The prediction season is in full swing, and prognosticators have, as usual, appended the warning that economic forecasts at this stage are subject to exceptional uncertainty. Such exceptional uncertainty is always with us when looking ahead – there is always a fork in the road, no matter what the circumstances are.
The nuance this year is that, while the recovery in East Asia will depend on prospects for the rest of the world, notably in the advanced economies, the outlook for those economies hinges on policies to address the causes of the financial crisis. Thus far, it’s clear that very little has been done to redress the regulatory issues that led to a near meltdown of the global financial system – while the rebound from the financial and economic crisis has been substantially stronger than anticipated only months earlier. And these developments explain why opinions differ on the future path of regulatory reforms and their impacts.
When I was asked to look back at Cambodia's economy in 2009 and ahead to 2010, I began to wish I had some magic tools such as this ox (although in that case, the ox was not that magical, since the 2009 harvest turned out to be quite good).
In the years since the 1997/1998 Asian financial crisis, the Bank of Thailand (BoT) worked hard to build a heavy fortress around the nation’s financial sector. As a result, at a time when credit markets froze in developed countries and investors “fled to quality,” large amounts of capital still flowed into Thailand, where banks remained solid and well capitalized. Despite the financial strength brought by prudent policies, for the first time since the financial crisis, Thailand will see GDP and household consumption drop, and poverty could even increase in 2009. It is clear that the financial armor was insufficient to protect the economy from another crisis.
The culprit has been identified as Thailand’s excessive reliance on external demand, and talk of “rebalancing” growth towards domestic consumption and investment has become quite common (pdf). The idea of rebalancing makes some sense – but it can also be misleading. Let me explain.
What’s the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of India? If you type the inquiry into Google now, a graph will immediately display the data ranging from 1960 to 2008 and a figure showing that it is currently $1.22 trillion. If you click on the graph, it will immediately expand and allow you to compare historical figures as well as with that of other countries. I noticed, for instance, that India had a GDP of $36.6 billion in 1960; a 33 fold increase over the last 48 years!
The popular search engine has joined forces with the World Bank in sharing development data through the Data Finder, featuring 17 development indicators based on information provided by the World Bank to make the easy to understand information accessible to a broader audience. The public data tool is exceptionally easy to use and is excellent for comparative research or exploration of data over time. The indicators are as diverse as carbon dioxide emissions, fertility rates, GDP growth, and number of internet users.
The winds of change are blowing in Malaysia, as the government is taking on an ambitious agenda of structural reform. The objective is to climb up the income ladder and join the league of high-income economies. This is a difficult challenge – one which not many countries have successfully met in the post-war period.
Against this backdrop, the World Bank’s launch of a new report on the Malaysian economy (full disclosure: I lead the team who authors the report) is timely. The Malaysia Economic Monitor, which will be published twice a year, aims to provide context to the challenges facing Malaysia and serves as a platform for discussion and the sharing of knowledge.
The World Bank’s latest economic assessment of developing countries in the East Asia and Pacific region, released a week ago, came to some interesting conclusions and attempted to answer a lot of questions on a complex subject. Notably, the report’s authors pointed to the major role China has played in the region’s swift rebound from the crisis.
What is Happiness? Many of us equate it with money. However, since 1972, the kingdom of Bhutan under the leadership of its former King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck has measured its developmental success not solely through the economic lens of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but also through a more complete approach known as Gross National Happiness (GNH). Its laurels were based upon the original four pillars of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and good governance.
These indicators have become increasingly important over the last three decades as it became apparent that blindly pursuing economic expansion has created growing pains in a number of countries. GNH has appeared to be very successful in Bhutan, a nation the size of Switzerland with a population of around 700,000. With initiatives such as maintaining at least 60% (currently 72%) of the land for forests and conservation, while maintaining 165 indigenous mammal species such as the rare snow leopard, Bhutan also has a fast growing economy.
Government spending on health and education is the highest in the region at 18% and Bhutan boasts a GDP growth rate of 21.4% and a per capita income level that is almost twice as much as much as India’s, although it was much poorer as recently as the 1980’s. Independent sources also seem to echo these sentiments as Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the world’s 8th happiest country.
As part of its regular monitoring of the corporate sector in Southeast Asia, the World Bank economic team I am part of in Thailand has been working on a short case study of supply chains of Japanese multinational companies (MNCs) in the electrical and electronics (E&E) industry. We wanted to hear directly from firms about how the crisis affected them, how they were able to adjust so quickly to the drop in demand, what the rebound looked like, and what were the prospects going forward to upgrade along the value chain. I have learned a great deal from these interviews, and have become convinced that supply chains are central to understanding the current crisis in Thailand and East Asia more generally.
Some facts: the crisis had a disproportionate impact on manufacturing. In Thailand, manufacturing represents about 40 percent of GDP, but contractions in manufacturing value added have accounted for about 75 percent of the contraction of headline GDP. Within manufacturing, the auto and E&E industries account for the bulk of the contraction. Most of the output in those industries is exported, and more than three-fourths of the decline in Thai exports during the crisis was due to falls in shipments from the auto and E&E industries. My conclusion is that the magnitude of the crisis in Thailand has been driven primarily by these two industries.