Albania: Risk Assessment
Country Risk Rating
Business Climate Rating
- Candidate for European Union membership, Stabilisation and Association Agreement
- Mineral (oil, chromium, copper, iron-nickel, silicates, coal), hydroelectric and tourism potential
- Long coastline
- Abundant and inexpensive labour
- Flexible exchange rate coupled with a strong lek against the euro and substantial reserves
- Small, open and poorly diversified economy
- Unfavourable demography: ageing and emigration
- Large albeit shrinking informal economy (40% of GDP), which undermines government revenues
- Poverty, low priority given to education, low-skilled workforce
- Dependence on rainfall: agriculture (one-fifth of GDP for 42% of jobs) and hydroelectricity (98% of electricity), and exposure to seismic risk
- Inefficient (though improving) court system and administration
- Corruption and organized crime, in some cases linked to drug trafficking
Political tensions to ease as incumbents consolidate power
The center-left Socialist Party of Albania (SPA), headed by prime minister Edi Rama, consolidated its position as the ruling force in Albanian politics by maintaining its slight parliamentary majority (74/140 seats) in the April 2021 elections. Though the main opposition party, the center-right Democratic Party of Albania (DPA), increased its representation (43 to 59 seats), it did so at the expense of its junior coalition partner, the Socialist Movement for Integration. Indeed, their decision to boycott the system by abandoning parliament for two years has been counterproductive. While clashes between SPA and DPA supporters had resulted in one casualty in the run-up to the election, tensions are expected to ease as the opposition licks its wounds. Although the country has had violent elections in the recent past, it is in an improving governance trend, with Brussels signaling strong optimism on the prospects of EU accession. However, the country remains on the FATF's gray list, meaning it still has progress to make in regulating the informal sector.
Buoyant tourism and Italian spill-overs fuel a stellar recovery
The surprisingly intense rebound of 2021 is expected to moderate swiftly now that output has primarily recovered its pre-pandemic level. This trend applies to all categories of domestic demand and exports, to a lesser extent, which will benefit from the still dynamic demand for low-end consumer goods in Italy. Favorable spill-overs from Italy will also come in the form of higher expatriates' remittances (10% of GDP). Tourism is showing an impressive capacity to recover, with a summer 2021 season only slightly below 2019 figures. The net contribution from the external sector will therefore be close to null. At 83% of GDP, household consumption has an oversized weight in the economy and will therefore account for the lion's share of growth. Unemployment will continue to decrease but will remain structurally high, stabilizing between 11 and 10% due to the stubborn pre-eminence of the informal sector.
The country has historically needed help diversifying its industrial base but is expected to attract foreign investment in the following years increasingly. This should flow particularly into the construction and real-estate sectors, with post-November 2019 earthquake reconstruction efforts still needing to be completed and investor enthusiasm for building capacity in the hospitality sector. Authorities will closely monitor the buoyant real-estate market for financial stability and money laundering threats. The imperative for fiscal consolidation will lead to a scaling back of public investment. Domestic power production, large hydroelectric, benefited from excellent rainfall in 2021; an equivalent performance in 2022 would be surprising. This will leave the county vulnerable to imported energy inflation. Nonetheless, headline inflation is not expected to overshoot the central bank's 3% target. Agriculture will again be one of the economy's mainstays (18.7% of GDP in 2019). The extractive industries (oil, ore) are also expected to grow, driven upwards by higher average prices. However, a comparatively low vaccination rate implies downside risks stemming from possible COVID-19 resurgences.
External and fiscal imbalances remain concerning
While fiscal consolidation had begun to stall in 2017 with the end of the IMF program, the earthquake, the pandemic, and successive aid plans derailed the trajectory of public finances. In 2022, the government will resume its consolidation strategy to broaden its tax base and make tax collection more efficient. The increase in civil servants' salaries should, however, limit the reduction in the deficit, which will be financed through domestic channels with withdrawals from the central bank and bank deposits, as well as through multilateral loans (European Commission and EBRD funds) and a Eurobond emission. The public debt will remain sustainable, although the gross borrowing requirement is high (20% of GDP) because of the shorter maturity of its domestic share (50% of the total), which entails a refinancing risk. However, this risk will remain limited thanks to access to multilateral donors (EBRD) and lenient global financial conditions, despite the coming tightening cycle of key central banks. Moreover, external debt remains concessional mainly (52% of the total).
The trade deficit (22% of GDP) is expected to increase in 2022 with a rise in imports following the recovery in domestic demand, particularly for high-value-added goods and to meet reconstruction efforts. This will not be compensated by the increase in exports, despite the Italian solid rebound. Amid the revival of tourism and remittance flows, the current account deficit will remain moderate but remain significant. The financing requirement should be covered by foreign direct investment and multilateral aid. Standing at around 8 months of imports, foreign reserves provide a comfortable margin, supporting the lek exchange rate.