Super typhoon cools Philippine economy

May 29, 2014 - 9:32:12 am

MANILA: The Philippines' roaring economy cooled in the first quarter of the year as the impacts of Super Typhoon Haiyan and other natural disasters hit harder than expected, official data showed Thursday.

Economic growth slowed to 5.7 percent in January-March, compared with 7.7 percent in the same period last year, the government said.

"The relatively slow growth is expected given the magnitude of the destruction," Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan told reporters, highlighting damage particularly to the agriculture, trade and tourism sectors.

Economists had forecast growth of 6.4 percent in the first quarter, according to Dow Jones Newswires, and the government had been targeting an expansion of 6.5-7.5 percent.

"We were expecting, like so many observers, we would hit the range of 6.5-7.5 if things were not so bad in the disruption of the supply chain," Balisacan said.

The Philippines has in recent years had one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, with rising confidence seeing the once regional laggard awarded investment-grade ratings while the stock market hit record highs.

The Philippine economy grew 7.2 percent last year, the fastest in Asia after China.

However the nation of 100 million people endured a brutal run of natural disasters towards the end of last year that claimed thousands of lives, while severely damaging vital farming, fishing and tourism industries.

The worst disaster was Haiyan, which carried the strongest winds ever recorded on land and killed or left missing more than 7,300 people as it tore across the central Philippines in November.

"There was a supply shock in the (typhoon-affected) areas. It affects different parts of the country and that makes us sometimes underestimate the effects of a disaster," Balisacan said.

In October, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake also killed more than 200 people on the tourist islands of Bohol and Cebu. 

Balisacan said the economy was expected to return to stronger growth rates from the second quarter, and expressed confidence the government's target of 6.5-7.5 percent for the year could still be achieved.

He also emphasised the first quarter result was strong compared with the rest of Asia, saying only China and Malaysia were expected to have faster rates.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima pointed out that the Philippines had now recorded nine consecutive quarters of growth above 5.5 percent, while keeping inflation under control. He said inflation was 4.1 percent in the first quarter. (AFP)

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