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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Q3 2012: Striving for Economic Growth

Quarterly analysis of the PR economy in Q3-2012

With elections just around the corner, contenders are doing their best to convince voters that they have the solution for all economic issues. Promises of job creation, economic growth, and fiscal balance are everyday fare. However, economic reality is different from these political ads. None of our 6 quarterly economic indices has returned to pre-recession levels. Real GNP is 11% below FY 2006. Unemployment in September 2012 was 3.4% higher than in 2005 and the employment rate was at its lowest in three decades. Whoever wins the election will face a Herculean task of first, returning to pre-recession levels and then, recover the path to growth. Q3 results in 2012 still reveal that Puerto Rico continues to strive for growth but has yet to go some distance in order to regain even pre-recession levels of 2006. The road back to normality will require some structural changes and a vision of growth for the Island.

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Q2 2012: Why what we are doing isn’t working?

A 2nd Quarter 2012 analysis of PR’s economy

The financial crisis and associated recession originated in the US in early 2008 and its subsequent spread to Europe engulfed most of the economies in both the developed as well as the developing world. US and Europe still experience problems of high unemployment and slow economic growth. In July, the International Monetary Fund lowered its 2012 US real growth estimate to 2% from April’s 2.1%. How does this impact our economy? Puerto Rico is a regional economy of the US. Despite current public policies of fiscal austerity, increased public debt, and efforts to privatize major infrastructure facilities, the reality remains that Puerto Rico is highly integrated with the US economy (71% of PR’s exports got to the US). Without structural changes, Puerto Rico will continue to suffer the effects not only of a slow US growing economy but also of an internally slow growing economy. This issue focuses on the impact of external factors and current policies on a very open economy such as ours.

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Q1 2012: Is Consumption Coming Back?

An analysis of 1st Quarter 2012 economic indices in PR

Since 2009, Puerto Rico has attempted to regain fiscal sustainability and market confidence. We have been staring into the headlights of a protracted economic recession without gradually realigning our economy to a sustainable position of economic growth. Despite high levels of unemployment and bankruptcies, there are signs that consumption may be coming back. Consumer expenditures run at about 90% of GNP in Puerto Rico, so consumption growth will play an important part in determining the pace of PR growth. This issue presents an analysis of HCCG’s economic indices for the first quarter 2012, with particular emphasis on consumption. Has consumption recovered to pre-recession levels of 2006? How have different components of consumption performed? How long is the path to complete recovery? Also, find out how other indicators, such as construction, have also posted positive growth during this quarter.