IMF Executive Board Concludes 2019 Article IV Consultation with Finland
January 16, 2020
On January 9, 2020, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation with Finland.
Finland’s economic performance in recent years has been solid, after a long
recession: yearly growth has averaged around 2½ percent, employment has
continued to increase, and unemployment is now close to historical lows.
But growth has slowed in 2019, and household debt and productivity
weaknesses persist. Growth is expected to be only around 1½ percent this
year and the next, before converging to a potential growth rate of about 1¼
percent. Risks are mainly to the downside: the recent improvement in
employment could yet prove to be mostly cyclical, and the economy is
exposed to further deterioration in external demand.
The new government has committed to spending more on education, employment,
infrastructure, and climate policies. A cornerstone of the new medium-term
economic program is for employment to reach a rate of 75 percent by 2023,
from 72.6 percent currently—an additional 60,000 jobs from current levels.
The government has indicated that it favors wage subsidies and more
spending on assistance for job seekers. There are also spending increases
on education to address labor market mismatches. The government plans to
achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, by reducing emissions and strengthening
carbon sinks through increased taxes, subsidies for renewables, and
The 2019 budget implies an easing of fiscal policy: based on
currently-allocated spending, the headline government balance would
decrease to around -1¼ percent of GDP over the next two years, before
returning to around -1 percent of GDP in the medium term. This would mean
missing the government’s own medium-term target of a minimum structural
balance of -0.5 percent of GDP. Debt would slightly increase, approaching
60 percent of GDP by 2024, but net financial worth would drop more
substantially as a consequence of asset sales.
The banking system is well capitalized and profitable. However, some
borrowers look vulnerable, especially from the rapid increases in housing
company loans and consumer credit.
Executive Board Assessment
The slowing economy highlights underlying challenges. The economy has
performed well over the past three years, with unemployment falling and
real earnings increasing. But growth has slowed more quickly than
anticipated in 2019. Trend growth is constrained by adverse demographics,
while productivity growth remains weak. There are some vulnerabilities in
household finances. The external position remains moderately weaker than
implied by fundamentals—the estimated current account gap would imply a
real exchange rate overvaluation in the range of 5 to 10 percent, with
similar estimates from real exchange rate models.
The new government’s program is challenging. It has committed to spending
more on education, employment, infrastructure, and climate policies—and
balancing the budget. In the short run, fiscal stimulus will support
demand—but even so, growth is only expected to reach 1½ percent this year
and the next. Given likely growth and employment over the medium term, the
government would still have a fiscal deficit of about 1 percent of GDP in
2023, about ½ percentage point away from its medium-term fiscal target.
There are many options to meet the medium-term fiscal target. Assuming it
proceeds with the planned expenditure increases, offsetting measures would
be required. The government could eliminate tax expenditures and subsidies
on environmentally-harmful policies. Otherwise, the government will have to
find other savings. Cost control has to be part of the debate about health
and social services reform.
Improved tax and benefit incentives could boost employment. The government
could look at leave and homecare benefits, which generate incentives for
women to stay at home, and tax and benefit schedules that mean that some
face a financial penalty to work, rather than stay unemployed or out of the
workforce. Still more could be done to increase participation and
employment of older workers. Employment of older workers could be increased
by further limiting early retirement. But relying on job subsidies, which
are expensive and have had mixed effects in other countries, seems likely
The financial system is sound, but extra measures are needed to address
vulnerabilities of borrowers. While Finnish banks are highly exposed to
real estate, residential and commercial real estate markets are not
obviously overvalued. But household debt has been increasing, especially
from housing company loans and consumer lending. The recent recommendation
to limit the ratio of household debt to income is both sensible and in line
with steps taken in many other countries. But it is important to address
the tax code, which creates a clear incentive for investors to favor
housing company loans, and to improve data collection.
Under Article IV of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement, the IMF holds
bilateral discussions with members, usually every year. A staff
team visits the country, collects economic and financial
information, and discusses with officials the country’s economic
developments and policies. On return to headquarters, the staff
prepares a report, which forms the basis for discussion by the
Executive Board. At the conclusion of the discussion, the Managing
Director, as Chairman of the Board, summarizes the views of
Executive Directors, and this summary is transmitted to the
country’s authorities. An explanation of any qualifiers used in
summing up can be found here:
The Executive Board takes decisions under its lapse-of-time
procedure when the Board agrees that a proposal can be considered
without convening formal discussions.
IMF Communications Department
PRESS OFFICER: Meera Louis
Phone: +1 202 623-7100Email: MEDIA@IMF.org