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100-day economic scorecard

/ 12:10 AM October 11, 2016

These days, most columnists are doing an assessment of the first 100 days of the new administration, and I’m being asked to do so myself. I’ll have to admit to a bit of hesitancy on this, for a purely practical reason. I’m not sure of the value or feasibility of doing such an assessment on the basis of economic performance, inasmuch as such an exercise can hardly be authoritative and statistics-based at this point. This is because two of the three key economic statistics that people can best relate, hence pay most attention, to—i.e., my usual “PiTiK” yardstick comprising presyo (prices), trabaho  (jobs) and kita (income)—are reported only every 90 days (every quarter), and with a time lag of up to 60 days.

This means that much of the official statistics to describe the economic situation since President Duterte took office are not yet in. This is particularly true for data on gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the level of production and incomes in the economy over a given period. GDP data for the third quarter of 2016 (July 1-Sept. 30) will come out only toward the end of November. Our latest available data on this refer to the second quarter, still under the Aquino administration, when the economy grew at an annual rate of 7 percent, the fastest in East Asia. Any assessment on whether the economy as a whole has grown faster or slower under Mr. Duterte would be conjectural at best, and based on piecemeal data and the limited perspective within which the analyst operates. I would not even venture a guess. What we know for sure is that the election spending stimulus is over. But this could have well been compensated for by the deliberate ramp-up in government infrastructure spending, and a catch-up in disaster reconstruction projects in Eastern and Central Visayas, among other things.

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The one key indicator that is reported every month is the inflation rate, measuring the rate of increase in the general price level. Every 5th of the month, the Philippine Statistics Authority releases data on the previous month’s Consumer Price Index (CPI)—a composite number that captures an “average price” based on a representative basket of commodities and services that a “typical” Filipino household consumes regularly. From the CPI is calculated the rate of increase in prices over those in the same month a year ago, thereby giving the annual rate of inflation. In September, it ticked up to 2.3 percent, after posting 1.9 and 1.8 percent in July and August, respectively, putting the quarterly average at 2 percent. This is higher than the previous quarter’s 1.5 percent. Government attributes the price acceleration to adverse weather conditions that had led to a decline in farm production in August.

The latest data on the trabaho yardstick came out in July, hence already includes part of the period covered by the new administration. The quarterly Labor Force Survey reported an employment rate of 94.6 percent, or an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent—the lowest I have seen for the country, ever. Even more encouraging is the fact that this low unemployment rate came with a significantly lower underemployment rate of 17.3 percent, compared to last year’s 21 percent. This measures the proportion of our workers who report that their jobs are insufficient to meet their needs, whether working full time or part time. What I find particularly encouraging is the fact that in spite of a recorded decline in deployment of workers overseas, which has slowed down overseas remittance growth, domestic unemployment is at a record low and seemingly on a decline. I take this to mean that more and more Filipino workers are finding it unnecessary to seek their living overseas, away from their families.

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Accelerating prices, a further improved job situation, and possibly sustained income growth. The still-limited data make it impossible to tell for sure whether the overall economy has improved since July 1. What is more important to me, though, is that we all work together to make it so, well beyond President Duterte’s first 100 days.

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TAGS: administration, Duterte, economy, first 100 days, opinion
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