181764 12/8/2008 6:37 08BUCHAREST953 Embassy Bucharest UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY VZCZCXRO0531 PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHNP RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSK RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG DE RUEHBM #0953/01 3430637 ZNR UUUUU ZZH P 080637Z DEC 08 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8997 RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 000953
STATE FOR EUR/CE - ASCHIEBE TREASURY FOR LKOHLER
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: ECON, PGOV, PREL, RO SUBJECT: ROMANIA: FDI STILL FLOWING FOR NOW, BUT NEW PROSPECTS MAY BE DRYING UP
Sensitive but Unclassified, not for Internet distribution.
1. (SBU) The high levels of foreign direct investment (FDI) which have fueled economic growth and provided substantial cover for Romania's big current account deficit will likely dwindle in the coming months. While FDI already in the pipeline is expected to continue to flow over the next few months, prospects look bleaker for the second half of 2009. The slowdown in investment is already having a noticeable impact on the manufacturing and petrochemicals sectors, while the booming retail trade sector appears so far unscathed. Overall, however, it is clear that many foreign companies are reducing the pace of production and rethinking investment decisions in anticipation of tougher times ahead. End Summary.
2. (U) Romania has a looming current account imbalance, with the deficit likely to reach 14 percent of GDP in 2008. This deficit has been fueled by high levels of domestic consumption and financed in part by substantial FDI inflows. Statistics for the first three quarters of 2008 show that FDI inflows covered 56.6 percent of the current account deficit, with foreign remittances and commercial borrowing accounting for much of the remainder. Until recently, investors have been willing to bet on continued growth in the Romanian market, where rates of expansion have been among the highest in Europe for several years running. However, as the global financial crisis takes its toll and liquidity has dried up in international markets, many foreign investors are being forced to rethink their plans.
3. (U) Identified by Prime Minister Calin-Popescu Tariceanu as a pillar of the new Romanian economy, the automotive manufacturing sector is in Romania for the long haul but is facing near-term bumps in the road. Renault-owned Dacia has announced that it will continue investing in a new Romanian design center. For its part, Ford of Europe has insisted that, despite parent company troubles in North America, it will still invest 57 million euros in the Craiova plant it acquired this year. Ford has announced no changes to its plans to begin producing Transit Connect vans in late 2009 and a new small car for the European market at a later date. At the same time, production in existing facilities is slowing significantly, with Renault planning to idle the Dacia factory in Pitesti for most of December due to low demand. As a direct result, suppliers, such as tire manufacturers Continental and Michelin, are reducing their own output from Romanian facilities.
4. (U) Meanwhile, the steel, aluminum, and petrochemical industries have experienced some of the quickest drops in demand as a result of difficulties on the international market. Dependent largely on exports, Arcelor Mittal has announced that softening worldwide demand would force it to temporarily reduce output by 50 percent at its Galati-based steel mill. This is having a major impact on subcontractors and service providers, who depend on the plant for much of their revenues. Similarly, Samsung-owned steel producer Otelinox has suspended operations for November and December.
5. (U) There is more bad news from the petrochemical sector, where state-owned Oltchim decided to cut production by 40 percent in November and December. As a result, OMV-controlled Petrom was forced temporarily to close a subsidiary, Petrochemicals Arges, almost exclusively dependent on sales to Oltchim. Other foreign-owned firms, including the fertilizer producer Azomures, Rompetrol Petrochemicals, and Donau Chem, have announced their own production cuts of up to 50 percent and temporary layoffs.
6. (U) The picture is more nuanced when it comes to consumer goods manufacturing. Recently, Romania has lost some major investments to other countries: Kraft is relocating a candy factory to Bulgaria, and Colgate-Palmolive is closing a plant to consolidate production in Poland. At the same time, other previously-announced investments, such as Procter and Gamble's new facility in Urlati, are proceeding apace, albeit on a slightly smaller scale than originally conceived. Companies are clearly anticipating slower demand in European markets, and some are concluding that the best place to consolidate production isn't necessarily Romania.
RETAIL TRADE STILL VIBRANT
7. (U) In contrast to manufacturing, the Romanian retail sector, especially in the supermarket segment, continues to be one of the most attractive areas for foreign investors. Rather than slowing down, the various foreign players on the local market are moving aggressively to capture market share and take advantage of an
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expected eventual rebound. Carrefour of France, the Belgian Delhaize Group, and German brands Metro and Kaufland have invested substantial sums in both new construction and in renovating and rebranding recent acquisitions. No layoffs or slowdowns are expected in the short term, with the new outlets actually adding up to 5,000 new jobs across the country in recent months, offsetting at least some of the job losses elsewhere. However, firms appear more cautious when looking ahead to the second half of 2009, postponing final construction decisions on several proposed new outlets outside of Bucharest.
FINANCIAL SECTOR VERY CAUTIOUS
8. (U) The foreign-dominated Romanian banking sector is experiencing some fallout from international markets, albeit not as severely as might be expected given the worldwide credit crunch. The main effect has been a slowdown in previously aggressive expansion plans and much tighter standards for new loans, constricting the domestic credit market. At the same time, banks in Romania have little exposure to the kinds of "toxic" assets causing pain elsewhere. Local banks currently average an 11.8 percent solvency ratio, with an average return on assets currently at 1.81 percent, and an average return on equity of 19.71 percent. These healthy numbers, combined with the low financial intermediation levels in Romania and the highly fragmented and competitive local banking market, suggest that most banks are still bullish on Romania's long-term prospects. Banks will act to protect existing market share even if major expansions have been postponed.
LONG-TERM PERSPECTIVE IN THE ENERGY SECTOR
9. (U) The long timeline for projects in the rapidly growing energy sector is pushing companies to continue investing in the downturn in order to be positioned for the eventual turnaround. For instance, the Czech company CEZ is going ahead with plans to install GE-manufactured turbines and bring a new wind farm facility on-line in April 2009. For its part, the Romanian Government remains aggressive, commissioning new feasibility studies and announcing new joint ventures with foreign partners. These include deals involving coal power producer Termoelectrica and nuclear operator Nuclearelectrica to build new power generation capabilities in Romania.
OTHER SECTORS HUNKERING DOWN
10. (U) Anecdotal evidence indicates that most companies in other sectors are in a wait-and-see mode. In the short term, they hope that market inertia and the holiday season will keep spending high through the end of this year. However, nearly everyone is holding off on announcing significant expansions, fearing that rising unemployment and deteriorating consumer confidence will hurt sales in the first half of 2009. A few firms are pushing ahead with projects already begun. Coca Cola is continuing construction of a major new warehouse facility near Ploiesti at least in part to avoid the costs and penalties associated with cancelling the project at this stage.
11. (SBU) Forecasts for Romania's GDP growth in 2009 range from an optimistic four percent to a slightly negative 0.3 percent decline. The wide variation stems in part from the uncertainty still surrounding the final make-up of the coalition government in the wake of November 30 parliamentary elections. Many analysts fear that political instability will adversely impact Romania's deteriorating fiscal situation. Foreign investors are understandably nervous at the possibility of a less business-friendly government, but even more worried that a new government may not be willing or able to implement the tough measures Romania needs to stay on a stable, long-term growth path. If uncertainties persist, foreign investors may start to shift their scarce capital to safer havens. If this shift gathers steam, Romania's macroeconomic situation could deteriorate rapidly. End Comment.