Hungary continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and now faces rising inflation and economic uncertainty due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Despite a growing deficit and energy prices, as well as a continued skilled labor shortage and corruption concerns, ratings agencies in 2021 maintained Hungary’s sovereign debt at BBB, two notches above investment grade, with a stable outlook. In December 2021, the Finance Ministry forecasted 5.9 percent economic growth and a 4.9 percent budget deficit for 2022. Analysts since then have revised their forecasts and project 2 percentage points lower economic growth for this year.
Hungary, an EU member since 2004, currently has a population of 9.7 million and a GDP of $155 billion. Fellow EU member states and the United States are Hungary’s most important trade and investment partners, although Asian influence is growing; foreign direct investment (FDI) from Asian sources was five percent of total FDI in 2019 and now accounts for over 30 percent of new foreign direct investment in 2020.
Macroeconomic indicators were generally strong before the COVID-19 pandemic, with GDP growing by 4.9 percent in 2019. Following a 5.1 percent pandemic-induced contraction in 2020, Hungary’s GDP increased by 6.4 percent in 2021. As the Government of Hungary (GOH) increased spending to support the economy and other priorities, the 2021 budget deficit reached approximately 7.5 percent of GDP, which pushed up public debt close to 80 percent of GDP.
Hungary’s central location in Europe and high-quality infrastructure have traditionally made it an attractive destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Between 1989 and 2019, Hungary received approximately $97.8 billion in FDI, mainly in the banking, automotive, software development, and life sciences sectors. The EU accounts for 89 percent of all in-bound FDI. The United States is the largest non-EU investor, whereas in terms of annual investment, South Korea was the largest investor overall in 2021. The GOH actively encourages investments in manufacturing and other sectors promising high added value and/or employment, such as research and development, defense, and service centers.
Despite these advantages, Hungary’s regional economic competitiveness has declined in recent years. Since early 2016, multinationals have identified shortages of qualified labor, specifically technicians and engineers, as the largest obstacle to investment in Hungary. In certain industries, such as finance, energy, telecommunication, pharmaceuticals, and retail, unpredictable sector-specific tax and regulatory policies have favored national and government-linked companies. Additionally, persistent corruption and cronyism continue to plague the public procurement sector. According to Transparency International’s (TI) 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Hungary placed 73rd worldwide and ranked 26th out of the 27 EU member states, outperforming only Bulgaria.
Analysts remain concerned that the GOH may intervene in certain priority sectors to unfairly promote domestic ownership at the expense of foreign investors. In September 2016, Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban announced that at least half of the banking, media, energy, and retail sectors should be in Hungarian hands. Since then, observers note that through various tax changes the GOH has pushed several foreign-owned banks out of Hungary. GOH efforts have helped increase Hungarian ownership in the banking sector to close to 60 percent, up from 40 percent in 2010. In the energy sector, foreign-owned companies’ share of total revenue fell from 70 percent in 2010 to below 50 percent by 2022. Foreign media ownership has decreased drastically as GOH-aligned businesses have consolidated control of Hungary’s media landscape: the number of media outlets owned by GOH allies increased from around 30 in 2015 to nearly 500 in 2018. In November 2018, the owners of 476 pro-GOH media outlets, constituting between 80 and 90 percent of all media, donated those outlets to the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA) run by individuals with ties to the ruling Fidesz party.
Ostensibly in response to the COVID crisis, the Hungarian government has had uninterrupted state-of-emergency (SOE) powers since November 2020 with authority to bypass Parliament and govern by decree. Parliament passed the first SOE legislation in March 2020 as part of its COVID-19 pandemic response; this legislation did not have a sunset clause, and the government repealed it in June 2020. The GOH passed a second SOE law in November 2020, this time for a 90-day period. Following the expiration of the first 90-day term, the Parliament extended the SOE in February, May, September and most recently in December 2021 – until June 2022 – without any support from opposition parties. As part of the emergency measures, the GOH extended measures for national security screening of foreign investments from December 31, 2020, until December 31, 2022, and may extend this deadline further.
|TI Corruption Perception Index||2021||
73 of 180
|Global Innovation Index||2021||34 of 132||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2020||$13,295||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2020||$15,890||https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|