Top Japanese think tank sees solid growth for Philippines in 2018

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Japanese financial giant Nomura has raised its 2018 growth forecast for the Philippines while projecting four interest rate hikes next year on expectations that the inflation rate could exceed the government’s target range.

In a Dec. 7 report titled "Asia in 2018: Stretching the sweet spot,” Nomura said that it was most upbeat on economic prospects for the Philippines, India and Indonesia next year.

In the case of the Philippines, Nomura said “we still view the growth outlook as solid, and raise our 2018 GDP [gross domestic product] growth forecast slightly to 6.9 per cent from 6.8 per cent earlier and from 6.7 per cent in 2017.”

"We also expect growth to rise further to 7.1 per cent in 2019. A pick-up in global growth and the tech cycle, which looks like it can remain on an upswing longer than we initially anticipated, should supplement already strong domestic demand conditions,” Nomura added.

Nomura expects the Duterte administration’s ambitious “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program as well as comprehensive tax reform to sustain robust economic growth.

"For next year, despite a likely increase in political noise, we expect the government’s focus on reforms to remain strong, alongside its drive to raise infrastructure spending further, which will be boosted by the reconstruction in Mindanao following the prolonged anti-terrorism military operations in Marawi,” according to Nomura.

Also, “we think implementation of the first package of tax reforms at the beginning of 2018 will not only provide the government with significant revenues that will be earmarked for infrastructure and social spending, but it should also boost disposable incomes of the middle class via substantial personal income tax cuts,” it said.

"Beyond that, policymakers remain firmly committed to pushing a broader set of complementary reforms, such as streamlining the budget process, local government capacity building, new monitoring systems for infrastructure projects and im proving financial inclusion. These in our view are underappreciated, and should ultimately help increase investment-to-GDP ratios toward levels that Asian tigers have reached in the past to sustain high GDP growth rates and raise per capita incomes,” it added.

Nomura nonetheless flagged risks to the inflation outlook next year, as it jacked up its forecast to 4.3 per cent from 3.9 per cent previously, hence breaching the government’s 2-4 per cent target for 2018.

“This forecast is partly driven by our new 2018 oil price assumption ($65 per barrel), combined with the impact of tax reform (assuming the House version is adopted) and the output gap becoming more positive despite potential growth rising to an estimated 6.2 per cent,” Nomura explained.

"We think the BSP will not be able to look through the risk of headline inflation breaching its target in 2018. As a result, we now expect the BSP to hike its policy rate by a total 100 basis points to 4 percent at a rate of one 25-basis point hike per quarter,” Nomura said.

"In 2014—the last time the BSP hiked rates—it was all about inflation risks, with the rate hikes characterized by the BSP as a 'preemptive response' to the balance of risks around inflation experiencing a ‘further upward shift’ and put the target at risk. We think demand-side pressures are even stronger today than in 2014 and this inflation expectations are also likely to accelerate amid supply-side increases from oil prices and tax reforms,” Nomura noted.

While generally bullish about the economy, Nomura said “the key risks to our view continue to emanate from the domestic political environment, even though we would argue that these risks have dissipated from last year, when the uncertainty around the war on drugs was complicated by foreign policy issues.”

"President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Manila reaffirms our view that US ties remain strong. We will also watch closely President Duterte’s popularity ratings—results from more recent surveys have been more mixed, which is a departure from his uniformly high popularity ratings previously—particularly ahead of the 2019 midterm elections. If his control over Congress wanes, it could have implications on future phases of tax reform,” it said.

Also, "a significant delay of infrastructure projects due to capacity issues at the level of the implementing agencies could also hurt the growth outlook and overall business confidence,” it added.

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