Monetary Policy and the Economy Q4/21

Call for applications: Klaus Liebscher Economic Research Scholarship

Please e-mail applications to scholarship@oenb.at by the end of October 2022. Applicants will be notified of the jury’s decision by end-November 2022.

The Oesterreichische Nationalbank (OeNB) invites applications for the “Klaus Liebscher Economic Research Scholarship.” This scholarship program gives outstanding researchers the opportunity to contribute their expertise to the research activities of the OeNB’s Economic Analysis and Research Department. This contribution will take the form of remunerated consultancy services.

The scholarship program targets Austrian and international experts with a proven research record in economics and finance, and postdoctoral research experience. Applicants need to be in active employment and should be interested in broadening their research experience and expanding their personal research networks. Given the OeNB’s strategic research focus on Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the analysis of economic developments in this region will be a key field of research in this context.

The OeNB offers a stimulating and professional research environment in close proximity to the policymaking process. The selected scholarship recipients will be expected to collaborate with the OeNB’s research staff on a prespecified topic and are invited to participate actively in the department’s internal seminars and other research activities. Their research output may be published in one of the department’s publication outlets or as an OeNB Working Paper. As a rule, the consultancy services under the scholarship will be provided over a period of two to three months. As far as possible, an adequate accommodation for the stay in Vienna will be provided. 1

Applicants must provide the following documents and information:

  • a letter of motivation, including an indication of the time period envisaged for the consultancy
  • a detailed consultancy proposal
  • a description of current research topics and activities
  • an academic curriculum vitae
  • an up-to-date list of publications (or an extract therefrom)
  • the names of two references that the OeNB may contact to obtain further information about the applicant
  • evidence of basic income during the term of the scholarship (employment contract with the applicant’s home institution)
  • written confirmation by the home institution that the provision of consultancy services by the applicant is not in violation of the applicant’s employment contract with the home institution

1 We are also exploring alternative formats to continue research cooperation under the scholarship program for as long as we cannot resume visits due to the pandemic situation.

Nontechnical summaries in English

Exchange rate index update for Austria shows lower effective appreciation than previously measured

Ursula Glauninger, Thomas Url, Klaus Vondra

How competitive are Austrian exports and services? The first step toward answering this question is to compare the value of the Austrian currency against a basket of other currencies in a way that reflects the relative importance of trade with other countries. This is what the so-called nominal effective exchange rate for Austria, calculated by the Oesterreichische Nationalbank (OeNB) and the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO), does. When this rate increases, Austrian exports become more expensive in other countries. When this rate goes down, Austrian exports become less expensive. By adding the price and cost dimension, i.e. by looking at both the costs of producing such goods and services and the prices foreign manufacturers or consumers have to pay for them, we arrive at the real effective exchange rate. Austria’s real effective exchange rate is, thus, an indicator of Austria’s international price or cost competitiveness.

With this article, we publish the latest nominal and real exchange rates for Austria, as calculated in index form (i.e. by comparing the changes against a fixed standard based on either prices or unit labor costs), for four segments of the economy: (1) manufactured goods, (2) food and beverages, (3) raw materials and energy products, and (4) services. For the services segment, we provide additional in-depth information by calculating, for the first time, a separate exchange rate for tourism services. Our calculations relate to up to 56 trading partners, which account for more than 95% of all exports from and imports to Austria. The key factor in updating the effective exchange rate is the reweighting of the individual currencies, to reflect ongoing changes in the relative importance of the individual trading partners. In this article, we update the calculations published in 2017 by reflecting more recent data on trade flows in the weighting matrix. The index recalculation confirms that Austria has lost competitiveness over time, but that the loss has been less pronounced than suggested by the previous calculations. The competitiveness indicators for 2020 and 2021 must be interpreted with some caution, because economic measures taken to cushion the impact of COVID-19 have introduced a bias into the data.

The newly developed real effective exchange rate for the tourism industry shows that Austria’s tourism exports have become more expensive than its services exports in general. This would imply that Austria has lost competitiveness compared with other vacation destinations. However, cross-checks with the number of tourist overnight stays and the amounts spent by foreign tourists in Austria in recent years indicate that Austria’s tourism industry has continued to thrive. One explanation may be that Austria’s tourism industry has been catering increasingly to more demanding visitors who stand ready to pay more for higher quality.

Private consumption and savings during the COVID-19 pandemic in Austria

Martin Schneider, Richard Sellner

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Austrian households have saved more money than ever before. In this study, we first try to find out how high these additional (“excess”) savings are. We then look at where they come from, how they were used and why they were piled up. Finally, we estimate how much demand for goods and services has built up and discuss what this so-called “pent-up demand” means for the Austrian economy.

We find that from the first quarter of 2020 to the second quarter of 2021, total household savings in Austria were EUR 10.8 billion higher than if the pandemic had not happened.

Savings went up mainly because people bought fewer services. That people earned a lot less from their investments was not enough to bring total savings down. We see that in 2020, households’ excess savings mainly went into cash holdings and bank deposits. In the first half of 2021, however, the opposite happened: Excess cash holdings and bank deposits went down and thus helped reduce the savings ratio.

Looking at a range of reasons for saving we know from the literature, we try to find out which of them are responsible for the strong increase in savings we have seen. It turns out that the traditional reasons cannot explain this increase, so the main reason might be that people could not buy many things (mostly services) while shops and businesses were closed during the lockdowns. We estimate that these so-called “forced savings” of Austrian households come to between EUR 17 billion and EUR 23 billion.

We expect that savings out of people’s current income will quickly reach the levels seen before the crisis, but that Austrians will not spend a lot of their excess savings on meeting pent-up demand. We calculate that if Austrians spend 25% or EUR 2.7 billion of their excess savings on pent-up demand, Austrian GDP will increase by EUR 2.4 billion (or 0.4%) until 2023.

These figures are of course uncertain because we do not know which course the pandemic will take and which parts of private consumption it will affect most.

A new instrument to measure wealth inequality: distributional wealth accounts

Arthur B. Kennickell, Peter Lindner, Martin Schürz

This study outlines the data restrictions we face when analyzing the distribution of wealth in Austria, and it identifies ways to improve the relevant data basis. National accounts (NA) data on corporations, the general government and households do not provide a suitable basis for analyzing the concentration of wealth. More useful data come from the Eurosystem’s Household Finance and Consumption Survey (HFCS). The Oesterreichische Nationalbank (OeNB) has carried out this sample survey among Austrian households since 2010. Participation in the HFCS is voluntary. However, one of the key problems of the HFCS is that, given the voluntary character of the survey, particularly wealthy households tend not to participate or not to (fully) disclose their financial circumstances. This sets a limit to any serious analysis of wealth concentration on the basis of HFCS data. It also means that total wealth as recorded in the HFCS remains considerably below total wealth as estimated in the national accounts.

The European System of Central Banks intends to close this gap by introducing distributional wealth accounts, which would bring together the information on wealth distribution that is available from HFCS microdata with NA macrodata.

Additional information could be obtained from the rich lists published regularly by Forbes and the Austrian weekly trend magazine and from assumptions on changes in household wealth distribution and household debt.

This study presents various scenarios resulting from simulations of wealth concentration. The results of these simulations show that the net wealth of the richest, i.e. top, 1% of Austrian households accounts for a share in total household net wealth that ranges from at least 23% to more than 50%. All available information suggests that in fact this share comes to around 50%. Precise assessments of potential distortions and estimation uncertainties remain difficult, however. This data gap could only be closed by introducing a statutory asset register.

Payment behavior in Austria during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dominik Höpperger, Codruta Rusu

This study discusses the latest survey on the use of payment instruments in Austria. The 2020/21 survey was the fifth survey on this topic that was conducted for the Oesterreichische Nationalbank (OeNB). It addressed Austrian households, which means women and men aged 15 or older. Its results are representative of the payment behavior of people living in Austria no matter how old they are, whether they are women or men, and in which Austrian province they live.

The first part of our study presents the results of the survey. We see that cash remains the most popular means of payment at the point of sale in Austria. About 66% of these payments are made in cash. Cash payments went down compared with 2019, however, and the pandemic supported this trend. For a number of reasons, people used cash less often when making everyday payments during the pandemic. Electronic payments have been becoming more popular in general. Moreover, the restrictions in force to fight the pandemic affected activities which tend to involve cash payments: travel, leisure activities and cultural events, for instance. All in all, the pandemic seems to have sped up the trend toward paying with cards. It remains to be seen whether, and how, the pandemic will influence the way people pay at the point of sale or online in the long term. Much will depend on when the pandemic-related restrictions will be removed on a large scale and when economic and social life will return to normal. Another important factor is the range of options for digital payments enterprises will offer their customers.

The second part of our study analyzes the connection between the drop in cash payments and the contagion risk people answering the survey said they felt when using cash. Our results show: The higher people considered the risk to catch the coronavirus via banknotes and coins, the fewer cash payments they made. Often, they thought the risk was a lot higher than it actually is. In fact, many scientific studies have shown that the risk of contracting the coronavirus from using cash is very low.

Nontechnical summaries in German

Neugewichtung der effektiven Wechselkurse für Österreich ergibt geringfügigere Aufwertung als bisher gemessen

Ursula Glauninger, Thomas Url, Klaus Vondra

Ein nominal effektiver Wechselkurs ist ein handelsgewichteter Durchschnitt der bilateralen Wechselkurse eines Landes und seiner wichtigsten Handelspartner. Ein steigender nominal effektiver Wechselkurs signalisiert aus makroökonomischer Sicht eine Aufwertung gegenüber den Handelspartnern, ein sinkender eine Abwertung. Durch die Integration der relativen Preis- oder Kostenbewegungen in den nominellen Wechselkurs erhält man einen real effektiven Wechselkurs. Dieser ist ein Indikator für die internationale Preis- oder Kostenwettbewerbsfähigkeit eines Landes, je nachdem ob Preis- oder Lohnkostenindizes verglichen werden. Im vorliegenden Beitrag berechnen die Oesterreichische Nationalbank (OeNB) und das Österreichische Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (WIFO) nominelle und reale Wechselkurse für Österreich insgesamt sowie für vier Branchen: Handelswaren, Nahrungsmittel und Getränke, Rohstoffe und Energieprodukte und Dienstleistungen. Als Spezialfall der Dienstleistungen wird zudem erstmals ein Wechselkurs für den Tourismus berechnet. In den Berechnungen werden bis zu 56 Handelspartner und damit mehr als 95 % des österreichischen Handels berücksichtigt.

Die entscheidende Komponente in der Berechnung der Wechselkurse ist die Gewichtsmatrix, in der das Gewicht der einzelnen Handelspartner festgelegt wird. Im vorliegenden Artikel wurde diese Gewichtsmatrix mit nun zur Verfügung stehenden Daten neu berechnet und somit die Ergebnisse der letzten OeNB/WIFO-Berechnungen aus dem Jahr 2017 aktualisiert. Der nun berechnete neue Indikator für die Wettbewerbsfähigkeit zeigt eine mittelfristige Verschlechterung der Wettbewerbsposition Österreichs, wobei die Aufwertung im Vergleich zum vorherigen Gewichtungsschema weniger ausgeprägt ist. Die COVID-19-Krise verzerrt in den Jahren 2020 und 2021 mehrere zugrundeliegende Indikatoren und schränkt damit eine umfassende Interpretation der Wettbewerbsindikatoren am aktuellen Rand ein.

Im vorliegenden Beitrag widmet sich ein Spezialkapitel der Entwicklung im Tourismusbereich. Der neu entwickelte reale effektive Wechselkurs für die Tourismusbranche zeigt eine stärkere Aufwertung als für den gesamten Dienstleistungssektor. Dies bedeutet eigentlich eine Verschlechterung der österreichischen Wettbewerbsfähigkeit im Vergleich zu anderen Urlaubsdestinationen. Allerdings verzeichneten die Anzahl der Nächtigungen sowie die Ausgaben ausländischer Touristen in Österreich in den vergangenen Jahren klare Aufwärtstrends. Eine Erklärung hierfür könnte die Verlagerung zu höherwertigen Angeboten im Tourismus sein.

Konsum- und Sparverhalten der privaten Haushalte in Österreich während der COVID-19-Pandemie

Martin Schneider, Richard Sellner

Die österreichischen Privathaushalte haben während der COVID-19-Pandemie mehr gespart als je zuvor. In der vorliegenden Studie untersuchen wir, wie hoch diese zusätzlichen Ersparnisse sind, woher sie kommen und welche Überlegungen ihnen zugrunde liegen. Darüber hinaus interessiert uns, wofür diese zusätzlichen Ersparnisse verwendet werden. Außerdem schätzen wir ab, wie viel Nachfrage nach Gütern und Dienstleistungen sich aufgestaut hat, und untersuchen, was dieser Konsumnachholbedarf für die österreichische Wirtschaft bedeutet.

Vom ersten Quartal 2020 bis zum zweiten Quartal 2021 waren die Ersparnisse der österreichischen Haushalte insgesamt um 10,8 Mrd EUR höher, als im selben Zeitraum ohne Ausbruch der Pandemie erwartet worden wäre.

Die Ersparnisse sind vor allem deshalb gestiegen, weil die Menschen weniger Dienstleistungen in Anspruch genommen haben. Obwohl die Investitionen der privaten Haushalte deutlich weniger Erträge abwarfen als sonst, gingen die Sparguthaben insgesamt dadurch nicht zurück. Der während der Pandemie aufgebaute Ersparnisüberschuss floss 2020 vor allem in Bargeld- und Bankguthaben. Im ersten Halbjahr 2021 kam es zu einer Umkehr dieser Entwicklung: Die überschüssigen Bargeld- und Bankguthaben verringerten sich, wodurch auch die Sparquote zurückging.

In der Literatur wurde vielfach zu den Gründen, warum Menschen sparen, geforscht. Unsere Untersuchung zeigt, dass keines der üblichen Motive den starken Anstieg der Ersparnisse während der Pandemie erklären kann. Vielmehr dürfte ausschlaggebend gewesen sein, dass die Menschen vieles (insbesondere Dienstleistungen) nicht kaufen konnten, weil Geschäfte, Betriebe und Lokale im Lockdown geschlossen waren. Die dadurch entstandenen unfreiwilligen Ersparnisse der österreichischen Haushalte betragen unseren Schätzungen zufolge zwischen 17 Mrd EUR und 23 Mrd EUR.

Wir gehen davon aus, dass die Beträge, die die Menschen von ihrem laufenden Einkommen zur Seite legen, rasch wieder dasselbe Niveau erreichen werden wie vor der Krise. Wir rechnen jedoch nicht damit, dass die Österreicherinnen und Österreicher einen großen Teil der zusätzlichen Ersparnisse verwenden werden, um versäumten Konsum nachzuholen. Wenn 25 % (oder 2,7 Mrd EUR) des aufgebauten Ersparnisüberschusses für diesen Zweck verwendet wird, würde das österreichische Bruttoinlandsprodukt (BIP) nach unseren Berechnungen bis 2023 um 2,4 Mrd EUR (oder 0,4 %) wachsen.

Diese Angaben sind jedoch unsicher, da schwer abzuschätzen ist, wie sich die Pandemie weiterentwickeln und welche Bereiche des privaten Konsums sie am stärksten betreffen wird.

Ein neues Instrument zur Messung der Vermögensverteilung: Distributional Wealth Accounts

Arthur B. Kennickell, Peter Lindner, Martin Schürz

In dieser Studie wird beschrieben, welchen Datenrestriktionen die Analyse der Vermögensverteilung in Österreich unterliegt und wie eine Verbesserung der Datenbasis erreicht werden kann. Die Daten zu Unternehmen, Staat und privaten Haushalten aus der Volkswirtschaftlichen Gesamtrechnung (VGR) ermöglichen zur Vermögenskonzentration keine Analysen. Eine bessere Datenquelle stellt der Household Finance and Consumption Survey (HFCS) des Eurosystems dar, eine seit dem Jahr 2010 von der Oesterreichischen Nationalbank (OeNB) in Österreich durchgeführte freiwillige Stichprobenerhebung zu Finanzen und Konsum der privaten Haushalte. Ein Kernproblem des HFCS besteht aber darin, dass – im Rahmen der Freiwilligkeit – besonders vermögende Haushalte ihre Vermögensverhältnisse nicht, oder nicht ganz, offenlegen. Das schränkt seriöse Analysen der Vermögenskonzentration ein. Dementsprechend liegt das im HFCS erhobene Gesamtvermögen weit unter dem in der VGR geschätzten Gesamtvermögen.

Mit Hilfe von Distributional Wealth Accounts möchte das Europäische System der Zentralbanken diese Lücke schließen. Dabei sollen die in den HFCS-Mikrodaten vorhandenen Informationen zur Vermögensverteilung auf die VGR-Makrodaten übertragen werden.

Die regelmäßig von Forbes und trend veröffentlichten Reichenlisten könnten zusammen mit Annahmen über die Verläufe der Vermögensverteilung und Verschuldung zusätzliche Informationen liefern.

In dieser Studie werden unterschiedliche Szenarien aus Simulationen der Vermögenskonzentration dargestellt. Die Ergebnisse dieser Simulationen zeigen, dass das Nettovermögen des reichsten Prozents der Haushalte (Top-1-Prozent) einen Anteil am gesamten Nettovermögen aller Haushalte von zumindest 23 % bis mehr als 50 % hat. Sämtliche Informationen deuten darauf hin, dass dieser Anteil tatsächlich bei etwa 50 % liegt, Eine präzise Einschätzung potenzieller Verzerrungen und Unsicherheiten der Schätzungen ist aber weiterhin schwierig. Diese Datenlücke ließe sich nur mit der Einführung eines gesetzlich verpflichtenden Vermögensregisters schließen.

Das Zahlungsverhalten in Österreich während der COVID-19-Pandemie

Dominik Höpperger, Codruta Rusu

Diese Studie befasst sich mit der jüngsten Umfrage zur Verwendung von Zahlungsmitteln in Österreich. Diese Umfrage ließ die Oesterreichische Nationalbank 2020/21 bereits zum fünften Mal durchführen. Befragt wurden private Haushalte, und zwar Frauen und Männer ab dem 15. Lebensjahr. Die Ergebnisse sind also in Bezug auf Alter, Geschlecht und Bundesland aussagekräftig für das Zahlungsverhalten der in Österreich lebenden Menschen.

Der erste Teil der Studie befasst sich mit den Ergebnissen der Umfrage. Für rund 66 % aller Zahlungen an der Kassa wird Bargeld verwendet. Bargeld ist und bleibt das beliebteste Zahlungsmittel im stationären Handel in Österreich. Der Rückgang gegenüber 2019 wurde durch die Pandemie verstärkt. Die Menschen haben während der Pandemie bei alltäglichen Zahlungen aus unterschiedlichen Gründen seltener Bargeld verwendet. Einerseits besteht ein allgemeiner Trend zu elektronischen Zahlungen, andererseits wirkten sich die Beschränkungen, die zur Bekämpfung der Pandemie eingeführt wurden, auf Tätigkeiten aus, bei denen sonst viel bar bezahlt wird. Dazu gehören etwa Reisen, Freizeitaktivitäten und kulturelle Veranstaltungen. Insgesamt scheint die Pandemie den Trend zur Zahlung mit Karten beschleunigt zu haben. Ob und wie die Pandemie die Art und Weise, wie die Bevölkerung an der Kassa oder im Internet bezahlt, langfristig verändern wird, bleibt abzuwarten. Dabei wird es darauf ankommen, wann die Maßnahmen zur Pandemiebekämpfung umfassend gelockert werden und sich unser wirtschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Alltag wieder normalisiert, aber auch darauf, welche Möglichkeiten für digitales Bezahlen die Unternehmen ihren Kundinnen und Kunden bieten.

Im zweiten Teil der Studie untersuchen wir den Zusammenhang zwischen dem Rückgang der Barzahlungen und dem von den Befragten subjektiv wahrgenommenen Ansteckungsrisiko durch Bargeld. Die Ergebnisse zeigen: Je höher die Befragten das Risiko einstuften, sich über Banknoten und Münzen mit dem Corona-Virus anzustecken, desto seltener bezahlten sie in bar. Das wahrgenommene Risiko wurde dabei oft stark überbewertet. Tatsächlich wird das Ansteckungsrisiko, das von Bargeld ausgeht, in zahlreichen wissenschaftlichen Untersuchungen als äußerst gering eingestuft.

Exchange rate index update for Austria shows lower effective appreciation than previously measured

Ursula Glauninger, Thomas Url, Klaus Vondra 2 Refereed by: Benjamin Bitschi (WIFO), Julia Grübler (WTO)

This article reports on the most recent update of Austria’s effective exchange rate indices, which serve to aggregate data on bilateral exchange rates and relative prices or costs into indicators of Austria’s short- to medium-term international competitive position. As before, the weighting scheme builds on bilateral trade data for Austria’s 56 most important trading partners and a three-year averaging period, which we were able to move forward to the period 2013–2015. Having recalculated existing observations from January 2013 onward, we find confirmation for the medium-term worsening of Austria’s competitive position, but in a less pronounced form than suggested by the previous weighting scheme. On the tail end of the curve, the COVID-19 crisis in general and short-time work subsidies in particular have distorted several indicators in 2020 and 2021. With regard to the geographical focus of Austria’s international trade relations, we observe a shift away from the large EU economies towards the USA and China, plus a weaker shift from Northeastern Europe towards Eastern Europe and Turkey. Given the economic relevance of tourism for Austria, we newly created a real effective exchange rate for the tourism industry. In this segment of the economy, we see a more pronounced appreciation than in the service sector as a whole from 2015 onward, which would normally imply a decline in tourism services output. That Austria’s tourism industry clearly continued to thrive indicates that the appreciation coincided with an upward shift of prices and supply toward higher quality segments.

JEL classification: C43, F14, F47

Keywords: international competitiveness, COVID-19, tourism services

For the purpose of measuring “the” exchange rate of the euro for Austria, it is necessary to combine the currencies of other countries into some sort of composite currency that reflects the importance of trade with these countries. This is what the effective exchange rate for Austria (compiled and re-updated by the Oesterreichische Nationalbank, OeNB, and WIFO, the Austrian Institute of Economic Research) does: it is a trade-weighted average value, expressed in index number form, of a basket of other currencies – like the basket of goods and services for the consumer prices index. A rising exchange rate index implies appreciation and thus a loss of competitiveness; a falling index implies depreciation and hence competitiveness gains. Austria’s nominal effective exchange rate index aggregates the bilateral exchange rates between the euro and the currencies of Austria’s 56 biggest trading partners, including 38 non-euro area countries. By adding an extra layer with relative price or cost movements for Austria and each individual trading partner to the nominal exchange rate index, we arrive at the real effective exchange rate index as an indicator of Austria’s international price or cost competitiveness.

Recent examples for the practical use of effective exchange rate indices in analyzing the response of small open economies to exchange rate fluctuations are Fauceglia et al. (2018) and Dao et al. (2021). The real effective exchange rate can also be used to evaluate the transmission of foreign monetary and financial shocks to the tradable goods and services sectors of the economy. In sum, accurate measures of the effective exchange rate are essential input for market participants as well as policymakers.

To avoid a plethora of incompatible effective exchange rate indices across the euro area, member countries committed themselves in 1999 to apply a harmonized methodology (Schmitz et al., 2012) and to revise their weighting schemes for trading partners at regular intervals. This ensures comparability and incorporates changing trading patterns. The Austrian indices were last revised by the OeNB and WIFO in 2017 (see Köhler-Töglhofer et al., 2017). Upon release of the 2018 set of OECD-TiVA input-output tables on bilateral foreign trade flows, we were able to move forward the three-year averaging period for adjusting the exchange rate weights from 2010–2012 to 2013–2015.

As outlined below, the new weights produce a less pronounced appreciation throughout the review period from 2013 to 2021, particularly for the nominal effective exchange rate. In terms of individual shifts, the trade weight of Germany was scaled down most, while the United States showed the most vigorous gain.

Besides, we broadened the range of real effective exchange rates by developing a novel indicator for the price competitiveness of the Austrian tourism industry, using relative prices for tourism-related services in the consumer price index. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the high dependency of Austria’s economic output on a thriving tourism sector.

The tourism-specific real effective exchange rate is illustrative of the strengths and weaknesses of the real effective exchange rate as a measure of competitiveness. First, a trade-weighted scheme implicitly assumes that countries trade homogenous goods with a constant elasticity of substitution (Armington, 1969). If the degree of product differentiation among countries is high, e.g. skiing in the Alps versus visiting a tropical destination, the elasticity of substitution between imports from different regions varies and the fluctuations of different foreign currencies will have different effects on tourism demand. Second, the homogenous-goods assumption ignores different price and income elasticities of demand for individual goods (Klau and Fung, 2006). Effective exchange rate changes will affect the relative demand for, or the relative prices of, any pair of goods differently. If the countries covered by the weighting scheme have similar economic structures, the homogenous-goods assumption will not result in serious misjudgment; but if the scheme mixes countries with highly different export product structures, conclusions about the economic consequences of effective exchange rate appreciation become more uncertain.

In what follows, section 1 reviews the main characteristics of Austria’s price/cost competitiveness indicators, which continue to apply. Section 2 addresses the recalculation of the country weights based on the trade relations prevailing during the period 2013–2015. Section 3 provides a snapshot of Austria’s competitiveness position among other economies based on updated weights. Section 4 presents and analyzes the new real effective exchange rate for tourism services.

1 Main characteristics of competitiveness indicators for Austria remain unchanged

The competitiveness indicators for Austria published here are consistent with the harmonized Eurosystem methodology (Schmitz et al., 2012) and cover narrowly defined groups in the Standard International Trade Classification (SITC). Apart from the new averaging period for the country weights, running from 2013 through 2015, the conceptual framework continues to be the same as set out by Köhler-Töglhofer and Magerl (2013) and Hahn et al. (2001). Thus, the main characteristics of the harmonized competitiveness indicators compiled by the OeNB and WIFO are:

  • The aggregate index is a trade-weighted average of four subindices calculated separately for manufactured goods, food and beverages, raw materials/energy products, and services. Introducing subindices alleviates possible violations of the homogeneity assumption underlying the single weighting structure and therefore allows for differences in the degree of substitutability (Turner and Van’t dack, 1993). Moreover, this allows us to use a higher number of trading partners (56 instead of 43) covering 96% of total export flows.
  • The index is based on geometric weighting, i.e. it represents the weighted geometric average of a basket of bilateral exchange rates, which yields the price or cost competitiveness indicator when adjusted for the respective relative price or cost indices.
  • The individual country weights in the subindex for manufactured goods continue to be calculated on the basis of single (bilateral) import and double (multilateral) export weights. Double export weights are the method of choice to catch third-market effects, as they reflect both home and external market competition with individual trading partners (depicted in competition matrices; see table A2 in the annex). The drawback of double export weights is that they are more difficult to calculate, 3 less intuitive, and require data based on OECD-TiVA input-output tables with a larger publication lag.
  • The index base period was left unchanged at the first-quarter average (arithmetic mean) of 1999 (i.e. 1999 Q1 = 100), which is the base period established by the harmonized Eurosystem framework.
  • The new weights based on the 2013–2015 period apply to all observations beginning with January 2013. Earlier observations have been chain-linked to the new exchange rate indices. 4
  • We use a range of deflators to calculate the Austrian competitiveness indicators: the HICP/CPI and its tourism-related components (COICOP division 11), producer prices (PPI), and unit labor costs (ULC) for the whole economy. 5 In practice, we use both the HICP/CPI and the PPI to calculate the subindex for the manufacturing sector, and both the HICP/CPI and ULC to calculate the subindices for the service sector and the index for the total economy. 6 Additionally, we use the components of the HICP/CPI related to tourism spending to deflate the subindex for the service sector. The subindices for food and beverages and for raw materials/energy are based solely on the HICP/CPI.

The HICP/CPI deflator is the most widely used variable for calculating real effective exchange rate indices and national competitiveness indicators. The key advantages of this variable are the timely availability and the international comparability of data. Yet, the goods baskets underlying consumer price indices include large numbers of nontradable goods, which makes them an imperfect proxy for changes in tradable goods prices. Hence the rationale for using producer prices with a greater focus on tradable goods and a smaller number of 26 trading partners, as internationally comparable producer prices are not available for all relevant trading partners of Austria. Using the components of the consumer price index related to tourism services in a separate version of the subindex on services also follows this idea because many services are nontraded while tourism services face competition from foreign destinations. The disaggregation into COICOP divisions is available for 43 countries. Finally, total unit labor costs relate to the economy as a whole including services, thus reflecting the development of wages and productivity in the tradable and the nontradable sector 7 – which is a drawback when it serves as a deflator for calculating the service sector subindex only. Moreover, internationally comparable total unit labor costs are not available for all relevant trading partners of Austria, limiting the respective calculation to 31 trading partners. 8

The regular revisions of the harmonized competitiveness indicators generally provide room for adjustment in the sample of trading partners, reflecting changes in export patterns. Since the current sample of 56 countries covers 96% of Austrian exports, we left the number of countries unchanged. We continue to add the export shares of countries not included in the index to the weight of the USA, based on the assumption that these trade flows are invoiced in US dollars (Gopinath et al., 2020; see table A1 in the annex).

2 Country weights – comparatively stable ranking of Austria’s trading partners

Austria as a small open economy with a high degree of openness gains multiple benefits from integration into a larger market (Oberhofer, 2019), although negative side effects on distributional and environmental issues may emerge and individual risk perceptions appear to deteriorate across border regions (Durand et al., 2017). Austria’s integration into Europe has deepened and widened in recent decades, from accession to the European Economic Area in 1994 to the last round of EU enlargement by Croatia in 2013. Austria’s accession to the EU lifted trade with other EU member countries against other comparable non-EU members by 46% over the 20 years following EU accession. Yet, more intensified trade relations were not confined to EU members and close neighbors within Central, Eastern and South Eastern European (CESEE) 9 countries. International value-added chains have become far more global since 2003, and increasing shares of a product’s value added are now produced outside the region to which the country-of-completion belongs (Los et al., 2015). Although regional blocs like ‘Factory Europe’ are still important, a ‘Factory World’ rapidly emerged through the integration of countries in Southeast and East Asia into the world economy. After all, already by 1994 about one-third of world trade with the USA was due to transactions within multinational firms (Antràs, 2003). This share may decline, though, after the COVID-19 pandemic. Increased political tensions between the USA and China (Antràs, 2021) and the changing nature of recent shocks, which have been global and cross-sector rather than local and affecting only a few firms at a time (Baldwin and Freeman, 2021), provide strong incentives to create more resilient global supply chains. Lund et al. (2020) estimates that future supply disruptions may cost firms on average almost 45% of one year’s profit over the course of a decade. Furthermore, about 40% of global supply chain executives consider nearshoring or regionalizing their supply chains (Lund, 2021).

The changes in Austria’s regional trade structure are noteworthy particularly given the further opening of the Austrian economy in recent decades and continued efforts to integrate members of the European Single Market more seamlessly. Comparing the data for the current reference period 2013–2015 with the base period 1998–2000, we see a substantial decline in the weight of Austria’s EU trading partners (by 7.3 percentage points to 65.3%) and other euro area countries (by 9.5 percentage points to 53.8%).

Ultimately, Austria would thus not appear to have gained measurable positive trade effects from the elimination of exchange rate uncertainty within the euro area (EA-19). The empirical evidence on the effects of exchange rate uncertainty on foreign trade is mixed. Clark et al. (2004) find a negative relation indicating that higher uncertainty lowers export flows, but their result is not robust against reasonable changes in the specification. Bahmani-Oskooee and Hegerty (2007) find inconclusive evidence for the relation between exchange rate volatility and export flows. Ambiguity can arise from the coincidence of deeper integration and the remaining exchange rate uncertainty with respect to non-euro members of the EU. For example, the weight of countries outside of the euro area but within the EU-27 10 was shown to have increased by 2.2 percentage points to 11.5%. In this case, positive effects from trade integration dominate the higher degree of exchange rate uncertainty with respect to trading partners outside the currency union. Similarly, the weight of CESEE countries grew by 4.6 percentage points to 14.7%. Thus, the potentially negative effect from increased exchange rate uncertainty has been more than compensated by stronger economic integration with Eastern Europe, favored by geographical proximity and the higher economic dynamism of this region. Furthermore, some Eastern European countries have managed to hold a stable exchange rate against the euro.

Southeast and East Asian countries also benefited from highly dynamic economic growth and the more intensified international division of labor. The trade weight of this group of countries moved up by 5.3 percentage points.

The regional relocation of foreign trade was mainly driven by two large economies: Germany and China. While Germany’s country weight declined by 5.8 percentage points to 31.1% over the last 15 years, China gained 6 percentage points to 7.7% and now ranks second among the 56 countries, having even surpassed the USA (7.1%).

The long-run regional shift proceeded also in the short run between 2010–2012 and 2013–2015. Figure 1 shows a world map where all countries included in the weighting scheme are colored corresponding to the size of this short-run change in their weight. Dark green indicates countries with a visibly higher trade weight following the latest update of the index (USA, China, and Switzerland, with gains ranging from 0.4 to 1 percentage points), while dark blue indicates a substantial decline (Germany, France, Italy, with losses between 0.5 and 1.1 percentage points). Countries not included in the currency basket for the effective exchange rate are colored in white.

Figure 1 consists of a color-coded world map, entitled “Austrian effective exchange rate index: short-run change in country weights (2013-2015 versus 2010-2012).” The map is a graphical interpretation of the results outlined in the text and shows the short-run changes between the country index weights based on 2010-2012 trade flows and the country index weights based on 2013-2015 trade flows. Color coding is used to distinguish countries like China or the USA, whose weights increased, from countries which recorded a loss (Western European countries). Source: OeNB/WIFO.

Furthermore, trade relations with Brazil and countries in the northeast of Europe weakened, whereas they remained stable with neighboring countries like Czechia and Hungary (colored gray). Overall, the trading pattern shifted toward CESEE, the UK, the Netherlands, and Turkey. For detailed values for all weights, see table A1 in the appendix.

The calculation of the weights for the manufactured goods subindex is based on double export weights and therefore reflects direct bilateral trade flows as well as the indirect effects of competition from third countries on the destination markets of Austrian exports. For instance, Austrian exports to Germany face competition from German firms on the German market but also from firms located in other countries also exporting to Germany. The size of this effect can be seen by comparing single export weights with double export weights in chart 1. The axis in chart 1 has been cut at 10% to facilitate the comparison for countries with smaller weights. For exact numbers, including the full figures for Germany, see table A3 in the appendix.

Chart 1 is a bar chart entitled “Austrian manufactured goods subindex: single and double export weights (2013 to 2015).” The chart lists 56 countries on the x-axis with three color-coded bars per country showing (1) single export weights for manufactured goods, (2) double export weights and (3) import weights. Germany, China, the USA, Italy and Switzerland are the countries with the highest bars. Source: OeNB/WIFO.

For most of the countries, the difference between single export weights and double export weights is small. Exceptions include Germany, with a single export weight of 31.0% and a double export weight of 23.6% (the single highest measures of all countries included in the index). In other words, German firms are less of a competition for Austrian firms on international export destinations than on the German market itself. This may be so because German exporters target other regions or export different goods, e.g. a higher share of final consumer goods. Two other countries with distinctively higher single export weights are Switzerland and Hungary. In contrast, there are several countries with a relatively higher double export weight. In particular, China’s double export weight is almost three times the size of its single export weight. This makes Chinese exporters stronger competitors for Austrian firms internationally than on China’s home market for manufactured products. To a lesser extent, this also holds for firms from the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Japan, South Korea, the USA, Spain, and India.

Table A3 in the appendix also presents values for previous reference periods, thus facilitating long-term comparisons. Over time, French and US exporters have become increasingly less relevant as competitors for Austrian exporters. The same holds, to a lesser extent, for producers located in Japan, the UK, Germany and Italy. In contrast, firms from China leapt forward, to the second double-weight rank. Furthermore, Dutch firms, which used to have a neutral position with respect to third-market competition, have turned into competitors.

The country weights for Austrian services exports are more stable and show only minor changes in bilateral trade flows. For example, 72.4% of services trade occurs between Austria and other EU member states and 58.6% of Austria’s services trade is concentrated within the euro area. The most important destination for Austria’s services exports is Germany with a country weight of 36.3%, followed by the USA (7.4%), Switzerland (6.1%), Italy (5.2%), the UK (4%) and the Netherlands (3.5%). The weights for the services subindex are mainly determined by trade flows in travel including international passenger transport (34%), as well as other business-related service exports (22%), transport services excluding passenger transport (20%) and telecommunication and information services (9%).

Imports and exports of raw materials and energy are less concentrated on trading partners located in the EU. Total imports to Austria from EU member countries amount to 57.6%, with 28.4% coming from Germany. The second biggest source of raw materials and energy imports is the USA (18.8%), followed by Russia (12.2%). In contrast, the subindex on food and beverages is dominated by trading partners from the EU, which account for 82.4% of imports and 73.9% of exports. Again, Germany tops the list, with 38.7% of imports and 33.7% of exports. Italy comes in a strong second, supplying 11.1% of Austria’s food and beverages imports and taking 13.5% of Austria’s exports.

3 Price competitiveness after the European government debt crisis

The period 2013–2015 was characterized by severe turbulences on European bond markets. The ECB started to buy government bonds while international investors reduced their exposure to European fixed interest securities after 2013. The negotiations about a debt relief and rescheduling for Greek government debt took until August 2015, when the third bailout agreement was signed. Three years later, in August 2018, Greece was able to exit the bailout program; it took even longer for Greece to return to the capital market. This turbulent period was characterized by wide fluctuations in exchange rates vis-à-vis the euro. Consequently, the nominal effective exchange rate index shows marked peaks and troughs (chart 2, left-hand panel). Austria’s gross trade flows (goods and services) declined by some 5% in 2013, but its current account continued to show a surplus of around EUR 7 billion euro every year.

The ECB announcement of unlimited support for the euro in summer 2012 continued to support the euro and induced an appreciation of the nominal effective exchange rate throughout 2013 until doubts about the political stability in Greece and the common support for the bailout plan designed by the EU Commission, the ECB, and the IMF emerged (chart 2). Political uncertainty about the common currency project was accompanied by an effective nominal depreciation of 5.1% between March 2014 and April 2015. The agreement about the third Greek bailout in August 2015 supported another rally of the euro, peaking in February 2016, which was followed by a cycle of ups and downs, leaving the nominal effective exchange rate in August 2021 almost 4% above its level in early 2013. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe in March 2020 coincided with a month-on-month jump of the nominal effective exchange rate by 1.6%; this started another appreciation cycle. Based on the weights for the new base period 2013–2015 (left-hand panel of chart 2), the nominal appreciation appears to have been less pronounced since early 2013, however.

Chart 2 shows the “Chained aggregate index of Austria's price competitiveness since 1999 (previous versus revised index).” The chart is composed of two panels, which are both line charts with two lines – one for the updated index and one for the previous index. The left-hand panel shows the aggregate nominal index of Austria’s price competitiveness, calculated on a monthly basis with the first quarter of 1999 as the index base, from January 1999 to August 2021. The right-hand panel shows the corresponding index deflated by relative HICP/CPI levels. Source: OeNB/WIFO.

3.1 Recent appreciation not yet corrected by lower inflation in Austria

Purchasing power parity theory tells us that changes in relative prices between any pair of countries will be compensated by changes in the bilateral nominal exchange rate. Because price adjustments are slower than exchange rate fluctuations, the real effective exchange rate immediately shows a gain or loss in price competitiveness, while it is supposed to converge to a stable mean value over time. When we look at Austria’s real effective exchange rate deflated by the HICP/CPI (chart 2, right-hand panel), we see that comparatively lower consumer price inflation turned the nominal appreciation of 7.3% measured for the period from 1999 to mid-2021 into a real depreciation of 1.3%. The COVID-19 crisis accelerated nominal appreciation to 3% between February 2020 and mid-2021, resulting in a loss of price competitiveness by 2.8% based on HICP/CPI inflation. Again, the loss appears to have been slightly less pronounced since 2013 (chart 2, right-hand panel) once the new weights based on the 2013–2015 period are used.

When we change the perspective, using the producer price index (PPI) for Austrian manufacturers to deflate the export-weighted real effective exchange rate, we find almost no change in price competitiveness (+0.3%) since early 2020 (chart 3, left-hand panel). In a long-term perspective since 1999, a PPI-based comparison reveals a decline of the real effective exchange rate by 5.8%, i.e. a distinct gain in price competitiveness compared to the HICP/CPI-based index. This deviation may be due to the smaller sample (26 countries for the PPI-based index, 56 countries for the HICP/CPI-based index). Or, it may reflect the comparatively moderate increases in Austrian producer prices, based on higher productivity growth and comparatively low wage increases.

European monetary union restricts adjustments of the real effective exchange rate between member countries of the euro area to changes in relative prices, i.e. deviations in relative inflation rates. Austria’s long-term position against other euro area countries has, indeed, remained almost stable (chart 3, right-hand panel). In the 22 years since 1999, we observe a small appreciation of the real effective exchange rate based on HICP/CPI with respect to the EA-19 of 2.7%. Vis-à-vis non-euro area members of the EU, Austria visibly gained in price competitiveness. The USA shows marked variations but was almost back to its starting level in 2021. Japan is an outlier, featuring low inflation rates but at the same time a considerable appreciation of its currency during the European government debt crisis.

Chart 3 shows “Austria’s real effective exchange rate for manufactured goods (export-weighted).” The chart is composed of two panels, which are both line charts covering the period from the first quarter of 1999 (which is also the index base) until the second quarter of 2021. The left-hand panel displays two index paths, as measured by relative producer prices and by relative HICP/CPI levels. The right-hand panel shows the CPI-deflated index for different destinations, namely the euro area, non-euro area EU countries, the USA, Japan and other countries, and the sum total. Source: OeNB/WIFO.

3.2 Loss of cost competitiveness prolonged

The (import- and export-weighted) index measuring the cost competitiveness of Austrian producers and service providers uses total unit labor costs as the deflator (chart 4). This indicator shows that Austria’s cost competitiveness has slightly declined in the long run (1999–2020: –1.1%). A strong gain in cost competitiveness in the early days of European monetary union, mainly due to an appreciating US dollar, was followed by a long period of decline until the end of the sample. From 2002 to 2008, the ULC-based indicator signals a far larger comparative advantage for Austrian exporters than the HICP/CPI-based measure. After the financial crisis, however, both indicators quickly converged, and they have largely moved in tandem since. The development over the last decade indicates a loss in Austria’s price and cost competitiveness by 5.5% (labor costs) and 5.4% (HICP/CPI) respectively. When we look at ULC changes over time, we see that the most recent sharp deterioration is mainly due to the intensive use of short-term work schemes in Austria and the strong build-up of unemployment among unskilled low-paid workers (OECD, 2021). Both effects have pushed upward per capita wages. These effects will be temporary because demand for short-term working programs will stop once the COVID-19 pandemic abates; by September 2021 the number of unemployed persons was already back at 2019 levels. Nevertheless, the strong decrease in working hours still distorts downstream indicators.

Chart 4 shows “Austria’s real effective exchange rate (import- and export-weighted).” The chart is composed of two panels, which are both line charts with two lines. The left-hand panel shows the aggregate exchange rate, indexed to the first quarter of 1999, as measured by relative unit labor costs and by relative HICP/CPI levels. The right-hand panel shows the exchange rate for the manufacturing sector (again with the first quarter of 1999 as the index base), as measured by relative producer prices and by relative HICP/CPI levels. Both charts cover the period from the first quarter auf 1999 to the second quarter of 2021 (except the line based on relative producer prices in the left chart, which ends in the fourth quarter of 2020). Source: OeNB/WIFO.

3.3 COVID-19 crisis characterized by euro area-wide convergence of total unit labor costs

Over the last few years, unit labor costs in Austria realigned with those in other euro area countries. Germany started to fall behind in ULC terms around 2006, right after the prevailing unemployment and welfare rules (“Hartz-IV”) were implemented (chart 5, left-hand panel), following initial labor market reform (the Hartz-I and Hartz-II programs) in January 2002 and beyond. With Germany being the number-one destination for Austrian exports, wage deals in Germany have typically set the tone for wage negotiations in Austria. In the other euro area countries, wage setting processes tended to drift away from the German and Austrian path, thus making their economies less cost competitive. Surprisingly, this also holds for the Netherlands, another core monetary union member with a sustained current account surplus. Ultimately, the financial and economic crisis forced periphery countries onto a more restrictive path of wage settlements: starting in 2008, their unit labor costs started to converge to the German and Austrian trajectory.

At the end of the euro area sample, we again see signs of a crisis, but this time in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Widespread lockdowns restricting social life and economic activity have been accompanied by government subsidies to firms and monetary transfers to households. The development of unit labor costs has been affected above all by short-time work schemes. Government support created a divergence between value added and the wage bill, which is visible in chart 5 as sharp spikes during 2020 and 2021. Extreme output reductions have been met by the deliberately smoothed wage bill and the structural effect resulting from higher unemployment of low paid unskilled workers (OECD, 2021), for whom employers were less inclined to take up short-time work arrangements. The COVID-19 crisis created a jump in unit labor costs throughout the euro area in the first half of 2020, which was swiftly corrected in the fall but ultimately gave way to a renewed sharp increase in total labor costs amid adverse developments in spring 2021.

Chart 5 provides an “International comparison of total unit labor costs (in local currencies).” The chart is composed of two panels, which are both line charts with five lines. Both panels show total unit labor costs normalized in the first quarter of 1999, from 1999 to 2021. The left-hand panel refers to France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Germany and Austria; the right-hand panel refers to Italy, Portugal, Spain and Finland, again with Austria as reference country. Unit labor costs are derived in local currencies.  Source: OeNB/WIFO, Macrobond, OECD.

The COVID-19-related lockdowns and short-time work schemes were associated with further ULC convergence throughout Europe until mid-2021, as short-term work schemes were being phased out at different speeds and supply-side bottlenecks related to intermediate products were putting increasing strain on the economy.

4 Price competitiveness in the service sector, and in the accommodation sector in particular

The literature on competitiveness has overwhelmingly focused on the manufacturing industry. This focus can be explained by the historical importance of the manufacturing sector for value added and its high integration in international trade. Therefore, comparing competitiveness factors between potential business locations has received a lot of attention. Furthermore, data for the manufacturing industry are more readily available than for services. These indicators have also informed trade policy, which – for a very long time – exclusively looked at tariffs, which are not applied to services. Service trade itself was marginal, as many modes of service trade emerged only recently due to the widespread use of information and communication technology and lower travel costs.

In analyzing the international competitiveness position of Austria’s service sector, we need to distinguish between those services provided only or mainly domestically and those services which are traded. Within the latter, there are three main categories of services: tourism, transport and business services. Current account data show that – before the COVID-19 crisis – almost ⅓ of Austrian service exports were related to tourism, ¼ to transport and ½ to business services. 11 Since business services are closely linked to manufacturing activity, they are also closely interrelated to goods exports. In contrast, tourism has much lower linkages to the manufacturing industry, but it is nevertheless characterized by competition between regions/countries. However, to our knowledge until now no comprehensive measure of competitiveness, such as a real effective exchange rate, has been developed with respect to tourism trade flows.

4.1 Domestic service providers lost price competitiveness in the years before the COVID-19 crisis

Deflating (export- and import-weighted) real effective exchange rates for the service sector (1) by unit labor costs (based on 31 countries) to capture cost pressure and (2) by the HICP/CPI 12 (based on 56 countries) to depict general price aspects reveals mixed results over the period from 1999 to early 2021.

In the first years after euro area accession, the Austrian service sector managed to strongly improve its competitiveness position (chart 6), both in terms of costs and prices, in line with a depreciation trend. This development reversed until mid-2000, with a stronger backlash from prices than costs. Thereafter, both indicators converged to similar levels and stagnated (with slight ups and downs) in a synchronized manner for about ten years. In the years before the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, both exchange rates had started to trend upward, indicating a loss in Austrian tradable services competitiveness (appreciation) vis-à-vis trading partners.

The upward trend in the two real effective exchange rates intensified in the last two years of the sample. However, the development during the COVID-19 crisis must be taken with caution, as all competitiveness indicators are biased during that phase. 13 Viewed over the full sample period, the initial improvement in service competitiveness melted away over the past 20 years. Both real effective exchange rates – deflated by unit labor costs and deflated by HICP – are currently very close to their values in the first quarter of 1999.

4.2 Tourism as a key pillar of the Austrian economy 14

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly shown the importance of the tourism industry for the Austrian economy – and its vulnerability. The economic setback that Austria experienced in the first quarter of 2021 was much more severe than the decline measured in countries with a comparable situation but with a smaller share of tourism. As direct consequence of the temporary shutdown of the tourism industry and the ensuing revenue loss, Austria’s current account turned into a deficit of EUR 1.3 billion in the first quarter of 2021, from a surplus of almost EUR 5 billion in the first quarters of 2019 and 2020. The importance of tourism is also mirrored in the regional development of unemployment. Tyrol, Vorarlberg, Salzburg and Carinthia – the federal states most dependent on tourism – have suffered the strongest increases in unemployment.

There is no straightforward way to statistically capture the importance of tourism for the national economy, as within the framework of the System of National Accounts this sector can only be approximated by the sum of the NACE service sectors I (accommodation and food services) and R (arts, entertainment and recreation). Without further information, it is not possible to distinguish activities consumed by residents from services bought by tourists. Still, the sum of these two sectors may serve as an approximation for the importance of tourism in Austria. Together, these two sectors accounted for 6.6% of total value added in 2019 (2020 data not yet available).

Table 1: The importance of tourism for the Austrian economy  
National accounts data – value added EUR million Share in value
added in %
Accommodation and food service activities (NACE I) 18,869 5.3
Arts, entertainment and recreation (NACE R) 4,485 1.3
Sectors I and R 23,354 6.6
Tourism satellite accounts (TSA) – GDP EUR million Share of GDP
in %
Direct value added excl. business trips 22,135 5.6
Direct value added incl. business trips 23,545 5.9
Direct and indirect value added 29,171 7.3
Source: Statistics Austria, Eurostat.

An alternative and conceptually more precise way to assess the importance of this sector are tourism satellite accounts (TSA), which have been available for Austria since 1999. 15 Counting only direct effects and excluding business trips, tourism in Austria contributed 5.6% to total GDP in 2019 (see table 1). In a broader sense – including indirect effects and business trips – the share was 7.3%. Since 2000 this proportion has remained almost unchanged. If – on top of that – the whole leisure industry is included as well, then the share doubles to almost 15% (Laimer et al., 2013). 16

Capturing the importance of the tourism industry is even more complicated for cross-country comparisons, as TSAs are not available or comparable (due to different concepts, data and/or publishing periods) for many countries. But in general, for most countries the TSA results are broadly similar to the share of the sectors I and R in total value added. Within Europe, the share of tourism in value added is highest among Mediterranean countries, followed by Austria with a markedly higher share than for example in Germany, Switzerland, or Denmark.

4.3 Real effective exchange rates for the tourism industry

To our knowledge, ours is the first effort to compute real effective exchange rates and hence price competitiveness indicators for the Austrian tourism sector, or more precisely the accommodation sector. We start by computing the nominal effective exchange rate for a lower number of countries (43) for reasons of data availability (consumer price index for the accommodation industry). 17 This rate reflects Austria’s bilateral exchange rates weighted by the respective share of each country in total service exports from Austria. 18 As is evident from chart 7, a period of nominal depreciation was followed by a rebound, which more than compensates the preceding depreciation. From mid-2000 onward, the nominal exchange rate for accommodation services shows a stable development, which turns into a slight upward trend from early 2017 on. Over the whole period (first quarter 1999 to May 2021), we observe a nominal appreciation vis-à-vis the 43 partner countries of more than 5%, which would appear to be a stable measure for a period of more than 20 years.

In a second step, we deflate the nominal effective exchange rate with the country-specific consumer price deflators for the accommodation sector (COICOP 11 classification). The resulting real effective exchange rate index (green line in chart 7) 19 shows a much stronger depreciation than the nominal effective exchange rate between 1999 and 2002, indicating an improvement by almost 10% in this early stage of monetary union. In the following countermovement – up until mid-2003 – the accommodation sector lost around half of its prior gains. In the subsequent period until 2015, the real effective exchange rate evolved at a rather stable rate with some ups and downs. Thereafter, the overall stable corridor gave way to a steady upward trend. Between April 2015 and July 2021, the relative competitiveness position of Austria’s accommodation sector deteriorated by 11% mainly due to higher inflation rates in this sector compared to the main trading partners. Due to the antecedent depreciation, this later appreciation resulted in an overall loss of competitiveness of 4% compared to early 1999 vis-à-vis Austria’s 43 most important trading partners for accommodation exports.