WB terms 6.3pc GDP growth as healthy
‘Yet macroeconomic vulnerabilities remain’
WB terms 6.3pc GDP growth as healthy
The World Bank (WB) has termed growth of Bangladesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) at an estimated rate of 6.3 per cent in fiscal 2011-12 as healthy as it is higher than the developing nations’ average of 5.5 per cent.
“But it is lower than the South Asia average of 6.5 per cent,” Dr Zahid Hussain, WB senior economist told the reporters Sunday at a media briefing on Bangladesh Economic Update, held at a local hotel.
However, the GDP growth rate of Bangladesh in the outgoing fiscal will be considered impressive, given the scenario of vulnerabilities in the global economic environment, according to the WB.
Mr Zahid Hussain said: “There is healthy economic growth but macroeconomic vulnerabilities remain.”
Heavy bank borrowing, declining trend in investment and volatile inflation are major threats to Bangladesh’s macro-economic stability, the WB observed.
It said there are looming uncertainties in Bangladesh’s leading export markets in Europe and the USA that are likely to affect the country’s exports significantly.
The WB said there is little room for further credit expansion in fiscal 2012.
“Achieving 17 per cent broad money growth target will require credit growth to be more than 11.5 per cent in public sector and 2.1 per cent in private sector in the last quarter of the fiscal, 2011-12 from its end-March levels,” Mr Zahid said.
The WB country director Ellen Goldstein, Director, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management, South Asia, Dr Ernesto May, lead economist Dr. Sanjay Kathuria and Communication Officer Mehrin A. Mahbub were also present at the media briefing.
Steps, the WB noted in its economic update on Bangladesh, will require to be taken to mitigate private sector crowding-out risks.
It said that industry, particularly construction and small-scale manufacturing, had driven the growth in fiscal 2012 while transport and financial intermediation led the growth in services.
“Agriculture and large scale manufacturing sectors have slowed down compared to the situation in the than last fiscal,” Mr Zahid observed.
According to the WB update, private investment rate declined to 19.1 per cent in fiscal 2012 against 19.5 per cent in the previous year.
Lead country economist of the WB, Dr. Sanjay Kathuria, said the overall investment in Bangladesh is very low while adding that it has to go up by 6.0-8.0 percentage points of GDP to help accelerate the country’s growth rate.
It said non-food inflation in Bangladesh in the outgoing fiscal was at the highest level in last two decades.
“This is primarily driven by expansionary monetary policies over the last two years,” Mr Zahid added.
The WB, however, commended the efforts by the central bank for adopting a contractionary monetary policy to help combat the inflationary pressures.
Mr Zahid said monetary policy-actions take time to bring down the rate of inflation, expressing the view that inflationary pressures will be tamed if the recent tightening policy is not reversed.
He said the good news is that food inflation has come down to 8.1 per cent in April against 13.8 per cent in September last.
Mr Zahid said the Bangladesh Bank (BB) has rightly refrained itself from intervening in the foreign exchange market and this has allowed the market forces to play their proper role.
While making the opening statement at the media briefing, country director of WB Ms. Goldstein said the WB will continue to support Bangladesh’s development efforts.
She said one challenge before Bangladesh is to effectively speed up implementation to deliver results on the ground.
She said the country’s recent economic growth is quite healthy. The spillover effects of the Eurozone and oil prices are the threats to the country’s sustained growth in the coming days, she noted.
She said Bangladesh has to prepare an effective strategy to combat the looming challenges and respond accordingly to achieve its goals.
Responding to queries, WB economists said recent ratings of Bangladesh by the S&P is quite all right. “We support it.”
Replying to a specific question about the WB’s stance on any fiscal move by the government of Bangladesh to facilitate declaration of “undisclosed money”, Zahid Hussain said: “We’re yet to know what measures will be taken about the undisclosed money under the budget.”
“But we think that the government will not take any move which will encourage the sources and areas that generate black or undisclosed money.”
The WB economists said issuing licenses for setting up new nine private commercial banks (PCBs) will create a competition to mobilise deposits.
Mr Kathuria, lead economist of the WB said: “This will add to competition for deposits and pose a challenge to the supervisory capacity of the central bank.”
He observed that regulatory reforms in the capital market to ensure a stable trading environment were underway, adding that the pace of such reforms would need to be accelerated.
He said faster progress in exploration activities in Bangladesh is needed to meet the shortage of gas supplies. Steps should also be taken to ensure access to land for investment, he added.
Mr Kathuria said public private partnership (PPP) office is being staffed by professional managers but its progress so far has still remained at a slow pace.
He said reforms in trade liberalisation relating to tariffs, para-tariffs and customs procedures should be carried forward effectively to help promote trade.
There are vulnerabilities and uncertainties mainly due to global environment, he noted while underlining the need for putting stabilisation policies in place to address vulnerabilities and reduce uncertainties for business.
He said subsidy and government borrowings should be scaled down not to crowd out the private sector.
Mr Zahid said Bangladesh has three major risks ahead. These include slowed-down export operations due to Eurozone crisis, possible decrease of remittance earnings particularly from the Gulf region, and likely hikes in petroleum prices in the international market, he added.
A significant level of higher imports of petroleum products to feed the liquid fuel-based power plants and slow export growth have resulted in the decline of Bangladesh’s current account surplus to US$ 456 million in March, 2012 from $710 million in July, 2011.
He said: “Deficit in its overall balance of payments (BoP) decreased to $419 million from $527 million in 2011.”
However, this improvement in the overall BoP deficit may be temporary, he observed.
He said improvements in infrastructural facilities and availability of energy will be necessary to attract investment.
He said the government should take longer-term measures to address effectively the problems in the energy sector.
He said the country’s fiscal deficit has widened, despite increases in revenue earnings. Recurrent expenditures are likely to overshoot the original budget target, he observed.
Agencies add: The GDP growth rate of Bangladesh, the WB in its update said, moderated from 6.7 per cent in fiscal 2010-2011 to 6.3 per cent in fiscal 2011-2012 due to unfavorable external economic situation and internal supply constraints.
Dr. Sanjay Kathuria said improving the investment climate and undertaking trade-related reforms would be needed to increase domestic and foreign investment which is essential for Bangladesh’s accelerated growth. The investment: GDP ratio in Bangladesh will have to increase to 30-32 per cent from existing 24 per cent to help accelerate the growth rate, he observed.
About measures for whitening “black money”, Dr. Zahid Hossain said, “We don’t know what scheme is coming exactly to whiten black money. There shouldn’t be any scheme what will ultimately encourage black money generation.”
He said ideological aspects and reality will have to be considered in providing any scheme to whiten black money. “The ultimate impact of the black money will also have to be considered.”
In her opening remark, Goldstein said, while Bangladesh’s most recent economic growth remains quite healthy by developing country standards, there are several headwinds that could derail growth in the near future. “Spillover effects of recession in the eurozone and oil price increases are the two headwinds that pose the most serious downside risks to Bangladesh’s growth from external sources,” he said.
She said all that Bangladesh can do is to prepare to face such risks by creating policy space, so that it can respond appropriately and in time when risks arise.
However, these are not the only risks, she noted while stating that Bangladesh’s ability to provide adequate infrastructure, energy and a business-friendly regulatory environment has also suffered in recent years. “If these issues are addressed, we feel Bangladesh will be able to overcome the impact of a weak global economy without much difficulty.”
She said the Bank Group will remain engaged to support Bangladesh’s development. “The Sixth Five Year Plan of the country is soon to enter its third year of implementation. The challenge now is to effectively speed up implementation to deliver results on the ground.”
About the continuing macroeconomic pressures, the WB update noted that overall inflation “is in double digits and non-food prices rose 14 per cent in March 2012, compared to 4.3 per cent a year earlier. This has been driven by expansionary monetary and fiscal policies.”
On the other hand, food price increases declined from 13.8 per cent in September 2011 to 8.1 per cent in April 2012 which is good news for the poor.
The fiscal deficit has increased, despite significant increases in revenue. Recurrent expenditures are likely to overshoot the original 2012 budget target, driven by larger-than-budgeted growth in subsidies and transfers.
The central government budget deficit increased by more than 2.5 times from July to January in fiscal 2011-12 compared to the situation during the corresponding period the previous fiscal, it observed.
With exports starting to decline in March 2012, pressure on the Bangladesh’s balance of payments could intensify, the update cautioned.
“Uncertainty in Bangladesh’s leading trade markets poses risks to accelerated growth. High unemployment, low business and consumer confidence, and volatility in financial sectors remain major threats to Bangladesh’s two major export markets, Europe and the United States”, it said.
In addition, the combination of current levels of inflation, fiscal deficit, and foreign exchange reserves mean that Bangladesh has very little policy space to respond to the crisis, unlike its situation during the last global economic and financial crises, it observed.
“Energy shortage poses as much of a risk to growth as do global uncertainties. The overall shortages of energy continue to deter fresh investments and expansion projects. Authorities need to proceed with longer-term solutions to the energy problem to ensure that the net additions to capacity already made can be sustained”, he pointed out.
The update highlighted the need for coordinated macroeconomic strategies. “A coordinated policy response will be essential to restore macroeconomic stability and accelerate growth. Stabilization policies will need to focus on creating fiscal space, and containing government borrowing”, it said.
“The longer-term growth outlook depends on acceleration of structural reforms to raise savings and investments rates, improve trade prospects, and ensure balance of payment sustainability. This would entail modernizing the tax regime and strengthening public financial management, and require increased tax revenues to address the large infrastructure deficit”, the update pointed out.
Growth acceleration also needs urgent reforms to address the looming skills deficit and enable a continuation of manufacturing and export growth, it added.
It observed stagnation in investment still exists due to gas and power problem and the government is paying more subsidy in the fuel sector as its import has risen.