Middle East Focus: Light on the horizon

Middle East Focus: Light on the horizon

Far from immune to the global crisis – but making concerted strides towards immunity in some instances – the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) has fared similarly to the rest of the world over the last year. That is to say that the universal impact of the pandemic has been felt across MENA, although the paths that the various countries have taken have been disparate.

Middle East

Early lockdowns in several countries helped to contain the number of coronavirus cases, and a number of success stories emerged from the region with Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – numbers one and two, respectively – frontrunners in rolling out their vaccine programmes. While distinct, both countries have adopted an agile approach to sourcing and distributing the vaccine. Continue reading “Middle East Focus: Light on the horizon”

Nordics: Northern Lights

Nordics: Northern Lights

Much like the rest of the world, the Nordic market couldn’t escape the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the virus seemingly kept the Nordics in its periphery, while the rest of Europe felt the brunt of the impact. Average GDP across Norway, Sweden and Denmark in 2020 fell by roughly 3% (the wider EU GDP fell by 6.1%) with the biggest impact, unsurprisingly, on the tourism industry (Iceland, a nation heavily reliant on its tourism, saw a GDP drop of 6.6%). However, the predictions for 2021 show GDP growth across all three of the main Nordic countries, with 3.7%, 3.4% and 3% growth predicted respectively.

‘The Nordics have suffered less than many other European countries in the course of the pandemic,’ states Roschier’s managing partner Mikko Manner in Finland. ‘It has been forecast that during the second quarter of 2021, most restrictions will be eased due to vaccinations, and the Nordic economies will be able to start a swift recovery, with economic activity reaching pre-crisis levels later this year.’ Continue reading “Nordics: Northern Lights”

Southern and Eastern Europe: A long recovery

Southern and Eastern Europe: A long recovery

As with many global sub-regions, southern and eastern Europe (SEE) is slowly emerging from a period of stark economic slowdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with regional economies affected in a variety of ways. This ranged from tourism-reliant nations such as Croatia and Greece that faced an unprecedented plunge during 2020, relying on EU relief and revived capital spending intervening to restore growth, to Romania, whose resource-rich economy suffered from a decline in industrial production, only to recover during Q3 2020 after foreign trade and investment – particularly from Germany – resumed in earnest.

Although granular policy details have differed, governments have intervened to prevent the spread of Covid-19, while also seeking to protect key economic sectors and also balancing consumer demands and differing political situations. A number of SEE countries faced elections during the pandemic, a situation that has broadly favoured incumbents. Both the Romanian and Bulgarian governments returned, albeit facing a significant loss of support and ongoing questions over their futures, while control of the Cypriot House of Representatives shifted to the conservative opposition. Continue reading “Southern and Eastern Europe: A long recovery”

Bulgaria – M&A and energy boom

Bulgaria – M&A and energy boom

Bulgaria has, to say the least, performed commendably at shielding its economy from the significant disruption seen in many other European markets. GDP sank 4.2% in 2020, one of the lowest figures in the EU, and was partly supported by an extensive wage subsidy scheme that saw the government cover 60% of wages for employees who would otherwise have been made redundant.

Unsurprisingly, the relatively stable economic climate has allowed larger law firms, both international and local, to continue undisrupted throughout the pandemic period. Veronika Hadjieva of Kambourov & Partners reports that ‘2020 was arguably one of the strongest years the firm has ever had’ as it ‘managed to complete a large number of M&A, even some that were initially put on hold or pending’. Continue reading “Bulgaria – M&A and energy boom”

Croatia – ups and downs

Croatia – ups and downs

Having enjoyed steady economic growth following its accession to the European Union (EU) in 2013, Croatia saw an abrupt halt to its development in 2020. With a projected 10% drop in GDP, the depth of the economic trough appears similar to that of the 2008 financial crisis, though optimism remains that this downturn will be shorter as mitigatory factors, particularly Covid vaccines, begin to make themselves felt.

Aside from the global economic impact faced by most countries as a result of the pandemic, Croatia was perhaps most affected by the affect on the tourism sector, which naturally suffered considerably. However, continued progress on vaccinations and the creation of the EU’s Green Pass have bolstered expectations the sector will soon recover (although a similar pre-vaccine reopening of the tourist economy last summer led to a dramatic surge in infections). Continue reading “Croatia – ups and downs”

Romania – bounceback

Romania – bounceback

Romania has seen buoyant growth in recent years, with its economy upgraded to ‘emerging market’ by FTSE Russell in 2019. Gabriel Zbârcea, managing partner at Ţuca Zbârcea & Asociaţii, explains: ‘Until the coronavirus outbreak, business was flourishing in Romania: 26% more deals in 2019 as compared to 2018 with a value of €5bn; also real estate investments went past the €1bn line in 2019, standing 7% higher than in 2018.’

‘2020 has been an interesting year financially,’ says Răzvan Stoicescu, deputy managing partner of Muşat & Asociaţii. ‘We did see a slowdown during Q2 of 2020, but things picked up during the second half of the year and have been on a positive trend. However, since neither us nor our clients have gone through a situation of such a magnitude before, the process was not without challenges. For example, switching abruptly from what was essentially a direct contact way of working for our profession, to virtual meetings, unpredictable schedules and remote work was taxing even if ultimately manageable.’ Continue reading “Romania – bounceback”

Ukraine – green shoots and uncertainty

Ukraine – green shoots and uncertainty

Ukraine has broadly seen an improvement in its economic outlook since the 2019 election of comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy to the presidency. After years of turmoil, culminating in the 2014 defenestration of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych and the Russian invasion of the Crimea, Ukraine has deepened its ties with the EU, adopting reforms that closely map those of European legislation. This has encouraged foreign investors, while legislative reform continues apace, with a new capital markets law coming into effect in 2020 that implemented the provisions of key EU law, including MiFID II, MiFIR, and CRD IV. There are also ‘grandiose governmental plans for the privatisation of state property and large-scale infrastructure projects’, in the words of Armen Khachaturyan, senior partner at major domestic firm Asters, while the legalisation of the gambling industry in July 2021 is also driving client activity.

Ukraine frequently competes with Moldova as the poorest country in Europe, despite its huge agricultural exports, though this is partly due to a lack of transparency in the economy, in which much economic activity goes unreported. Since 2014, the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) has closed a huge percentage of the country’s commercial banks, partly to clamp down on corruption and money laundering, but state control of banks is part of the reason why inflation and interest rates remain high. Continue reading “Ukraine – green shoots and uncertainty”

Greece – the long road back

Greece – the long road back

Despite a Covid-induced 8.2% contraction in GDP last year, compounding over a decade of economic decline, Greece serves as an unexpected source of optimism within the southern and eastern Europe region. Despite losing its title as the largest regional economy to Romania in recent years, it is set for a semi-swift bounce back, with the EU recently forecasting growth of 4.3% for 2021.

Supporting the buoyancy is the fact that, throughout its many years of economic torment, Greece has reformed its economy into a sustainable one which, in the words of Bernitsas Law managing partner Panayotis Bernitsas, is a ‘safe and welcome option for international investment’. Bernitsas adds that his firm has been heavily involved in a number of ‘legislative changes aimed at cutting back the red tape’ and ‘creating a more business-friendly environment’. Continue reading “Greece – the long road back”

Cyprus – work in progress

Cyprus – work in progress

Cyprus, a divided island nation, faces an uncertain future on the geopolitical front. The northern region of the country remains occupied by neighbouring Turkey and recent efforts for reunification between the separated Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities have reached a bitter standstill.

Among all the uncertainty, which has arguably become the status quo after 47 years, the country has undergone steady economic growth and enjoys one of the highest GDP per capita rates in the southern and eastern Europe region. A 5.1% contraction in GDP was experienced during 2020 though an almost instant recovery is forecast for 2021 with The European Commission predicting growth of 4.2%. Continue reading “Cyprus – work in progress”