The FINANCIAL -- Verdict: FactCheck concludes that Roman Gotsiridze’s statement is FALSE.
Resume: In the last years, GEL depreciation has become a serious problem. The depreciation of the national currency exchange rate entails a number of negative consequences. This increases GEL denominated foreign debt and the debt service burden for those individuals who have income in GEL and obligations in a foreign currency.
The meaning of Roman Gotsiridze’s statement is not entirely clear. However, the focus of his statement is more relevant in regard to discretionary income instead of real income. Discretionary income is the difference between income and current bills. GEL depreciation affects discretionary income because people who have loans in USD, for example, have their obligations increased as a result of GEL depreciation and they have less money to cover their other needs. However, even in this case, GEL depreciation could not have caused a 60% drop in discretionary income. On the other hand, this impact does not affect the entire population because not everyone has loans in USD.
FactCheck’s verdict is mostly based on Roman Gotsiridze’s quotation – “people have lost real income.” Real income is a specific economic term. Real figures are based on different economic data, excluding the inflation factor. Mr Gotsiridze links real incomes entirely to the GEL exchange rate (it dropped by nearly 60%) which is clearly a wrong approach. At the same time, real income (as claimed by the politician) have not decreased by 60%, instead, they have been growing since 2012.
At a session of the Parliament of Georgia, United National Movement member, Roman Gotsiridze, stated: “As a result of GEL depreciation, people have lost 60% of their real income.”
In the last years, GEL depreciation has become a serious problem. The depreciation of the national currency exchange rate entails a number of negative consequences. This increases GEL denominated foreign debt and the debt service burden for those individuals who have income in GEL and obligations in a foreign currency.
Within the context of our analysis, we have to look at real income and discretionary income. Roman Gotsiridze speaks about real income when, in fact, it would be more relevant to discuss discretionary income in this context. Discretionary income is the different between incomes and current bills. GEL depreciation directly affects the discretionary income for those people who have loans in USD and incomes in GEL. For instance, if a person has a income of 1000 GEL, debt of USD 100 and GEL depreciated against USD from 1.5 to 2.5, the person’s GEL denominated debt will increase from GEL 150 to GEL 250 whilst his discretionary income will decrease from GEL 850 to GEL 750.
If Roman Gotsiridze had spoken about discretionary income specifically in regard to the GEL exchange rate, his statement could have been much more relevant. However, in this case, too, the GEL exchange rate’s depreciation could not have resulted in a decrease of discretionary income in the same amount (in contrast to theoretical cases when a citizen was paying half of his income for his debt service before the GEL depreciation). This is easily demonstrated by the above example, when GEL depreciated by 65% and discretionary income decreased by 12%, from GEL 850 to GEL 750.
Roman Gotsiridze’s statement is not entirely clear. FactCheck’s verdict is mostly based on the MP’s quotation: “People have lost real income.” Real income is a specific economic term. Real figures are based on different economic data, excluding the factor of inflation. Mr Gotsiridze links the real figure entirely to the GEL exchange rate which is clearly a very blatant manipulation. The GEL exchange rate is one of many factors affecting inflation.
Given the fact that GEL is the legal tender in Georgia, people’s expenses are mostly denominated in GEL as well as the average nominal salary is calculated in GEL. Therefore, whilst assessing the trends in changes of income (salary, pension), there is no ground to convert figures to USD. Changes in GEL purchasing power are not directly proportional to the depreciation of the GEL exchange rate.
The currency exchange rate is related to real figures which means that imported goods are becoming more expensive. However, inflation figures reflect this connection. Annual inflation reflects the impact of an increase or decrease in the prices of goods and services based on changes in the exchange rate. In order to verify the statement, a more accurate analysis would be to look at people’s real incomes (considering the CPI) and real GDP figures.
Table 1: Average Monthly Salary of Hired Labour (GEL)
Source: National Statistics Office of Georgia
In order to compare incomes in different periods, it is appropriate to use figures adjusted to the CPI instead of income converted to a foreign currency. Table 1 shows the amounts of nominal salaries in 2010-2018 and demonstrates what would have been the nominal salaries of other years as compared to 2016. As we see, the real average salary has a tendency of growth and has not decreased by 60%.
In the case of pension, as well, we should take the inflation level into account and observe the change in the real pension. Of note is that the nominal pension has been unchanged for a period of time (from QIV of 2013 including QII of 2015, it is GEL 150). As a result, the amount of nominal pension decreased (in the case of a nominal GEL 150 pension, it decreased from real GEL 163.33 to GEL 151.7) as compared to the fixation period. Afterwards, both the nominal pension (from GEL 150 to GEL 160) and the real pension (from GEL 151.7 to GEL 160.2) has been gradually increasing. This cycle is repeated after each growth in the nominal pension. From QIII of including QI of 2018, the real pension increased marginally (GEL 8) although this still constitutes a growth.
Economic growth rate has been positive since 2010. Since 2014, USD denominated real GDP has decreased. This figure is often indicated to prove that the country is getting poorer. However, the decrease in USD denominated GDP is caused by the sharp depreciation of the official GEL exchange rate. In order to measure real changes it is appropriate to base an analysis upon the GDP in constant prices. The real GDP per capita in GEL had a tendency of growth in 2010-2017 and amounted to GEL 7,627 as of 2017.