no further increase in the CBS Credit Line Facility. The initial tranche appears to have helped rehabilitate the tourism industry following the tsunami. Given the recovery of credit growth since then and the fact the current financial difficulties with many small tourism operators appear to have largely resulted from weak external demand, any benefits of further expanding the facility are likely to be outweighed by the risk it poses to the CBS balance sheet. Moreover, the facility could be converted into a fiscal operation, with an explicit budget allocation, to improve transparency regarding the fiscal implications of this support. To reduce the moral hazard problem, designated financial institutions for on-lending should share with the government the credit risk arising from the facility. Recent diversion of PE deposits to UTOS may have raised the funding costs for commercial banks and contributed to tight liquidity in some banks. As a result, pressures are building for interest rates to rise. CBS should closely monitor the situation, but there is no immediate need to systematically inject liquidity into banks.

Managing Risks

19. Risks to economic growth and stability in the short run stem primarily from Samoa’s vulnerability to external shocks. Sharp or protracted downturns in the global economy would pose serious challenges to the current efforts to strengthen recovery and maintain macroeconomic stability, as shown over the past few years (see the Risk Assessment Matrix below). The strength of the Australian, New Zealand and United States economies, which are Samoa’s largest trading partners and main sources of remittances and tourist arrivals, are particularly important. Staff discussed with the authorities the options of policy response in the event of a severe external shock, including postponing fiscal consolidation, and, depending on the nature of the shock (falling demand or worsening terms of trade) and the inflation outlook, accelerated adjustment of the tala exchange rate to cushion the impact. Further monetary easing through open market operations and lowering reserve requirements could also be considered should bank liquidity tighten, although past experience has shown that the impact of such policies may be limited.

20. Samoa is highly exposed to volatilities in global and domestic commodity prices, particularly given its heavy reliance on imported fuel and food. Geopolitical uncertainties in the Middle East could lead to unexpected surges in fuel prices. Weather conditions, especially cyclones and extreme precipitations, could lead to large fluctuations in food prices, as occurred in 2004 and the second half of 2011. Price hikes could result in rapid deterioration in the current account deficit and rising inflation. Staff advised, and the authorities agreed, that Samoa should continue to allow full price pass-through should international prices surge again. However, monetary policy should be firm to prevent second-round effects of price surges. Moreover, Samoa should continue to rebuild policy buffers and improve the social safety net despite the cushion provided by the traditional community system.

Samoa: Risk Assessment Matrix

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21. Samoa also faces considerable risks to sustained growth and stability over the medium term. The global financial crisis and the restructuring of the automobile industry in Australia seem to have led to a long-lasting, and possibly permanent, scale down of the Yazaki auto part plant, which has shed over 1,000 workers since the onset of the global financing crisis. The plant remains the largest private employer in the formal sector but its survival appears to depend entirely on a single car manufacturing plant in Australia (reduced from three). Recent efforts to expand exports into the Chinese market are encouraging, but it will take a while to yield significant results. The prospects for sustained growth of tourism hinge on the future development of the real exchange rate as well as source country demand; further REER appreciation could dampen growth over the medium term. On the upside, Samoa could benefit from increased access to Australia’s temporary workers scheme and receive more remittances. The recent accession to the WTO could also help improve investor confidence, though the impact is unlikely to be large.

Raising Long-Term Growth

22. Restoring Samoa’s strong growth would require continued structural reforms. Samoa undertook substantial reforms in the mid-1990s and these reforms had contributed to the strong growth prior to the current slowdown. However, the growth impact of these reforms seems to be tapering off. Continued fiscal consolidation would dampen aggregate demand, though with an imports-to-GDP ratio of 74 percent and even higher import content for public investment projects, the impact of reduced public spending would be moderate, particularly given the envisaged gradual consolidation. Samoa has been leading Pacific island countries in the World Bank’s “doing business” indicators, but several countries are narrowing their gaps with Samoa. A recent report based on a conference organized by UNCTAD on Samoa’s WTO accession suggests that there is considerable room for improvement. While an exchange rate realignment would help strengthen Samoa’s competitiveness over time, the expected benefits would not be fully realized without simultaneous structural reforms to raise efficiency and alleviate supply constraints. Reforms would also ease the transition from government-driven recovery to a more broad based, private sector-led growth.

23. Public enterprise reforms are a top priority. Important progress has been made recently, including the privatization of Samoa Tel in January 2011 and the establishment of the Independent Selection Committee for directors of PE boards. Nevertheless, continued efforts will be needed as many public enterprises are performing poorly. The government recognizes the importance of improving the efficiency of PEs and has undertaken legal and corporate governance reforms to this end (see Box 3). The authorities plan to privatize three PEs in the next fiscal year.

24. Considerable progress has been made in tapping customary land for productive use and further advances would be important to promote private investment. As detailed in Box 4, important steps have been taken to update the institutional and legal framework for customary land, but the use of customary land as collateral for bank loans remains a key constraint on lending, discouraging private investment and restricting growth potential. Continued dialogue and consultation with land owners and the community at large to build consensus is critical to move the reform forward. Staff welcomed the initiation of the third phase of customary land reforms supported by ADB advisory TA. While acknowledging the room for improvement, the authorities cautioned that the land issues could be easily exaggerated.

25. Consolidation of recent achievements should be the focus of the continued effort to improve public financial management (PFM). Staff welcomed the plan for the second phase of PFM reforms following a Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) assessment carried out in early 2010. The implementation of this plan would help develop sector plans for improved linkages to the budget, strengthen the budget process, procurement, and the accounting system, and improve tax administration as well as debt management and aid cooperation policy. To successfully implement this plan, Cabinet support to the plan would be critical and central agencies and line ministries would need to strengthen staff capacity to sustain the reform process.

26. Continued reforms in the financial sector would be important in lifting growth and ensuring financial stability. Staff welcomed the recent Cabinet approval of the proposed Personal Property Securities Act, which will allow moveable assets to be used as credit security, and looked forward to its early passage in Parliament. Similarly, establishing a credit bureau would help reduce credit risk and boost credit to the private sector. To ensure financial sector stability in an environment of rising NPLs for some banks, the CBS should strengthen bank supervision (especially on-site examinations) and be assigned the responsibility for supervising the UTOS and Samoa Housing Corporation (SHC). Staff also advised that UTOS should move away from subsidizing public enterprises through extending loans to them at below-market rates. This would also help generate higher returns for investors in the long run. As UTOS diversifies its investment into the private sector (including property markets) and foreign markets as envisaged, it needs to build its capacity for risk management. The authorities agreed with staff that CBS should supervise UTOS and SHC and step up its supervision efforts to ensure financial stability amid increasing financial difficulties in the private sector, particularly in tourism. The authorities saw the benefits of a credit bureau, but would rather leave it to banks to take the next step in establishing it.

27. A review of Samoa’s social safety schemes may be in order. The Samoa National Pension Fund (NPF) is a defined contribution scheme. At present, almost all its members take lump-sum withdrawals rather than an annuity. Moreover, over 40 percent of members’ contributions to the Fund have been taken out in member loans, significantly diminishing the role of the NPF in providing retirement incomes for members close to retirement at age 55. There is also a Senior Citizens Benefits Scheme for permanent residents aged 65 years and over and generous medical care provided by the government (full coverage of treatment and medication costs). In combination, these schemes appear to have diminished incentives to save for retirement. As a result, there is likely to be an increase in the fiscal burden in the long run, especially as life expectancy increases and traditional family ties weaken over time with urbanization and migration. Staff saw a need to tighten the criteria for member loans and to undertake a review of the various schemes. On the investment side, around 28 percent of NPF’s investment consists of loans to poorly performing public enterprises. Although these are mostly guaranteed by the government, efforts to allow gradual portfolio diversification via greater investments overseas would help minimize exposure to financial and fiscal risk. The authorities noted that the full withdrawal option and its use are in line with cultural tradition in Samoa.

Other Issues

28. Statistics. Samoa’s economic statistics are broadly adequate for surveillance. The country is one of the few in the Pacific that disseminate monthly and quarterly economic statistics through government websites. However, there are weaknesses in national accounts and balance of payments statistics. With technical assistance, including through PFTAC, considerable progress is being made in improving these statistics and the authorities are committed to continued efforts. Central government accounting is on cash basis. The authorities are currently receiving assistance from PFTAC in transition to the GFSM2001 format. GFSM2001 format data is expected to be available before the next staff visit.

Staff Appraisal

29. Samoa’s economy continues to recover, albeit at a modest pace. Real GDP growth is expected to be around 1½ percent for FY2012 and rise to about 2 percent in FY2013. The medium-term outlook points to a moderate growth rate of around 2½ percent, a step-down from Samoa’s strong growth record prior to the current slowdown. Risk to growth is tilted to the downside in the short run, mainly as a result of uncertainty over the global economy and the outlook for regional trading partners and source countries of remittances and tourists.

30. A series of shocks have changed Samoa’s macroeconomic landscape, reducing substantially the country’s fiscal and external buffers. Public debt has risen sharply as a result of fiscal stimulus in the wake of the global financial crisis and a devastating tsunami. At the same time, monetary policy was eased and has remained accommodative ever since, and yet economic recovery remains weak and fragile. The current account balance has deteriorated sharply, but generous donor support has kept reserves at comfortable levels. The authorities should be commended for managing the difficult circumstances.

31. However, decisive actions are now needed to reduce the fiscal deficit and bring public debt to a more sustainable level over the medium term. Given the weak and fragile state of the recovery, however, fiscal consolidation should be measured and steady in the short run. It is highly advisable that a medium-term path for fiscal consolidation be spelled out with a corresponding debt management strategy to ensure appropriate levels of borrowings. Moreover, debt incurred by public enterprises should be closely monitored with improved statistics and their fiscal risks minimized.

32. The authorities’ fiscal plans for FY2013 are broadly appropriate. However, to achieve a deficit target of 4-5 percent of GDP would require firm control over recurrent expenditure as well as reprioritization of development expenditure. Restraint on recurrent expenditure, including the public sector wage bill, will be important, not least to allow adequate resources to be devoted to the maintenance of expanded infrastructure and improvements in health and education services. Revenue efforts have been commendable and should continue.

33. Samoa needs to examine its export competitiveness and adjusts its exchange rate as necessary. The tala has appreciated substantially in real effective terms over the past decade and it is assessed to be overvalued. While the current level of reserves appears to be broadly adequate, a steady realignment of the exchange rate may be necessary to prevent further reserve losses and strengthen export competitiveness, including in the tourism industry.

34. Monetary policy stance can remain accommodative for the time being, but would need tightening when exchange rate adjustment takes place. With the weak economic activity, there appears to be little underlying inflationary pressure at present. However, given the expected high price pass-through, CBS needs to stand ready to tighten the policy stance in order to prevent the second-round effect of an exchange rate realignment.

35. Continued structural reforms would be vital to restore Samoa’s strong growth record. The current protracted growth downturn appears to reflect the diminishing benefits of the widely acclaimed reforms in the mid-1990s as well as real exchange rate appreciation and external shocks, which have dented Samoa’s competitiveness. The authorities are encouraged to undertake bold reforms, focusing on raising the efficiency of public enterprises, further improving public financial management, making customary land more accessible for productive use, and deepening financial sector reforms.

36. Managing risks should be part of the overall effort to ensure macroeconomic stability and sustained growth. Given Samoa’s vulnerability to exogenous shocks, it should continue to build policy buffers through determined efforts to consolidate its fiscal position and avoid delays in necessary adjustment to monetary and exchange rate policies.

37. It is recommended that the Article IV consultation continue on the current 24 month cycle with a staff visit in the next 12 months.

Exchange Rate Assessment

Three standard approaches have been applied to assess the value of the tala relative to its medium-term equilibrium level. The results show that the tala is likely to be about 11–25 percent above its equilibrium level.

The Macroeconomic Balance (MB) approach suggests that Samoa’s current account norm is about -4.3 percent of GDP. The decomposition of the fitted values into time-varying contributions shows economic growth, oil trade balance and aid inflows are the main factors in determining the norm. While Samoa’s current account deficit is projected to gradually decline to 8.4 percent of GDP by 2016/17 with fiscal consolidation and the rebound of tourism and remittances from the impact of the global financial crisis and the tsunami, a gap is likely to remain, implying that the tala is overvalued by 12-25 percent based on a range of elasticities.

Exchange Rate Assessment: Baseline Results 1/

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Source: Fund staff estimates.

All results are expressed in percent.

Staff projection of the underlying CA/GDP in 2016/17.

Based on a semi-elasticity bound of the CA/GDP with respect to the REER of -0.17 to -0.33.

Overvaluation is assessed relative to December 2011.

Current account deficit that stabilizes net foreign liabilities, estimated at 76 % of GDP over the medium term.

uA01fig14

Samoa: MB approach

Current Account Balance 1/

(In percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

1/ The shaded area represents the 90 percent confidence interval.

The Equilibrium Real Exchange Rate (ERER) approach shows that the tala is overvalued by about 17 percent. In this approach, key determinants of the equilibrium value are government consumption, labor productivity, aid inflows and terms of trade. The REER was around its equilibrium level in 2007/2008 but has since deviated from it rapidly, largely as a result of higher domestic inflation and nominal appreciation in 2008-09.

The External Stability (ES) approach, which estimates the current account norm that stabilizes net foreign assets at a targeted level, suggests the tala is overvalued by about 11–22 percent. The target for net foreign assets, at 76 percent of GDP, was derived from the current account balances during the period 2006/07–2008/09, which is considered to be broadly sustainable.

As with assessments for many other countries, the results presented here are subject to considerable uncertainty, mainly because small economies such as Samoa are volatile and their economic fundamentals can be altered by exogenous shocks.

uA01fig15

Samoa: ERER approach

Real Effective Exchange Rate 1/

(CY2005=100)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

uA01fig16

Samoa: 90 Percent Confidence Intervals

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

1/ The shaded area represents the 90 percent confidence internal of the equilibrium.

An Exchange Rate Adjustment Scenario

This box presents a scenario of gradual exchange realignment for Samoa. The advantage of such a gradual approach is that it allows time for businesses and consumers to adjust to changing economic circumstances and hence is less disruptive to economic activities. However, this approach could also invite one-way bids on exchange rate movements, although this risk is mitigated somewhat by the fact that Samoa’s capital inflows are almost entirely in the forms of foreign direct investment and official grants and loans. In contrast, such risk could be avoided through a well-planned one-off surprise adjustment. The scenario is purely for illustration purposes.

Suppose that the real exchange rate adjustment needed is about 12 percent over two years. The target for nominal adjustment should be around 20 percent assuming inflation would rise by about 8 percentage points. This ballpark estimate of inflation impact assumes full price pass-through and is broadly in line with the fact that just over 40 percent of Samoa’s CPI basket is imported. Given that a number of products are under price control, full price pass-through may not take place over two years and some price increases, say 2 percentage points, would spill over to the third year. Assuming baseline inflation is 4 percent and the exchange rate is adjusted by 10 percent each in FY2013 and FY2014, inflation would rise to 7 percent in these two years and to 6 percent in FY2015.

In addition to inflation, the exchange rate adjustment would have several effects on the Samoan economy. The resulting real appreciation would provide a boost to the tradables, such as tourism and agricultural products. At the same time, it would also reduce imports and encourage production of import substitutes. As a result, growth would likely increase and current account deficits decline over time, which would help raise levels of foreign reserves. It is also possible that foreign direct investment would also increase. The key to ensure such competitiveness gains is to exercise firm control on inflation through appropriately tight monetary policy. In the table to the right, it is also assumed that fiscal consolidation would be somewhat faster than in the baseline while the exchange rate is being adjusted, to lend support to monetary policy.

An Exchange Rate Adjustment Scenario, 2011/12-2016/17

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One of the negative consequences of such an exchange rate adjustment is an increase in debt stock and service, as most of Samoa’s public debt is external and denominated in foreign currencies. It is estimated that Samoa’s external debt in PV terms could peak at about 48 percent of GDP in 2016/17 before falling back below 40 percent in 2023/24. This would mean that Samoa would remain at moderate level of debt distress risk as in the baseline.

Improving the efficiency of Public Enterprises

Public enterprises (PEs) make up a significant proportion of Samoa’s economy—there are 28 PEs (17 public trading bodies, 3 public mutual bodies and 8 public beneficial bodies) which are mandated to deliver services to the public. From a budgetary perspective, satisfactory financial performance of these enterprises is crucial because their profits are needed to service the capital (loan or equity) provided by the government. From an economic perspective, generation of income and paying dividends by public enterprises is critical to ensure that capital is not locked up in low-productivity activities and depleted over time. Many public enterprises are, however, performing poorly.

The government is committed to improving the quality and strengthening the impact of performance monitoring of the PEs. The Ministry of Finance is responsible for ensuring that PEs conform to the Public Bodies Act (2001) and monitors their performance and accountability standards. All PEs are mandated by law to operate as successful businesses, and obligated by the Ministry of Finance to generate a return on equity of 7 percent. However, during the 8-year period 2002-2010, the 15 commercial PEs returned only 0.3 percent on equity and 0.2 percent on average assets of over 850 million tala.

The government recognizes the importance of improving PE efficiency and has undertaken legal and corporate governance reforms to this end. The passage of the Composition Act in early 2012 is an important milestone for PE reform. The Act has paved the way for the appointment of 180 board directors (many of them are new to PE boards) and the removal of ex-officio directors from all PE boards, with the exception of the Development Bank of Samoa and the National Provident Fund. This process, which is expected to have been completed by end April 2012, will allow the boards of the PEs to operate more independently of political influence and in so doing become more accountable for their performance.

The pace of reform is picking up. Following the successful privatization of Samoa Tel, the government is committed to continuing the privatization of non-strategic PEs including the Trust Estate Corporation, the Agricultural Store Corporation and the Samoa Shipping Services. Successful reforms in the PE sector are pivotal to the overall economic reform process in Samoa. The government has requested technical assistance from the ADB to progress these reforms.

Promoting Economic Use of Customary Land

Customary land is probably Samoa’s most important natural resource, but it is far from being fully utilized. Large areas remain underdeveloped despite many years of efforts. Many aspects of customary land are enshrined in law such as the Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa, the Alienation of Customary Land Act 1965, Taking of Lands Act 1964, and the Village Fono Act 1984. The legal boundaries of customary land vested in Samoan family titles are not always clearly defined and establishing clear title to the land is costly and time consuming. A key challenge is how to make customary land available as security for bank loans to allow for its development for the benefit of owners and investors alike. Sharing the rewards and benefits from leasing and licensing of customary land is a central plank in recent customary land reforms.

The government has made considerable progress in instigating customary land reforms. For example, the Land Title Registration Act 2009 (replacing the Land and Titles Act 1981) was implemented on 31 March 2010; the land Registry is now fully computerized; a Customary Land Advisory Commission was established; and the Customary Land Leasing Section within the Lands Division of the Ministry of National Resources and Environment has been set up. Changes to customary land legislation have also been supported to streamline processes and procedures to lease customary land.

Despite these efforts, much remains to be done in promoting the economic use of customary land. The use of customary land as collateral for bank loans remains one of the biggest impediments to lending. The multiple ownership structure of the land and the sensitivity surrounding ownership and use of land, combined with the fact that much of customary land in its current status has little marketable value, means that banks remain cautious with respect to accepting customary land as security against business loans. This has also possibly contributed to higher demand for loans from the provident fund for which pension savings are used as collateral.

The reform process is ongoing and further progress will require much extensive consultation in view of the sensitivity of the issues involved. Given the government’s policy not to alienate customary land, the key task ahead is to build consensus on a legal framework and acceptable commercial practices and processes that would open up investment, possibly through leases that are bankable and transferable without affecting communal ownership. In this regard, ongoing dialogue and consultation with land owners and the community at large to build consensus will be a critical aspect of the reform. This is a complicated and costly process that could take years before it bears fruits. Capacity constraints (for example, availability of legal professionals and land use specialists) could further impede the pace of the reform process. ADB is providing advisory technical assistance to support a third phase of Customary Land Reforms (US$900,000) to move the process forward.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Samoa: Economic Development

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Sources: Samoan authorities and staff calculations.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Samoa: Relative Performance

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Sources: IMF’s APD LISC and INS Databases.Samoa’s data is in fiscal year July/June.
Table 1.

Samoa: Selected Economic and Financial Indicators, 2006/07–2012/13/1

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Sources: Data provided by the Samoan authorities and Fund staff estimates.

Fiscal year beginning July 1.

IMF, Information Notice System (calendar year).

Table 2.

Samoa: Illustrative Medium-Term Baseline Scenario, 2006/07-2016/17

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Sources: Data provided by the Samoan authorities and Fund staff projecti

Total credit growth (including credit extended by nonbank financial institutions).

In percent of GNFS exports.

Table 3:

Samoa: Balance of Payments, 2006/07–2012/13

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

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Sources: Data provided by the Samoan authorities and Fund staff estimates.

Including other current transfers.

Including other service credits.

Table 4.

Samoa: Financial Operations of the Central Government, 2005/06–2010/11

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Sources: Data provided by the Samoan authorities and Fund staff estimates.
Table 5.

Samoa: Financial Soundness Indicators, 2004-121/

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Source: Central Bank of Samoa.

For commercial banks.

2012 data are as of end-March.

Three-months overdue and longer.

Appendix I: Samoa—Reserve Adequacy

Samoa’s foreign reserves stood at US$151 million (about 4.3 months of next year’s imports) as of end-March 2012. Although this amount is significantly lower than the level at end-June 2010 (US$175.8 million), it is still higher than the pre-tsunami level. Samoa’s foreign reserves experienced an overall increase during 2006-08, reaching about US$123 million in September 2009. Reserves surged in the wake of the tsunami as a result of increased aid flows, an IMF SDR allocation, and a disbursement of emergency assistance under the Rapid-Access Component of the Fund’s Exogenous Shocks Facility. The decline over the past year reflected the rising food and fuel prices, large one-off imports, profit repatriation by banks and outbound investment, as well as continued reconstruction activities, albeit on a declining scale. Sluggish recovery of remittances and tourism has also contributed to the decline in reserves. This trend is expected to continue due to increases in debt repayments and continuation of weak tourism and remittances.

Samoa’s foreign reserves have been generally lower than the regional median, although they have been mostly above three-month import coverage—the traditional rule of thumb for reserve adequacy. The recent declines have put Samoa’s reserves at well below the regional median, which is more than one-month higher than Samoa’s. While this comparison does not suggest Samoa’s current level of reserves is inadequate, further declines could lead it to fall below CBS’s target of 4 months of current year’s imports.

uA01fig17

International Reserves

(In months of next year’s imports)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2012, 250; 10.5089/9781475506655.002.A001

Source: IMF APDLISC database.1/ In fiscal year July/June.

Staff analysis based on recent Fund methodologies for low-income countries suggests the optimal reserve holdings for Samoa are about 4½ months of imports. It should be noted that the estimate is sensitive to the assumed opportunity cost of holding reserves. The methodologies are essentially a cost-benefit analysis framework, whereby the optimal level of reserves is determined when the crisis prevention and mitigation benefits of reserves in smoothing absorption are balanced against the net financial cost of reserves, defined as foregone investment opportunities measured by the marginal product of capital. An important feature of this framework is that optimal reserve holdings depend on country characteristics and policy fundamentals such as the fiscal balance, CPIA, exchange rate regime, Fund program, terms of trade, external demand, FDI to GDP ratio and aid to GDP ratio. Samoa is a small, open and undiversified economy with a large fiscal deficit, fixed exchange rate regime, growing current account deficit. In calculating the optimal levels of reserves for Samoa, the opportunity cost of holding reserves was proxied by the average real bank lending rate of the past two years, estimated at about 3.8 percent.

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It should be noted that the methodologies applied here are based on parameters derived from data on low-income countries. In fact, small countries such as Samoa were excluded from the data. Given this, results reported here should be treated with great caution. There is great uncertainty over the opportunity cost of holding reserves. The number used in this analysis is toward the lower end of available estimates for low-income countries (3-6 percent). With respect to the methodologies, the assumption of risk neutrality and the fact that Samoa is much smaller than a typical low-income country may lead to a downward bias for the estimates of optimal reserve holdings—small island economies are more vulnerable to exogenous shocks and may need higher levels of reserves, other things being equal.

Samoa: 2012 Article IV Consultation-Staff Report, Informational Annex, Debt Sustainability Analysis, Public Information Notice, Statement by the Executive Director for Samoa
Author: International Monetary Fund