As Malaysia redefines its growth strategy, the question of which sector to promote has been a subject of ongoing debate. Some have argued that the strategy should emphasize manufacturing – and preferably high-tech manufacturing – as innovation activity is most forthcoming in this sector. Others have countered that services are key, as the typical economic structure of an advanced economy is oriented towards services. Tradable services are also fast becoming an engine of growth.
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.
Given that Asia is now widely seen as leading the world out of the crisis, it is fitting that the role of Asia was more prominently recognized in the global economic system in the recent G20 meeting held in Pittsburgh. Since we last looked in July, the outlook for the emerging markets of East Asia has continued to brighten. The latest regional forecasts come from the Asian Development Bank in its Asian Development Outlook (pdf) published last week. It points to “the rapid turnaround in [Asia’s] largest, less export-dependent economies” and predicts that “the regional economy is now poised to achieve a V-shaped rebound.” These are very positive words indeed! As the graph below shows, the ADB has in fact upgraded its growth forecasts for a number of economies for 2009.
Although the signs are pointing upwards, performance is still mixed in a number of key areas.
The Bangladesh economy entered FY10 in a position of strength, notwithstanding some pretty tough global circumstances. Good recovery in agriculture, a sustained growth in exports and remittances, and a steady growth in services helped achieve an estimated overall growth of 5.9 percent in FY09, compared with 6.2 percent in FY08. A decline in international commodity prices driven by the global recession and an improvement in domestic food supplies brought inflation down from 10 percent in FY08 to an estimated 7 percent in FY09. Rice prices have remained stable too at nearly 40 percent below the peak reached in April, 2008. The economy has shown reasonable stability in terms of most other macroeconomic indicators. The external current account has been in a large surplus; the exchange rate has been stable; foreign exchange reserves have reached record high levels of nearly $7.5 billion; fiscal balances have been contained; and private credit growth has remained decent.
This is all good news but it doesn’t mean Bangladesh goes totally unscathed by those tough global circumstances.