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In 2013 Chinese president Xi Jinping unveiled the One Belt and One Road Initiative - a development strategy under which China plans to invest hundreds of billions of euro in other countries in Asia and in Europe in a bid to strengthen its role in global affairs. The strategy focuses on projects in transport infrastructure, energy, iron and steel. Countries in SEE fall within the strategy's scope, with Serbia attracting the most generous share of Chinese investments.
The automotive industry generates an ever increasing share of the value added of the economies of Southeast Europe. In 2017 a total of 629,014 vehicles were manufactured in the region, according to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA). In 2017, annual growth rates of 9.7% in the region significantly exceeded the European average of 3.1% and the global average of 2.4%. This can be explained with the constantly increasing demand for new cars in line with the overall sound economic growth in SEE, paired with consumers’ preference for local brands, especially in Romania, the region’s largest market. Passenger car assembly in SEE is concentrated in three countries – Romania, Slovenia and Serbia.
As Southeast Europe returns to steady economic growth, the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) market in the region is picking up again and an increasing number of both local and foreign investors push ahead with expansion plans. Romania holds the largest share of the region's M&A market, as the value of deals struck in the country last year is estimated at $3.54 billion (3.58 million euro), according to global consultancy Ernst&Young (EY). The most active M&A sectors in the region are IT, manufacturing, and wholesale&retail.
Activity in the region has benefited from lower oil prices and the gradual recovery in the euro area, but elevated corporate debt is hindering private investment, according to the IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook report. The World Bank, for its part, has commented that a notable revival of investment underpinned economic growth, particularly private investment - both foreign and domestic. Exports are also helping to fuel this growth. Improving productivity, however, remains pivotal for boosting growth in the region.
The banking systems of the countries in Southeast Europe are largely seen as stable and economic recovery is expected to further support lending, in particular in countries which have been lagging behind so far. NPL ratios, which are currently high in some countries, are expected to decline. In Bulgaria, the forthcoming asset quality review of the banking system is likely to lead to the sale of bad loan portfolios and speed up the process of market consolidation.
Reading between the lines of the official statistics and companies' balance sheets, the industry officials and market experts offer their insights on the main trends shaping markets in Southeast Europe.
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