Washington, DC: On March 8 the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultationwith Samoa.
The Samoan economy has begun recovering after a three-year recession driven by the Covid-19 pandemic. A rebound in economic activity has followed the lifting of domestic Covid-19 restrictions in July and the pickup in visitor inflows when borders reopened in August. This has also been supported by rising remittances and increased public investment. As a result, real GDP grew by 4.7 percent y/y in Q3-2022 and is projected to increase by 5.0 percent in FY2023.However, there are downside risks from uncertainties to the global outlook, which could stifle the recovery in tourism and economic activity. Inflation was driven to over 15 percent y/y in August-September 2022, mainly due to a surge in import prices. However, lower food and energy prices in recent months have brought down inflation to 7.5 percent y/y in December, and inflation is projected to ease further in 2023.
Economic growth is projected to remain above trend in FY2024 and FY2025 as tourism inflows and the domestic economy normalize. Higher tourism receipts and resilient remittances are also projected to narrow the current account deficit. Reserve coverage, which was over 8 months of imports in FY2022, is projected to remain above adequate levels in the medium term, with coverage of about 7 months of imports.
The central government has maintained surpluses despite the pandemic, helped by buoyant tax revenue—including due to improvements in tax administration—and grant inflows. However, under-execution of public investment was a headwind to growth. In FY2022 the central government run a surplus of 5.4 percent of GDP and lowered public debt to 43.7 percent of GDP.
Credit growth has slowed after accelerating early in the pandemic, with lending to businesses declining and modest growth in household borrowing driven by the lending of public financial institutions. Private sector leverage has increased in recent years, with financial system credit to the private sector reaching 94.6 percent of GDP. While the economic downturn has raised non-performing loans, they remain within historical averages. Furthermore, high provisioning levels have been maintained and capital ratios remain well above prudential norms.
Executive Board Assessment
Executive Directors commended the authorities for Samoa’s resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic, and after a three-year recession, welcomed the ongoing economic recovery supported by the reopening of tourism. Looking ahead, Directors noted the elevated risks from potentially slower global growth or higher commodity prices, as well as the country’s vulnerability to natural disasters. In this context, they emphasized the importance of close coordination between fiscal and monetary policies, strengthening the financial sector, and advancing structural reforms to promote inclusive growth.
Directors agreed that an expansionary fiscal policy focused on growth-enhancing expenditure would help support the recovery. They encouraged vigilant monitoring of the new District Development Program to ensure high expenditure quality and growth impact. While acknowledging that utility tariff reductions buffered the impact on households of recent macroeconomic shocks, Directors encouraged steps to begin restoring tariffs to cost recovery levels. They also encouraged the authorities to build on recent efforts to improve revenue administration and policies governing the finances of state-owned enterprises. Over the medium term, Directors agreed that a revenue-driven fiscal consolidation would contribute to fiscal sustainability and provide space to raise spending on social needs and climate-resilient infrastructure.
Directors encouraged the authorities to begin normalizing monetary policy immediately, given the high levels of private sector credit and inflation, and the tightening domestic labor market. They viewed that a gradual removal of accommodation based on the pace of the recovery would likely be sufficient to contain private leverage and prevent high inflation from becoming entrenched.
Directors were encouraged by the resilience of Samoa’s financial system. They noted the increased systemic risks brought by the pandemic and emphasized the need to strengthen the emergency liquidity assistance framework and bank resolution regime. Directors welcomed efforts to reinforce the financial position of the Development Bank of Samoa and limit risks from public financial institutions, while pointing to the need to review prudential regulations governing these institutions. They emphasized the need for continued efforts to deepen financial development, assess AML/CFT risks, which would help mitigate correspondent banking relationship pressures, as well as implement previous FSAP recommendations.
Directors supported the authorities’ efforts to foster diverse, inclusive growth. They encouraged reforms to improve the quality of education and expand access to training programs to enhance human capital and domestic labor opportunities, strengthen the business environment, and enhance climate resilience.