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COVID-19 kick: UK think tank sees economic recovery slowest in PH, 2 other countries

By: - Reporter / @bendeveraINQ
/ 04:36 PM July 09, 2020

Near-term recovery from an economy made sick by the COVID-19 pandemic would be slowest in the Philippines, India and Indonesia, according to experts of a United Kingdom-based think tank.

These countries, said two Oxford Economics analysts, are struggling to contain the spread of coronavirus though they were poised to stage a strong comeback because of solid macro fundamentals.

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At an online seminar on Thursday (July 9), Oxford Economics economist Thatchinamoorthy Krshnan and head of India and Southeast Asia Priyanka Kishore noted that the Philippines, India and Singapore had the most stringent and prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns in the region, even as they started to ease restrictions in May.

But in the case of the Philippines, Kishore said “mobility is beginning to worsen again in recent days” as the number of coronavirus infections continued to rise.

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COVID-19 cases in the Philippines breached the 50,000-mark last Wednesday (July 8).

Kishore said the Philippines, India and Indonesia were still “struggling to get past the peak of the pandemic.”

She noted that even as economies opened up, mobility among people and goods would still be strongly linked to coronavirus containment.

It also didn’t help that in the Philippines, output losses due to COVID-19—earlier estimated by Oxford Economics at about 5.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—were bigger than the government’s direct fiscal response measures equivalent to only 2.4 percent of GDP.

“Fiscal response is weaker both in India and the Philippines,” Kishore said.

While the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) already cut key interest rates by 175 basis points (bps)—the biggest cumulative reduction in the region—so far this year, Kishore said “monetary policy is not a perfect substitute” for fiscal support.

The BSP’s surprise and hefty 50-bps cut in the policy rate to the lowest ever of 2.25 percent last month was expected to “help mitigate the downside risks to growth and boost market confidence,” BSP Governor Benjamin E. Diokno had said.

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Across the region, Kishore said “policy transmission is not strong in each of these economies,” referring to the impact of the rate cuts on the real economy, which usually lagged several months.

Oxford Economics had projected the Philippines’ GDP to shrink by 6.9 percent in 2020, before rebounding in 2021 to be the fastest-growing economy in the region due to base effects.

But Kishore said analysts were revisiting earlier 2021 growth forecasts as these did not take into consideration a possible “second wave” of COVID-19 infections, which remained a downside risk for Asian economies.

In a separate report titled “Hello From the Other Side – Asia’s Bigger Structural Challenges Unmasked,” Morgan Stanley Research said that the medium-term economic recovery and growth prospects for the Philippines, India and Indonesia were the best in Asia due to their relatively lower debt, better institutional ability to push through reforms, and benign demography as a counter to a retreat from globalization.

“India, Indonesia and the Philippines have been some of the strongest structural stories in Asia excluding Japan,” said Morgan Stanley economists Deyi Tan, Zac Su, Jin Choi, and Jonathan Cheung.

“But there are questions as to whether if these were still so given less-effective containment of COVID-19 and less readily available technology solutions to deal with the economic impact from COVID-19, unlike North Asia counterparts,” they added.

“We expect their growth differentials to continue to improve relative to Asia excluding Japan and/or their growth momentum to stay higher compared to similar income peers,” Morgan Stanley added.

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