I was in Laguna Technopark last Thursday when the government announced the Philippine economy grew by 7.3 percent in 2007, boosted by the 7.4 percent fourth quarter surge, the highest rate since 1976. I say not bad! Finally, we have “rejoined” the Asian community of fast growing countries.
I say “rejoined” because analysts always thought the Philippines seems to have been behaving like a Latin American country, with our politics prone to coups attempts and instability and economy that tended to enjoy sudden boom and busts. Now, we have reached a new level, 7 percent, after starting at a 5-6 percent GDP growth band from 2003 until 2006.
As expected, some practitioners of the Dismal Science were quick to downplay the numbers, saying the country’s economic performance this year might not be sustainable given the continuing risks posed by rising crude prices and the looming economic recession, an economic slowdown, in the US.
There is this economist from the UP School of Economics who has been going around since 2004 that the country could never achieve beyond 4 percent. He has been proven wrong all the time, but this time after hearing that the country’s GDP reached 7.4 in the fourth quarter, he stressed the country would achieve just around 4 percent in 2008. Here we go again!
The matter about economic recession in America is certainly a serious question. Unfortunately, even economist in the US are at a loss whether or not there is indeed a recession, how serious is it going to be, and whether or not it’s going to bring the global economy down. “When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold,” says the old dictum. And it was true then because when Americans stopped buying shirts, food, cars, gadgets, or just about anything, the factories from the rest of the world stopped humming, thus rendering thousands, if not millions, of workers jobless.
That nugget of wisdom, however, may not be true today because the world is no longer the same place that it was two or three decades ago. Now, analysts worldwide talks about “decoupling” or the capability of other economies in the world, including emerging economies like China and India, to growth despite the weak American economy. These countries could take on the role of growth drivers in the same manner that China has been boosting the economy of Japan and Australia through her rising imports of machines and raw materials iron ore, petroleum products, coal and other commodities. China now has also become a major destination for Philippine exports, a market that has become almost as huge as the America.
And more importantly, while emerging economies are riding on the wave of global trade expansion, many of them, including the Philippines, has been growing largely on the strength of domestic demand. It’s even true for China and India as much as it is for the Philippines. So the conclusion here is that, the recession in the US may or may not cause colds in the Philippines, and if it does, it might not be so severe co cause serious complications.
Realistically though, the number crunchers at the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) believe that a full-blown recession could indeed affect us significantly. Augusto Santos, acting director general of Neda, says should America suffers a one-percentage point contraction from its current growth rate, the Philippines gross national product will shrink by 1.764 percentage points. That is huge.
But that’s assuming that neither America will do anything to lick the recession nor the Philippines address to boost the local economy and cushion the impact. But who knows, US President George Bush’s $150 billion stimulus package, wherein government will mail checks to Americans for them to spend it and prop up the American economy, might just work? And if we do our homework here, say continue spending for badly economic infrastructure, as we should, as we are doing right now, the Philippine economy might just get out of this in a decent shape.
One interesting thing about recessions is that statisticians, and therefore policy makers and the general public, know about it only when it’s long underway. It’s because of the time lag in the collection of statistics. So if there’s a recession in America, the Philippines should already feel it.
The GDP figures seem to show that with the 3.7 percent contraction in exports from a growth of 2.2 percent last year. “Net factor income from abroad” that measures remittances of Filipino expatriates working abroad also has declined. And yet the Philippine economy managed to surge to a 7.4 percent growth rate in the fourth quarter, on the strength of other sources of growth (eg., domestic demand, mining, construction, agriculture and fishery, outsourcing, among others). There are even signs of recovery in investments from the private sector as shown by the rise in fixed capital formation—an indication that business are constructing buildings, buying machines for the factories, and upgrading their equipment.
So let’s see!