During the first half of the year, the economy continued to recover quite successfully from the time constraints imposed due to the pandemic, with service industries continuing to show high growth rates, but already from the second quarter, the effects of the war and the rise in energy resource prices were also felt. In the first quarter of the year the gross domestic product (GDP) had increased by 5.6% compared to the corresponding quarter of the previous year, while in the second quarter economic growth dropped to 2.9%, and in the third quarter, compared to the corresponding quarter of the previous year, a decline of 0.6% was already recorded. The decisive role in the decline of GDP was the reduction of the construction and wholesale sectors, where the construction sector was the first of the large sectors to be affected by the price increase, increasing construction costs and delaying the execution of works, while the wholesale sector was most directly affected by the termination of business with Russia.
The impact of the war was most directly manifested in the energy resources market, where the rapid rise in prices and the limited availability of resources raised the prices of both gas and electricity several times. In the second half of the year, when food prices also began to rise rapidly, inflation in Latvia reached unprecedented heights since the mid-1990s, reaching 22.2% in September and stabilising slightly below the 22% level in the following two months. The situation was similar throughout Europe, and Latvia, like other European countries, provided support to citizens and companies to mitigate the rapid rise in energy prices, allocating EUR 836 million for this purpose during the year, thereby significantly reducing payments for electricity and heating.
In order to curb the rapidly growing inflation, the central banks of the world countries started a cycle of interest rate hikes in 2022, and the US Federal Reserve was the first to do this on 16 March, followed by the European Central Bank on 21 July, making the first interest rate hike in the last 11 years. In the last months of the year, as the prices of energy resources fell on the world markets and the demand in the economy decreased, inflation began to stabilise both in the United States and in the eurozone, where in November it experienced the first drop since June 2021.
At the same time, the rising interest rates have started to increase the cost of borrowing and further slow down the growth of the global economy, the forecasts of which have been constantly reduced since the beginning of the war. The International Monetary Fund has cut its global economic growth forecast for 2022 to 3.2%, down from 4.4% in January, with a further slowdown to 2.7% in 2023. The US economic growth forecast for this year has been reduced from 4.0% to 1.6%, and for the next year – from 2.6% to 1.0%. The European Commission has made a similar reduction in forecasts for 27 European Union (EU) countries, lowering the growth forecast for 2022 from 4.0% in February to 3.3% in October and for 2023 – from 2.8% to 0.3%, respectively.
The Covid-19 pandemic already created unprecedented challenges for the economy of Latvia and the world, but now the war in Ukraine and the subsequent global energy crisis can have even more far-reaching consequences and create more comprehensive structural changes, taking into account Latvia’s direct borders, historical ties and the greater dependence on Russian energy resources. The decisive role here will be how successfully Latvia manages to reorganise the economy and especially the energy sector, completely abandoning Russian energy products and switching to new, including greener types of energy resources.
Similar to other countries of the world, Latvia’s short-term economic growth forecasts have also been reduced, taking into account the effects of the war and the rapid rise in energy prices. At the beginning of December, the Ministry of Finance updated the forecasts of macroeconomic indicators, predicting that Latvia’s economy will grow by 1.6% in 2022, while a 0.6% decline is expected in 2023. The high prices of energy resources, the increase in production costs and the weakening of demand in foreign markets have affected the Latvian economy in the second half of 2022, and the negative impact will remain in the beginning of 2023, but it is expected that economic growth will start to recover from the middle of the year, in 2024 and 2025 again showing positive dynamics and GDP growth reaching 3.0%.