IMF Executive Board Concludes 2011 Article IV Consultation with St. Kitts and Nevis

Public Information Notice (PIN) No. 11/113
August 15, 2011

Public Information Notices (PINs) form part of the IMF's efforts to promote transparency of the IMF's views and analysis of economic developments and policies. With the consent of the country (or countries) concerned, PINs are issued after Executive Board discussions of Article IV consultations with member countries, of its surveillance of developments at the regional level, of post-program monitoring, and of ex post assessments of member countries with longer-term program engagements. PINs are also issued after Executive Board discussions of general policy matters, unless otherwise decided by the Executive Board in a particular case.

On July 27, 2011, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation with St. Kitts and Nevis.1

Background

St. Kitts and Nevis’ tourism-dependent and highly indebted economy is recovering slowly from a two year-long recession. Activity is estimated to have declined both in 2009 and 2010, due to a fall in tourism receipts and foreign direct investment (FDI)-related construction activities. A mild recovery is underway in 2011, driven primarily by the outlook for the United States (St. Kitts and Nevis’ major export market) and the reopening of the Four Seasons Hotel in Nevis. Inflationary pressures, which remained subdued in 2009, have begun to intensify towards the end of 2010, as a result of oil and food price increases.

Faced with increasing fiscal imbalances in 2010, the authorities started to implement a strong fiscal adjustment program at the end of the year and beginning of 2011. In response to a rising fiscal deficit, the authorities implemented revenue reforms and expenditure cuts, with yields starting to materialize in 2011. On the revenue front, a VAT and excise tax reforms were implemented in November 2010. Other measures implemented include streamlining import duty exemptions, strengthening auditing and monitoring of duty free shops, and introduction of an environmental levy on new vehicles. They also changed the structure of the Housing and Social Development Levy and increased electricity tariffs in January 2011. On the expenditure side, the authorities froze public wages, but increased capital expenditure to acquire two new electricity generators in order to stem island-wide black outs. The primary fiscal balance deteriorated by 5.4 percentage points of GDP to a deficit of
-0.5 percent of GDP in 2010 and the public debt-to-GDP ratio increased to about 200 percent in 2010.

Reflecting the recession, the external current account deficit improved in 2010. Available data suggest that, while exports of goods and services remained broadly stable, imports of goods and services declined by about 6 percentage points of GDP. As a result, the external current account imbalance is estimated to have narrowed by about 6½ percentage points of GDP. The deficit was financed by official inflows, FDI, commercial banks, and a further accumulation of arrears on fuel imports.

The authorities have requested IMF’s financial assistance in support of their economic reform program. The main objective of the authorities’ program is to put public debt on a firmly downward trajectory, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of lower debt and higher growth. The authorities’ reform agenda encompasses a three-pronged approach. The first priority is fiscal consolidation—allowing revenue to rise upfront and containing spending increases, while at the same time, making efforts to protect the most vulnerable groups. The second priority is a comprehensive debt restructuring to address the debt overhang. The third priority is to further strengthen the financial sector, including through the establishment of a Banking Sector Reserve Fund as a backstopping mechanism for liquidity support, if needed. The authorities have also outlined a structural reform agenda to help strengthening fiscal management, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the public sector, and removing obstacles to growth. The authorities’ economic reform program is expected to catalyze financing from international and regional financial institutions and is supported by a Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF, which was also approved by the Executive Board on July 27, 2011.

Executive Board Assessment

The Executive Directors noted that the St. Kitts and Nevis economy is gradually recovering from a prolonged downturn but that the elevated public debt-to-GDP ratio poses significant risks to the outlook. Against this background, Directors agreed that urgent action is needed to restore debt sustainability and achieve a higher growth path. They encouraged the authorities to pursue their ambitious fiscal adjustment plans, including a comprehensive debt restructuring, and the wide-ranging reform agenda at the core of the economic program to be supported by a Stand-By Arrangement with the Fund.

Directors commended the authorities for embarking on front-loaded fiscal consolidation, which includes introduction of a VAT, implementation of an excise tax and electricity tariff reform, and a freeze of the public wage bill. They agreed that fiscal adjustment must be sustained over the medium term and welcomed the authorities’ commitment to adopt further measures in case of a revenue shortfall.

Directors underscored that, in addition to fiscal adjustment, a comprehensive debt restructuring is key to a sustainable fiscal position. They commended the authorities for taking steps in this direction through public announcements and initial discussions with creditors.

Directors noted that further strengthening of the financial sector is also a critical element of the authorities’ economic program. They looked forward to the establishment of a Banking Sector Reserve Fund for temporary liquidity support to solvent banks, if needed. Directors also welcomed the ongoing efforts to strengthen the oversight of non-bank financial institutions, including establishment of the Single Regulatory Unit.

Directors encouraged the authorities to fully implement their structural reform agenda. These forms should aim at strengthening public financial management, improving the business climate, enhancing the social safety nets, removing obstacles to growth, and restoring lost competitiveness.


St. Kitts and Nevis: Selected Economic Indicators
 
  2007 2008 2009 Prel.
2010
Proj.
2011
 
   
  (Annual percentage change; unless otherwise specified)

Output and prices

         

Real GDP (factor cost)

4.2 4.6 -9.6 -1.5 1.5

Consumer prices, end of period

2.1 7.6 1.0 3.9 3.9
   

Banking system

         

Net foreign assets 1/

6.9 11.6 -8.4 1.1 4.1

Net domestic assets 1/

5.0 -10.0 14.3 3.9 1.5

Of which: Credit to private sector

0.1 -1.7 1.5 0.9 -3.6
   
  (In percent of GDP; unless otherwise specified)

Public sector 2/

         

Total revenue and grants

39.4 37.2 42.7 39.5 44.1

Total expenditure and net lending

44.1 42.2 46.5 49.0 48.1

  Current expenditure

35.9 35.4 39.8 39.9 41.5

  Capital expenditure and net lending

8.2 6.8 6.7 9.1 6.6

Overall balance

-4.8 -5.0 -3.8 -9.4 -4.0

  Of which: primary balance

3.6 3.3 4.9 -0.5 5.0

Total public sector debt (end-of-period)

178.2 165.0 189.3 199.2 190.4

  Of which: Central government

134.5 125.4 145.4 154.7 150.3

    Public enterprises

43.7 39.6 43.9 44.5 40.1
   

External sector

         

External current account

-24.3 -33.2 -34.0 -27.5 -29.5

Trade balance

-35.4 -38.0 -37.5 -31.0 -35.0

Services, net

13.9 7.2 6.1 5.7 6.5

  Of which: Tourism receipt

24.3 19.3 15.9 15.6 16.3

FDI (net)

25.7 34.8 34.9 31.0 16.1

External public debt (end-of-period)

58.7 56.6 60.2 60.4 52.4

External public debt service

         

  In percent of exports of goods and services

21.0 18.8 21.8 21.4 28.6

Real effective exchange rate (-: depreciation)

         

  Percentage change

-5.6 12.5 -3.9 0.8
 

Sources: St. Kitts and Nevis authorities; ECCB; and IMF staff estimates and projections

1/ In relation to broad money at the beginning of the period.

2/ Central government unless otherwise noted.


1 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 summings up can be found here: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/misc/qualifiers.htm.



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