ICAEW: Vietnam Expected to be the only South-East Asian Economy to Record Positive Growth

9:09:47 AM | 9/11/2020

Covid-19 delivered the largest growth shock South-East Asia has seen since the Asian financial crisis in 1997, and regional growth is forecast to contract by 4.2% in 2020, according to a new report released by The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

The report predicted that recovery prospects looked brightest for Vietnam, which had contained the virus very effectively until recently. Vietnam is expected to be the only South-East Asian economy to record positive growth this year with its GDP rising by 2.3% this year, and 8% in 2021.

The Global Economic Outlook report from Oxford Economics, commissioned by chartered accountancy body ICAEW suggests that while economic activities are picking up again and growth is expected to eventually rebound to 6.4% in 2021, the pace of recovery over the second half of 2020 will vary across the region, depending on the easing of lockdown restrictions and improved export demand.

The Covid-19 outbreak reduced global GDP by around 9% in the first half of 2020, at least three times the size of the 2007-2009 global financial crisis. Despite a very strong rebound in the third quarter of 6.4%, the report suggests that world GDP will contract overall by 4.4% in 2020.

However, there is momentum building in the second half of 2020 (H2), which will drive growth to 5.8% in 2021, and lead the global economy to recover to its pre-crisis peak by the midpoint of next year, a similar time frame as the post-2008 financial crisis recovery.

The strength of the rebound in economic activity over the coming quarters in South-East Asia remains uncertain, particularly in the fourth quarter of 2020, after the expected initial strong bounce in global trade and domestic activity post-lockdowns has faded. Additionally, varying success rates in containing the Covid-19 outbreak, and differing lockdown exit strategies will widen the disparities in economic growth in the region. Economies which have convincingly contained the outbreak such as Thailand and Vietnam will see a stronger recovery than Indonesia and the Philippines, which are battling new waves of Covid-19 outbreak after restrictions were prematurely relaxed.

South East Asia’s pace of recovery in H2 2020 will vary across the region. While growth in Singapore is forecast to contract by 5.7% this year because of a severe decline in global trade, signs of a recovery in exports and imports will see it rebound to 6.1% in 2021. Heavily export-oriented economies like Singapore and Vietnam will continue to benefit from a stabilisation in trade indicators, shown by recent improvements in exports over the past few months.

Malaysia’s exports were predicted to benefit from improving Chinese import demand and the electronics cycle. Nonetheless, the speed of its recovery will likely slow given the current sluggish global demand, high unemployment and weak investment, and its economy is forecast to shrink by 6% this year, followed by growth of 6.6% in 2021.

“The road to recovery for economies in South-East Asia will be a long one, with existing US-China tensions, a long-term slowdown in global trade activity, and a prolonged Covid-19 pandemic weighing on the region’s growth prospects,” said Mark Billington, ICAEW Regional Director, Greater China and South-East Asia. “While each region’s economy has suffered due to the crisis, the unique economic structures mean the crisis has played out in different ways. Ultimately, countries that can strike a balance between resuming economic activity and keeping the outbreak under control will see their economies bounce back faster than the rest.”

Hoa Pham (Vietnam Business Forum)