Business

Are we in recession?

Camilo Thame Business Co-ordinator thamec@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, August 22, 2012    

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Jamaica may have entered into an economic recession at the start of the year.

Following on contraction in the first quarter, the economy saw 0.1 per cent year over year growth in April to June, according to the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ).

"The out-turn reflects a general weakening of the economy, due to the effects of global and domestic economic developments," said PIOJ director general Gladstone Hutchinson.

The measurement for the June quarter was much lower than the 0.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent growth projection the agency made some three months ago.

And given that the PIOJ's 0.6 per cent growth estimate for the first quarter of 2012 proved too optimistic, after final estimates done by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) showed 0.1 per cent decline, the official numbers may yet show a second consecutive quarter of decline.

Even if the estimates hold this time, unemployment levels of 14.3 per cent in April was 1.6 per cent higher than the average in 2011.

The more popular definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of decline, but a 1.5 per cent rise in unemployment over 12 months is another measure.

The 180,000 unemployed was also the highest level recorded since January 2000.

The planning agency is projecting that the economy could contract by as much as 0.5 per cent for the current quarter, which ends in September 30, albeit, with the possibility of 0.5 per cent growth on the more optimistic side of the forecast.

Hutchinson was unwilling to take a stab at how the economy would look after the end of next month. Neither could he say when he expected the stagnant, if not recessionary economic environment would improve.

The growth projections for the September quarter are based on continued expected growth in telecommunications as the volume of minutes sold is expected to grow, due to intensified competition among the providers.

Also, continued growth in tourism, due to expected strong growth in arrivals and visitor expenditure associated with Jamaica 50 celebrations, was expected.

On the other hand, developments in the euro zone are expected to continue to temper external demand for Jamaica's goods and services, particularly for bauxite and alumina.

Drought conditions in major grain producing countries, which have resulted in a sharp rise in commodity prices, and a more active hurricane season going forward, could also affect economic outturn negatively.

Hutchinson believes the economy is now going through transformation and modernisation, which he says will eventually form the foundation for sustained growth in the future.

The planning agency head also attributed job losses now to the very same economy in transition.

"Nine of the 16 industry groups reported lower levels of employment, compared with the average levels recorded for 2011," he said. No labour survey was done in April 2011 to compare more recent statistics with.

The largest number of job losses occurred in construction, which had 7,167 fewer persons employed in April compared to last year's average; wholesale and retail trade, down 4,633 persons; and education, down 4,433.

Housing starts declined by 81 per cent, from 2,100 to 400 units, while the total volumes of mortgages fell by 30 per cent, from 2,900 to 2,043 loans.

Other industries, such as hotel and restaurants, grew to push overall growth to 0.1 per cent.

The real value added for the hotels and restaurants industry grew by 5.2 per cent, as stopover arrivals climbed by 6.2 per cent and cruise passenger arrivals increased by 7.2 per cent.

Visitor expenditure increased by an estimated 6.8 per cent to US$516.7 million, according to the PIOJ.

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