Filipino consumer confidence surges in 4th quarter 2014

Filipino consumer confidence surges to a five-point increase in the fourth quarter of 2014, pushing the country to the number two spot with Indonesia as the most optimistic countries globally, according to the latest Consumer Confidence Index of Nielsen, a global information and measurement company.

The Nielsen Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions also reveals five of six Southeast Asian markets register a confidence index above 100 percentage points (pp). Consumer confidence levels above and below a baseline of 100 indicate degrees of optimism and pessimism.

With an index score of 120 points, the Philippines reaped one of the largest quarterly increases globally at+5 percent per last quarter. The Philippines now shares the second spot with Indonesia, with an index score of 120 in the fourth quarter of 2014.

India holds on to number one with 129 (+3), the highest index across the 60 countries measured.  Thailand came in fifth with an index score of 111.

Consumer confidence levels in Vietnam (106 points) and Singapore (100 points) also remain relative strong. In contrast, consumer confidence in Malaysia stood at 89 points, which was down 10 percentage points on Q3, the largest quarter-on-quarter decline globally and seven points below the global average of 96 points.

“The spike in consumer optimism is a result of several key developments,” observes Stuart Jamieson, managing director of Nielsen Philippines.  “One of which is the continuous expansion of the business process outsource (BPO) industry which provides the bright spot in the Philippine economy.”

“Related to this, unemployment was also found to be at its lowest in 10 years as a result of a growing economy. Such factors are major influencers in further expanding the middle class or the new consumer class who spend on technology, real estate, consumer and retail goods, and travel.”

The Nielsen Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions, established in 2005, measures consumer confidence, major concerns, and spending intentions amongst more than 30,000 respondents with Internet access in 60 countries.

While 79% of Filipino respondents feel bullish about the state of their personal finances over the next 12 months and 50% perceive that it is a good time for people to buy the things that they want and need, Filipino consumers along with consumers across Southeast Asia continue to be among the world’s most avid savers. More than three in five Filipino respondents (63%) say they prioritize saving their spare cash, compared to 69% of consumers in the region and 43% globally. Consumers in Vietnam are the highest globally (77%) when it comes to savings, and Indonesia ranks third globally (70%). Consumers in Malaysia (67%), Thailand (63%) and Singapore (62%) follow closely.

Besides savings, Filipino consumers (32%) along with those in Singapore (31%) are focused on clearing their debts and loans while about a third of Malaysians (33%), Indonesians (32%) and Thais (30%) are channelling their spare cash into stock/mutual funds.

“It is a positive indicator of financial health when you see consumers who are conscientiously planning their financial future,” says Jamieson. “As disposable income becomes more readily available than before, consumers have the capacity to boost their savings and to invest their spare cash, driving greater demand for banking and finance services.”

Jamieson clarifies that while establishing financial security takes center stage for consumers in the Philippines consumers are spending to a degree. After putting spare cash into savings, 35% (-2) of Filipinos spend on new clothes, 32% on home improvements (+3), 29% on holidays (+1) and 29% new technology products (+1).

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Philippine economy grows 6.9% in 4th quarter of 2014

The Philippine economy grew by 6.9 percent in the last quarter of 2014, pushing the average full-year growth to 6.1 percent, and maintaining the country’s path of high growth. The fourth quarter and full-year growth is above the market expectation of 6.0 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively.

Economic Planning Sec. Arsenio Balisacan said the Philippines was the third fastest growing economy next to the People’s Republic of China with 7.3 percent and Vietnam with 7 percent.

“On a full-year basis, our country ranked second next to China with 7.4 percent and slightly higher than Vietnam with 6 percent.  With this upbeat year-end performance, the economy is anticipated to gain further traction in 2015,” said Balisacan.

Balisacan noted that growth in the fourth quarter of 2014 is broad-based as all three major productive sectors – the agriculture, industry, and services sectors – have shown positive and robust growth during the period.

He also cited the recovery of the agriculture sector, which significantly grew by 4.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 from the 0.9 percent growth in the same period in 2013.

The industry sector grew by 9.2 percent in the fourth quarter, its highest in the last six consecutive quarters since the third quarter of 2013.  The services sector also grew by 6.0 percent in the fourth quarter, the same growth for the 2014 full-year average.

“These numbers show the sustaining and reinforcing dynamism from the private sector that is contributing to the growth of the Philippine economy amid various challenges it faces. Thus, maintaining and increasing this level of business confidence is always an utmost priority of the government,” said Balisacan.

Agricultural production accelerated mainly due to the rebound in crops and fisheries output. Crop production, which accounts for about 50 percent of total agricultural output grew by 5.7 percent, coming mostly from palay and corn.

Most areas that reported higher palay and corn output benefited from moving the harvests in the third quarter to fourth quarter for a more favorable weather condition. The higher output could also be attributed to the increased usage of high-yielding seed varieties, said Balisacan.

Balisacan said that the services sector remained the largest contributor to growth, followed closely by the industry sector. Growth in services improved relative to the 2014 third quarter growth with a recovery in public administration, transport and communications, and stronger growth in real estate, renting, and business activities, which include BPOs.

The acceleration in industry growth was due to the double-digit expansion in construction, even as manufacturing remained as its biggest growth driver. Compared to previous quarter’s 7.6 percent growth, the pick-up in construction pushed the industry sector’s growth rate higher as both public and private sectors sped up implementation of projects, with public construction reversing its negative growth. For private construction, major developers remained bullish due to continued strong demand for office, retail, and residential space.

On the demand side, the robust private consumption during the quarter was mainly on account of higher purchases for food and non- alcoholic beverages, durable equipment and private construction.  It was also buoyed by the rising number of employed Filipinos, which grew by 2.8 percent to 38.8 million from 37.8 million a year ago, based on the October 2014 round of the Labor Force Survey (LFS).

Exports grew by 15.5 percent in the fourth quarter and a full-year expansion of 12.1 percent relative to the previous quarter’s growth of 9.9 percent. Exports of goods increased by 15.9 percent from 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 as positive developments in the global manufacturing sector were seen.

Balisacan said the faster growth in exports of services to 14.1 percent from a 6.7-percent decline came mainly from the business process outsourcing or BPO sector. Currently, the industry employs 1.052 million Filipinos and by 2016, the sector targets to achieve 1.3 million full time employees and US$ 25 billion in revenues.

He stressed that the government stood by its commitment to ramp-up and catch-up with its spending in the last three months of 2014. This was evident in the 9.8-percent increase of Government Final Consumption Expenditure in this period compared to the 2.6-percent contraction in the third quarter of 2014 and from a 0.4-percent contraction in the last quarter of 2013.

“Despite this notable performance of the economy, we remain vigilant against risks from the global front. Current global economic conditions still exhibit mixed signals influenced by critical developments such as  sluggish world trade, muted commodity prices, and rising interest rates and risk spreads in many emerging market economies, in contrast to the persistently low interest rates in major advanced economies.”

“The sharp deceleration of petroleum prices beginning the second half of 2014 is benefiting oil-importing economies but is tempering the growth prospects of oil-exporting countries. The net effect to global growth, however, is positive,” said Balisacan.

Balisacan expects the economy is likely to draw its vigor from the domestic front. The agriculture and fishery sector is seen to continually grow due to rice and corn yield improvements, resurgence of fishery, and the moderate expansion of livestock and poultry.

The manufacturing industry will rely on buoyant exports, robust domestic demand for manufactured goods by rising household incomes, fuelled partly by overseas Filipino remittances, and the rise of election-related spending, said Balisacan.

“The surge of private construction is expected in residential projects and office space. Services will be bolstered by soft oil prices, vigorous domestic trade, strong financial intermediation, vibrant BPO industry, and significant international meetings that will transpire this year.”

On the demand side, household consumption will likely remain buoyant, supported by better employment opportunities and remittances. Investment will largely be fuelled by the capital expenditures of big firms in the country, and the catching up of the government on its infrastructure program, including reconstruction in disaster-hit areas, will further drive the sector’s growth, Balisacan added.