Puerto Rico Compass ©

Q3 2015: Recession’s Sharp Bite Continues

Puerto Rico’s sagging economy, 3Q-2015

It will take more than patience to free the PR economy from nine years of negative real growth. Failure to design and execute earlier in 2013 an effective economic plan explains in part our current situation and doing nothing is no option. It is important to understand if the continued declines in the 6 quarterly indices of HCCG for the PR economy are a cyclical phenomenon or a longer-lasting transition to a new, slower state. During Q3-2015, PR continued facing fiscal challenges with a shortfall of liquidity for payment of public debt service; a continued challenge with restructuring of the PR Electric Power Authority and other public debt; hearings before US Congress in an effort to present PR’s dire fiscal and economic situation to obtain some relief; a move to avert an upcoming cut in Medicaid and Medicare Advantage funds; and last minute amendments to a legislated 4% B2B service tax, among others. The prospect of a government shutdown is madness. All quarterly indices indicate nothing seems right. What is the right response?

Puerto Rico Compass ©

Q2 2015: Casualties of PR’s Economic Recession

A snapshot in Q2-2015

The six quarterly indices for the Puerto Rico economy have one thing in common: they are all in negative territory. The Construction index in particular continues to pull down economic recovery in the near future. Other indicators reflect consumer’s lack of confidence in a labor market that continues struggling, a suspect deflationary environment awaiting the impact of a higher SUT tax effective July 1, 2015, and a financial sector that continues downsizing. Thus the island is “not poised for a growth spurt once the fiscal cliff and payment of public debt are normalized.” Some moves in the leading index may be promising, particularly as oil prices continue to tumble and interest rates remain low. The private sector jobs have not been able to neutralize the reduction and attrition in government jobs. Housing sales are flat and do not spur new construction in the near term. Compared to the US and some of its regions, Puerto Rico’s economy continues to struggle and international financial markets are not inclined to lend to the once frequent and desirable municipal bond issuer.

Puerto Rico Compass ©

Q1 2015: Is Consumption Puerto Rico’s Lifeline?

A review of economic indices Q1-2015

Recently released data showed that real GNP in Puerto Rico fell -0.9% in fiscal year 2014. This result was more or less in line with the consensus forecast, and it represents a continuation of a recession, which started in 2007 and has lasted now 8 years. The underlying details of the six quarterly economic indices for Q1-2015 were mixed, however. The good news is that growth in the leading index reflects the impact of cheap oil prices with lower gasoline and electricity prices expected to continue in coming months. In addition, consumption of goods and services was less negative than the previous quarter. On the other hand, construction continued in negative territory with -7.6 percent on a year-ago basis. Banking and manufacturing have not improved and continue in negative territory. Overall, the economic indices for Q1 this year reflect the poor performance of the economy and the uncertainty generated by an upcoming overhaul of PR’s tax system with a proposed VAT tax of 16%. At time of publishing this issue, the Legislature had defeated this bill.

Puerto Rico Compass ©

Q4 2014: Another Turbulent Year

A year in review of 2014 quarterly economic indices in PR

Without a doubt, 2014 was another turbulent year for the PR economy. Businesses and households sadly miss the stable growing years of the late 80s and 90s. This continued state of crisis impacts householders’ and business owners’ peace of mind. Many households have lost confidence in the PR recovery and consequently, they are migrating to the US. Some businesses also are leaving the island given the uncertainty caused by proposed legislation, such as the tax reform or other laws, such as the “patente nacional” that have been approved in light of the ongoing fiscal crisis in PR. Of course it is easier for a US based firm to leave PR than for a “criollo” firm. This migration has the effect of reducing the tax base, and reinforces the continuation of the fiscal crisis. Yes, 2014 was another turbulent year with more bad than good economic news. Find out what happened to the economy in 2014 and what 2015 may entail.

Puerto Rico Compass ©

Q3 2014: Puerto Rico, The Sum of its Parts

An analysis of 3rd Quarter 2014 economic indices in PR

Puerto Rico’s economic situation raises serious questions about the capacity of policymakers to get the situation under control. Third quarter indices reveal a mixed picture. The economy continues to be stagnant. Full recovery will depend not only on internal but also on external factors originating in the US and other global economies. There is increasing dissatisfaction with local economic policies, escalating electricity prices, and persistently high unemployment. These factors, together with safety concerns and pessimism about the economic future have motivated mass migration to the US. Government has focused principally on the island’s fiscal issues, including liquidity concerns regarding the Government Development Bank (GDB). However, a perfectly balanced budget will mean nothing amidst a devastated economy. This issue addresses the urgent v. important economic issues and tracks the 3Q of the PR economy.

Puerto Rico Compass ©

Q2 2014: PR’s Demographic Crisis

Impact of population shrinkage on economic indices

Compared with other states in the US mainland, Puerto Rico ranks 38th in terms of GDP. This economy is facing yet another crisis, a demographic time bomb. In 2013 official statistics indicated that the population declined by a record 40,000 people—roughly the population of the Municipality of Vega Alta. PR’s population started falling in fiscal 2005 and is now ageing even faster. More than 17% of Puerto Ricans are already 65 or older. According to projections by the PR Planning Board, the number of PR residents will fall from 3.6m to about 3.3m by 2020. Besides an ageing population, the major cause for population shrinkage is migration. About 97% of PR emigrants go to the US. This demographic outlook presents great challenges for various economic sectors, such as, labor, real estate, retail, banking, pension retirement systems, tax revenues, and the whole economy. Find out how a declining population in Puerto Rico impacts the island’s key economic indicators.

Puerto Rico Compass ©

Q1 2014: PR Still Moving Sideways

Analysis of 1st Quarter 2014 economic indices

During the first quarter of 2014, the government remained in the eye of the fiscal storm. Despite the adverse impact of junk status of PR GO’s and other public corporations’ bonds, the PR Treasury Department and the Government Development Bank successfully sold a $3.5 billion GO bond issue. Of course, the interest paid was high but necessary, in order to fund the daily government operations and debt obligations. The current administration has also worked hard on several initiatives geared to restore growth and create jobs. Among these initiatives is the “Star Isle” tourism campaign, the Jobs Now Act, a new aeronautic cluster, and the proposed energy reform, among others. However, these valuable efforts appear to have been diluted due to a lack of coordination and difficulties to deliver a clear message. Individuals have been hard hit by utility prices and businesses face uncertainty regarding tax reform. In short, Puerto Rico still moves sideways with expansionary and recessionary policies, which cause a near zero net effect.

Puerto Rico Compass ©

Q4 2013: Time to Get Creative

An analysis of 4th Quarter 2013 economic indices

Puerto Rico’s economy continues immersed in a recession that began in 2006 and continues today with high unemployment, low workforce participation, a declining population, and challenges facing its key pharmaceutical sector. At the start of 2013, Puerto Rico had a new Governor with hopes of a long-awaited change in all branches of the PR Government and the Island economy. As of 4Q 2013 and despite great efforts to spur the economy and reduce the central government’s fiscal deficit, the situation remains challenging and requires a commitment to action both from the public as well as the private sector. As the year ended, Moody’s announced it had a negative outlook on PR’s GO bonds and its decision to downgrade to speculative (junk) status would be revisited within 90 days. As of February 2014, all three rating agencies had downgraded PR”s GOs. An analysis of 4Q 2013 quarterly indices signals it is time to be creative regarding solutions to the economic and fiscal crisis.

Puerto Rico Compass ©

Q3 2013: A Commitment to Action in Puerto Rico

An analysis of 3rd Quarter 2013 economic indices

Before the 2007 recession hit, Puerto Rico’s economy had been posting modest but positive real economic growth rates averaging 2.2% from 2002-2005. Jobs grew by 2.0% during the five years leading to the prerecession high. Real Fixed Investment was growing about 1%. Housing demand was high and created expectations that the boom would continue. Unfortunately, the positive growth turned into a bust. Housing values have declined and credit has tightened. Public debt hit an all time high of $70 b in 2012 and the US municipal bond markets have now focused on Puerto Rico and the likelihood of a debt default. Puerto Rico turned a new chapter in 2013. Although it still has a long way to go, the current Administration, only 10 months old, has demonstrated its commitment to action towards economic growth and development. An analysis of six indices for the 3rd quarter this year highlights several moves in the right direction.

Puerto Rico Compass ©

Q2 2013: Is the PR Economy on Life Support?

An analysis of 2nd Quarter 2013 economic indices

Even if the PR economy is only going through a transition, it is an extremely painful one for many. Employment trends have polarized the workforce and hollowed out the middle class. Poor job growth is still the result of a sluggish economy. Will the pressure on employment and the resulting inequality only get worse? As this issue of Compass reveals, economic fundamentals still continue to underperform after 7 years of economic recession. Many worry that even with robust demand, the construction sector will continue to struggle with underutilized capacity. Manufacturing is barely holding. We continue to expect a weak economy, burdened by the collection of new taxes. Consumer confidence is weak as rising gasoline, electricity, and water prices pull future spending to lower levels. While the banking index is not back to pre-recession levels, the recent gain is positive. Growth is likely to still lag behind most previous recoveries.