Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

February 2016: Can PR Remain a Going Concern?

Analysis of recent financial and economic events

On February 2nd, 2016, the PR Department of Treasury released a draft of the FY 2014 unaudited Commonwealth of PR Basic Financial Statements. Management’s Letter indicated “The risks and uncertainties facing the Commonwealth, together with other factors described in the basic financial statements, have led management to conclude that there is substantial doubt as to the ability of the Primary Government …to continue as a going concern..” Furthermore, “if the Commonwealth’s financial condition does not improve, … [it] will not be able to honor all of its obligations as they come due while at the same time providing essential government services.” This shocking statement discloses a long history of deficit financing during the past decade. Since the announcement that PR’s public debt was not payable, the island has had no access to the bond market and its liquidity problems have worsened. This issue presents an analysis of current fiscal problems and government’s proposal, which does not address the real causes of our fiscal problems.

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

January 2016: China’s Foothold in Latin America & Caribbean

Where and what are China’s investments

Since 1980, China’s economic policy was to become one of the top three economies in the world. As of 2015, China ranked second in GDP with an $11.4 trillion economy, behind the $18 trillion US GDP. Although the Chinese economy currently faces the onset of a permanent slowdown (5% today compared with its past double-digit real economic growth), that still represents more economic output than in 2007. And because the Chinese economy is so much larger now, we have seen growing amounts of investment flowing from China into Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Most of these investments have been in infrastructure and undertaken by Chinese state-owned firms. How much have they invested in LAC? Is the Caribbean soon to become a beachhead for China? China is now moving its economy from export and investment-led growth to domestic consumption and service-led sectors. Will this change represent positive or negative effects for the global economy, and for LAC in particular? Jamaica, Trinidad, Nicaragua, and Peru, among others, have benefitted from Chinese investments, then why not Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

December 2015: What if Questions for the PR Economy

Great expectations amidst irreconcilable conflicts

As 2015 nears its end and a new year is about to start, it is time for reflection. The fundamental structure of the PR economy is changing. While the contribution of services to output is on the rise, investment and productivity remain flat or even declining, wealth is not accumulating, and growth and inflation continue declining. Meanwhile, globalization has increased co-dependence in the global economy: a rising number of countries can influence the world’s economic performance and its financial stability. With no investment nor prevention of outward migration, the PR economy is in the middle of a “lost decade”. Puerto Rico struggles with slow to negative growth, a sizeable external debt, capital outflows and lack of badly needed investment. Unfavorable demographics, inflexible labor markets, and a rising outward migration pose the biggest threats to our economy. The shortcut to recovery requires orderly debt restructuring and investments faster than expected. The PR economy is weak with a continued trade-off between sustained growth and debt deflation spiral. What will it take for PR to regain economic growth? What if…?

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

November 2015: Of Sun & Sand – Is it Enough?

Challenges facing the tourism sector in Puerto Rico

November 13th terrorist attacks in Paris had a negative impact on tourism. French hotels and restaurants reported a major impact. These events highlight the need for protection from disruption to business and leisure travellers. The 2015 Global Summit in Madrid looked at how companies and destinations go on to reinvent their products, businesses and ways of working, to emerge stronger and more resilient to meet future challenges head on. Realizing these opportunities will require businesses and governments to adopt deeper levels of connectivity, openness, and trust in years to come. Today, travellers are more demanding and make their voice heard around the world, positively or negatively in minutes; and millions of new jobs in the industry will demand people skills and talent. What can PR learn from these new challenges? How do we compare with our Caribbean neighbors? Is PR ready?

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

October 2015: Quo Vadis Puerto Rico – Part II

PR’s proposal for a fiscal & economic growth plan

On October 15, 2015, the PR House of Representatives and the Senate presented bills for the fiscal and economic recovery of PR. This call to action responds to a plan for FY2016-2022 submitted by a Working Group (WG), designated by Governor Alejandro García Padilla. The plan includes several measures and calls for a Fiscal Control Board (FCB) to be appointed by Governor Padilla but all this has not yet been approved by the PR Legislature. The task of the FCB is to approve a final detailed fiscal and economic plan by December 2015. This issue focuses on analyzing the WG’s plan and its FCB. Several questions remain unanswered throughout this process. For instance, is the underlying assumption that fixing the fiscal crisis will promote economic growth? What has been the experience of fiscal control boards in the US, such as, NYC, DC, and Detroit? Where do we stand now.

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

September 2015: Quo Vadis Puerto Rico – Part I

Past, present, and future with PR’s proposed fiscal plan

On September 10, 2015, S&P downgraded PR’s GO bonds to ‘CC’ from ‘CCC-‘, signaling an imminent default. This occurred the day after the Governor’s Working Group for the Fiscal and Economic Recovery of Puerto Rico submitted its Fiscal Restructuring Plan. It called for public debt restructurings and a Financial Control Board to close the huge $28bn financing gap forecasted thru 2020. With Puerto Rico already classified as a pariah in the municipal bond market, the financial alternatives for the government to grow the economy and address the fiscal crisis have become ever more difficult. Part I of this issue analyzes how PR arrived at this situation. Why public debt and fiscal restructuring are essential to a process of economic growth. Part II will analyze the government’s proposed fiscal Plan, measures and recommendations. We will review the experience of Financing Control Boards in other US jurisdictions and the fate of Puerto Rico if the Plan does not work. How we arrived at this point warrants a historical background.

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

August 2015: Deep Cuts to Medicare Advantage

On the consequences for PR’s health care system

In 2010, President Obama expanded healthcare in the US through the Affordable Care Act. Since April 2014, more than 7 million have signed up for private coverage, thereby reducing the number of uninsured in the US to its lowest level since 2008 and significantly raising payments. To reign in the expenses, Obamacare lowered Medicare spending by $716 billion from 2013 to 2022. Of this, $156 billion comes from Medicare Advantage (MA), which lets the elderly use public money to buy private health plans. Private insurers passed along the extra subsidy to consumers in the form of additional benefits or lower fees. Obamacare sought to bring private payments in line with traditional Medicare. But now, Medicare Advantage has become increasingly popular with about three in ten Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in a private plan in the US. In contrast, this proportion is about seven in ten in PR. Insurers argued that Obamacare’s cuts would force them to raise prices or cut benefits. CMS raised payments for the states but cut 11% for PR in 2016. Find out the consequences of this decision.

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

July 2015: PR’s Future is Nearing Its Hour of Truth

The Island’s economic prospects are being reshaped by the day

A series of rapidly developing events are drastically—but not unexpectedly—reshaping PR’s development and growth possibilities. In all likelihood, the end result of the ongoing negotiations will impose strict limitations to the government’s ability to play an active role in the economy, a dramatic shift from its historical role. As a result and for the first time in PR’s modern economic history, the market will largely and freely drive economic activity in the Island. This may not be all that bad. In fact, the emerging landscape should be populated by competitive albeit small businesses, some of which will supply foreign markets. Furthermore, the economy will tend to reallocate its resources to those areas in which it can produce with competitive—and comparative—advantages and it is in this sense, that the current crisis is nurturing future opportunities. The road for the next decade may be bumpy but rewarding.

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

June 2015: Puerto Rico’s Troubled Decade Ahead

Despite coming adjustments, opportunities will emerge

The public discussion surrounding the government’s attempt to overhaul PR’s tax system coupled with fresh indications that some agencies are on the brink of insolvency is quickly shifting the economic prospects for the next decade. Regrettably, the current situation risks intensifying the ongoing migration wave which, were it to materialize, could lead to a long-lasting plateau. As it stands, population and public finances are the economy’s two most fundamental issues. To grasp this, we take a look at the unfolding long-term scenarios within the current public policy context. Next month’s issue of Pulse will follow this up by examining an alternative scenario, where public policy undergoes a significant turnaround starting in 2017. Whatever the specific outcome nonetheless, one thing is clear: economic activity will not recover without first correcting its misaligned fundamentals.

Puerto Rico Economic Pulse ©

May 2015: The PR Budget: Averting Doomsday?

An analysis of the FY2016 General Fund Budget Proposal

Governor García-Padilla submitted his fiscal year 2016 central government budget request for $9,800 million and a consolidated budget for $28,820 million in spending to the PR legislature on May 20, 2015. Both budgets involve a 2.5% increase over fiscal 2015. The Governor’s proposal relies on new and higher taxes, approved on May 29, 2015. Despite fierce opposition from some members of the incumbent and opposing political parties, Act 72 imposed an 11.5% enlarged SUT plus a megastore tax, effective July 1. However, according to the president of the Government Development Bank “…it is likely that the Treasury will not have the necessary liquidity to operate during the first quarter of fiscal 2016. The lack of cash on hand to operate the central government is exacerbated since at present the GDB does not have enough liquidity to finance the Commonwealth”. How did we get here?