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.

Puerto Rico Compass ©

Q1 2013: Still, An Uphill Path Ahead

An analysis of 1st Quarter 2013 economic indices

Puerto Rico has a long way to go before it can truly be considered a post recession economy. This Compass analyzes PR’s current economic conditions compared to precession levels in Q1 2006. The island economy is still fragile. The new administration in “La Fortaleza” faces daunting challenges and tough decisions to walk the fine line between fiscal discipline and economic growth. Credit rating agencies, bondholders, and the general public want to see quick results but that is not possible when the problems have remained unsolved for many years. The local fiscal year budget is due on June 30 and the current government has to choose between restrictive fiscal policies (more taxes, less spending) or try to restore growth thru expansive measures (fewer taxes, more spending) or a reasonable combination of both.

Puerto Rico Compass ©

Q4 2012: Banking Sector Plays Key Role in Growth

An analysis of 4th Quarter 2012 economic indices

Government, both federal and local, recognized the importance of the financial system. Trillions of federal funds have been directed to financial bailout programs. Since the onset of the Great Recession in the US, we have increasingly heard that the financial system was one of the main causes of the crisis. Indeed, the financial sector plays a determinant role in economic growth. This also applies in Puerto Rico, which currently has 11 commercial banks. How do these banks impact the island economy? What has been their response to the ongoing 6-year recession? What are the main drivers of bank behavior? In response, what does the economy need from banks? After all, their lending activity impacts both consumer as well as business sectors. This Compass discusses some of these questions.