IMF Executive Board Concludes 2021 Article IV Consultation with Norway

Washington, DC: On June 2, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation [1] with Norway on a lapse-of-time basis.

Norway experienced one of the mildest economic downturns in Europe in 2020 as a result of the authorities’ substantial policy support actions and one of the lowest Covid infection and mortality rates. The country entered the crisis with substantial buffers which allowed the Norwegian authorities to act fast with strong and effective fiscal, monetary and financial sector policies to support its people, while implementing strict containment measures. Nonetheless, unemployment remains elevated (though well-below 2020 peaks), especially among the youth, foreign-born and low-income groups.

Norway’s real mainland GDP growth is projected at 3.2 percent this year, and medium-term economic scarring is expected to be limited, though uncertainties remain. The economy is expected to reach its pre-pandemic level by the end of 2021, helped by a rebound of domestic demand following a planned gradual unwind of restrictions. However, uncertainties remain, not least from new strains of the virus and the pace of vaccine rollout, but also the pace of decline in the offshore industry. Fiscal and monetary authorities intend to adjust their exceptional policy support to the pace of economic rebound. Once the recovery is firmly on track, the policy attention should shift further towards reforms that promote inclusive growth and intergenerational fairness.

Norway recently announced ambitious climate mitigation measures, centered around carbon taxation and technology development, and regulations, and already leads the world in take-up of electric vehicles. The focus should now shift to cost-effective implementation.

Executive Board Assessment [2]

The challenge ahead for Norway is to achieve the right balance and mix of support for recovery and adjustment. Although Norway has experienced a relatively modest economic fallout from the crisis, the authorities are appropriately continuing exceptional policy support into 2021 to help affected sectors and prevent scarring, at levels consistent with the pace of the rebound in economic activity, as well as internal and external balances (the staff assesses the current account to be broadly in line with what is implied by fundamentals and desirable policies). Support is also designed in a more targeted manner that aims to facilitate reallocation of capital and labor (and include green and digital spending). The outlook is subject to substantial risks, including a slower-than-expected vaccine rollout, a prolonged pandemic and adverse external conditions. The authorities should remain flexible and closely adjust policies to reflect changing circumstances, given ample policy space.

The gradual phasing out of fiscal support, and the reversion to a neutral fiscal stance is appropriate, provided downside risks do not materialize. The 2021 budget’s mix of support for private sector activity, employment and green and inclusive growth is welcome. The stimulus should become smaller and more targeted as the recovery gathers traction, while continuing to protect those worst hits. The government’s objective to integrate vulnerable groups into the workforce and improve the provision of education and skill-enhancing programs is noteworthy and should remain a priority.

Monetary policy is adequately accommodative, while countering financial stability risks. Provided the economy continues to recover in line with Norges Bank’s forecasts, the projected gradual tightening of monetary policy is appropriate. However, should the recovery and inflation expectations falter, Norges Bank should stand ready to loosen policies. Its continued work on a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) is welcome.

The authorities could draw on a broader set of policy tools to address the acceleration in housing prices. The authorities are relying primarily on a gradual monetary policy tightening, the expiration of the crisis-related relaxation of borrower-based requirements, and the countercyclical capital buffer to curb housing demand. The authorities should consider tightening mortgage regulations if house price growth does not slow as expected and if other targeted measures, including easing restrictions that constrain the supply of new housing (e.g. related to land use) and a gradual phasing out of mortgage interest deductibility to curb demand are not implemented in a timely manner.

Banks have weathered the crisis well so far, but the outlook remains uncertain. Besides high household debt, financial sector risks from banks’ exposure to CRE have also been exacerbated by the crisis, not least because the demand for office, retail and hotel space could recede going forward. Initiatives to upgrade data collection that will allow for enhanced monitoring of CRE-related risks are welcome, while broadening the toolkit for mitigating CRE vulnerabilities could be considered. The authorities should also closely monitor bank balance sheets, which could also suffer if bankruptcies increase following the phasing out of support and will depend on banks’ exposure to crisis-affected sectors. The progress in addressing AML/CFT deficiencies is welcome, but the tools, and methodologies of financial supervision need to be expanded, including by improving the frequency and coverage of inspections.

As the pandemic recedes, longer term fiscal and structural policy challenges to boost inclusive and green growth need to be addressed. In light of an expected decline in oil production after the mid-2020s, a projected increase in age-related expenditures, and the high level of government expenditure reached in 2020, the authorities should examine the composition of spending (possibly via an expenditure review by an external committee). This would also help create space for any medium-term reductions in individual and corporate taxation to facilitate labor participation and private investment. Social partners should pursue further changes to the sickness and disability benefit system. VAT reform, through broadening and simplification, remains important. Structural reform priorities include boosting labor force participation, including among vulnerable groups and non-oil productivity, and supporting green growth amid the decline in the offshore sector. The authorities’ plans to strengthen investment in R&D, physical infrastructure and green technologies and efforts to promote digitalization, technology adoption and upskilling of the vulnerable parts of the population are all welcome.

Norway is taking a proactive approach in its climate change mitigation efforts, but more can be done. Current efforts to achieve climate mitigation objectives through 2030, centered on carbon taxation and other important initiatives such as research and development of carbon capture, are welcome. Looking further ahead, Norway’s commitment to become a low emission country by 2050, with net negative emissions when the uptake of carbon of Norwegian forests and other land is taken into account, are also welcome, and the focus is now on implementation. Norwegian policies regarding the adoption of electric vehicles provide an important example to other countries. However, they could be recalibrated to strengthen their cost effectiveness, including by steps aimed at accelerating the replacement of the most polluting cars by EVs.

Norway: Selected Economic and Social Indicators, 2019-2026

Population (2020): 5.4 million

Per capita GDP (2020): US$ 67,176.4

Quota (3754.7 mil. SDR/0.78 percent of total)

Main products and exports: Oil, natural gas, fish (primarily salmon)

Literacy: 100 percent

Projections

2019

2020

2021

2022

2023

2024

2025

2026

Real economy (change in percent)

Real GDP 1/

0.9

-0.8

3.0

3.6

2.9

1.8

1.3

1.3

Real mainland GDP

2.3

-2.5

3.2

3.0

2.2

1.8

1.8

1.8

Final Domestic demand

2.1

-4.2

3.5

4.1

2.5

1.9

1.9

1.9

Private consumption

1.4

-7.6

4.8

5.0

2.5

2.0

2.0

2.0

Public consumption

1.9

1.7

2.0

1.8

1.7

1.7

1.7

1.7

Gross fixed capital formation

4.0

-3.9

2.8

5.2

3.3

1.9

1.9

1.9

Exports

4.1

-7.4

2.9

4.6

3.1

2.4

2.4

2.4

Imports

5.3

-12.5

3.8

7.2

3.2

2.2

2.2

2.2

Total Domestic demand (contribution to growth) 2/

2.2

-5.2

3.4

4.1

2.4

1.9

1.9

1.9

Net exports (contribution to growth)

-0.9

2.8

-0.2

-1.1

-0.2

-0.1

-0.1

-0.1

Offshore GDP

-6.1

8.0

2.0

6.6

6.1

1.6

-0.6

-0.7

Gross capital formation

8.9

-4.2

-0.9

-7.5

2.0

1.5

0.3

0.3

Exports

-4.2

8.5

2.3

9.1

6.0

1.7

-0.3

-0.3

Unemployment rate (percent of labor force)

3.7

4.6

4.3

4.0

3.9

3.8

3.8

3.8

Output gap (mainland economy, – implies output below potential)

0.2

-2.8

-1.3

-0.8

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

CPI (average)

2.2

1.3

2.6

2.0

2.0

2.0

2.0

2.0

Core Inflation

2.3

3.0

2.1

2.0

2.0

2.0

2.0

2.0

Public finance

Central government (fiscal accounts basis)

Non-oil balance (percent of mainland GDP)

-7.4

-14.2

-12.5

-10.5

-8.7

-7.4

-6.4

-5.8

Structural non-oil balance (percent of mainland trend GDP) 3/

-7.9

-12.3

-12.1

-10.1

-9.3

-9.2

-9.1

-9.1

Fiscal impulse

0.4

4.5

-0.2

-2.0

-0.9

-0.1

-0.1

0.0

in percent of Pension Fund Global Capital 4/

-2.9

-3.9

-3.7

-3.2

-2.9

-2.8

-2.8

-2.8

General government (national accounts definition, percent of mainland GDP)

Overall balance

7.4

-6.9

-5.6

0.9

3.6

5.0

5.4

5.4

Net financial assets

391.1

421.6

405.6

402.8

403.2

405.2

407.4

409.7

of which: capital of Government Pension Fund Global (GPF-G)

328.8

358.7

346.3

346.3

348.9

352.9

357.0

361.2

Balance of payments (percent of total GDP)

Current account balance

2.8

1.9

5.6

5.0

4.7

4.1

3.4

3.0

Exports of goods and services (volume change in percent)

0.5

-0.9

2.6

6.6

4.4

2.1

1.3

1.3

Imports of goods and services (volume change in percent)

4.7

-12.2

3.5

7.0

3.2

2.3

2.4

2.4

Terms of trade (change in percent)

-7.5

-16.9

14.9

-2.5

-2.4

-2.3

-1.7

International reserves (end of period, in billions of US dollars)

65.0

73.6

73.6

73.6

73.6

73.6

73.6

73.6

Gross national saving

32.5

32.2

34.4

33.8

33.6

33.0

32.4

32.0

Gross domestic investment

29.7

30.3

28.9

28.8

28.9

29.0

29.0

29.0

Crude Oil Price

61.4

41.3

58.5

54.8

52.5

51.3

50.7

50.5

Exchange rates (end of period)

Exchange rate regime

Real effective rate (2010=100)

83.7

78.2

Sources: Ministry of Finance, Norges Bank, Statistics Norway, International Financial Statistics, United Nations Development Programme, and IMF staff calculations.

1/ Based on market prices which include “taxes on products, including VAT, less subsidies on products.”

2/ Includes the contribution from the mainland GDP residual.

3/ Authorities’ key fiscal policy variable; excludes oil-related revenue and expenditure, GPFG income, as well as cyclical effects. Non-oil GDP trend estimated by MOF.

4/ Over-the-cycle deficit target: 3 percent of Government Pension Fund Global.


[1] Under Article IV of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement, the IMF holds bilateral discussions with members, usually every year. A staff team visits the country, collects economic and financial information, and discusses with officials the country’s economic developments and policies. On return to headquarters, the staff prepares a report, which forms the basis for discussion by the Executive Board.

[2] The Executive Board takes decisions under its lapse-of-time procedure when the Board agrees that a proposal can be considered without convening formal discussions.

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization/author(s)and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.