Philippine Economy Expands More Than 6% for Sixth Consecutive Year

by Bloomberg’s Cecilia Yap and Siegfred Alegado

The Philippines retained its position as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies after expansion exceeded 6 percent for a sixth consecutive year.

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Gross domestic product increased 6.7 percent in 2017, the Philippine Statistics Authority said in Manila Tuesday, matching the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists. The economy rose 6.6 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, slightly lower than the 6.7 percent median estimate, prompting the peso and stocks to drop.

The Philippines, one of this decade’s economic stars, is set to keep its momentum with the World Bank predicting growth of more than 6 percent a year until 2019. President Rodrigo Duterte is reforming tax laws to boost the nation’s competitiveness and raise revenue, while pushing ahead with an ambitious $180 billion infrastructure program that includes Manila’s first subway.

“The growth is becoming a lot more sustainable than people expected,” said Alice Fulwood, an economist at UBS Group AG in Singapore. “We expect government stimulus and expansion of credit to facilitate an acceleration in 2018. We would be looking at inflation and balance of trade, if they deteriorate that raises a question mark on the sustainability of growth.”

Consumer spending, which makes up about 70 percent of the economy, rebounded last quarter, gaining 6.1 percent from a year earlier, the fastest pace in a year. Government expenditure soared 14.3 percent and investment increased 8.2 percent.

The global trade recovery is boosting Southeast Asian economies, like Vietnam, which expanded 6.8 percent in 2017. Philippine exports rose 19.2 percent in 2017, the statistics office said.

Rapid expansion and a pick-up in inflation has fueled speculation the central bank may raise interest rates as early as the first quarter this year. Governor Nestor Espenilla signaled last week he’s taking a cautious approach on tightening policy.

Commenting after the GDP data, Espenilla said both the quarterly and annual growth figures confirm the underlying strength of the economy “that rests on increasingly balanced foundation.” That gives the central bank “ample policy space to stay focused on meeting its inflation target and pursuing ambitious financial sector reforms,” he said in a mobile-phone text message.

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