We are finally starting to see some positive news around the East Asia and Pacific region, but it is too soon to begin to speak of "green shoots" of economic activity or reaching the bottom of the economic downturn in Asia. Although the Swine flu (one disease originating from animals that did not come from Asia!) and the nervousness about the condition of U.S. banks had a slightly negative impact on financial markets in Asia this past week, the stock markets are still up by about 12% for the year – led by Indonesia (21.6%), Korea (11.8%), and China (9.4%).
During the Martial Law years in the Philippines (1970s to early 1980s), there was a story widely shared (discreetly) about a popular TV variety show host who was made to ride the bicycle all day in a military camp. According to accounts, he apparently displeased the rulers at the time for making a quip about the government's running slogan that goes, "sa ika-uunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan."Loosely translated, it means, "for the country to progress, discipline is what is needed."
What the TV host jokingly proclaimed was – "sa ika-uunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan" ("what the country needs for progress is the bicycle"). True or not, the story fascinates me to this day. First, because some people just can't take a good joke. More importantly, because I thought the TV host must be a real visionary! He may have foreseen the traffic and pollution conditions some 15 years in the future and the need for cheaper alternatives for mobility.
I have received many encouraging responses to my first blog. Thank you. This time, let's look at Indonesia's budget. Last year, Indonesia's budget reached the magical threshold of US$100 billion.
In the World Bank's latest semi-annual economic update for the East Asia and Pacific region, titled "Battling the Forces of Global Recession" and released today, we mentioned the Philippine economy's resilience, both in absolute and relative terms.
Despite a surge in joblessness and a regional drop of the forecasted GDP growth to 5.3 percent expected in 2009, developing East Asian and Pacific countries may be able to look to China for hope during the current global economic slowdown. That's according to the World Bank's April 2009 edition of the East Asia & Pacific Update, which was released today.
The latest half-yearly assessment of the region's economic health, aptly titled "Battling the Forces of Global Recession", says there have already been signs of China's economy bottoming out by mid-2009. China's possible subsequent recovery in 2010, concludes the report, could contribute to the entire region's stabilization, and perhaps recovery.
There are a number of ways to review the findings of the report on the World Bank's website. Head over to worldbank.org/eapupdate to view specific chapters or download the full report. For an intimate view of people who are being affected by the ongoing financial crisis in East Asian and Pacific countries – including Cambodia, Thailand, Mongolia and the Philippines – check out "Faces of the Crisis". You can also view hi-res graphs from the report here.
Also, check back here in the next day or so for blog posts written by World Bank economists based in Cambodia and Lao PDR.
UPDATE: For country-specific expert perspectives on the new World Bank repot, check out blog posts from World Bank economists based in Cambodia and Laos. Stéphane Guimbert considers what contraction might look like in Cambodia. And Katia Vostroknutova takes a look at Laos' economy, which is less affected by crisis, but faces the increasing challenge of sustaining growth during the crisis.
As jobs become fewer and income harder to come by for immigrants in developed countries, the amount of money they send back home, known as remittances, is expected to fall this year more than previously expected. The Bank's Migration and Remittances team announced the latest outlook last week on its People Move blog: "We now expect a sharper decline of 5-8 percent in 2009 ... compared to our earlier projections," wrote economist Dilip Ratha, who leads the team.
While the steepest drops in remittances are expected for Europe and Central Asia – down 10-12 percent – countries in the East Asia and Pacific region are also forecasted to fall by 4-7.5 percent in 2009. Two of the world's biggest recipients of remittances are China, which received $34 billion in 2008, and the Philippines, which saw $18 billion last year. Other big receipients in East Asia include Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, according to the Bank's Migration & Remittances Factbook 2008.
Well, the bad news continues across the East Asia and Pacific region. The Financial Times just ran a long article on the "speed and ferocity of the region's economic downturn." The piece highlighted that the fast downturn was a result of Asia's over-reliance on export-led growth over the past decade. This follows the IMF's slashed growth forecasts for the large East Asian economies. It projected only 5.5 percent growth across developing Asia for 2009, which sounds great for most economies these days, but it is way off of the 7.8 percent posted last year.
The IMF is expecting only 6.7 percent growth in China, which is 1.8 percent less than what they forecast only in October. This contrasts sharply with the view of the World Bank's Chief Economist, Justin Lin, who just two weeks ago said he thought China could achieve the target rate of growth – 8 percent – this year because of fiscal stimulus spending.
This is the first blog entry of what I hope to be regular updates from the financial sector and related areas across the East Asia and Pacific region. So, let’s see how the New Year began in Asia.
Unfortunately, the bad news keeps coming on the economies in the region in terms of exports and industrial output. Exports and industrial production fell 6.2 percent in Malaysia in November and exports from Thailand fell 18 percent in November. Surveys of consumer confidence, business sentiment, and manufacturers across the region have all shown significant declines.
In the last decade, conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs are probably the key social policy innovation around the world and in the East Asia and Pacific region. The targeted programs offer money to poor households on the condition they make pre-specified investments in the human capital of children. Typically, this involves school enrollment and attendance, and basic preventive health activities such as periodic checkups, growth monitoring, and vaccinations for young children.