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Philippine investment boom leaves neighbors in the dust

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A worker is shown at an automobile assembly line in a plant in Laguna in this July 8, 2013 file photo. Businesses turned more optimistic in the last three months of the year amid expectations of increased purchases for Christmas and improving global conditions that will fuel stronger exports, according to results of the fourth-quarter Business Expectations Survey which the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas conducted on Oct. 2-Nov. 20 among respondents representing 1,473 firms nationwide. A detail of that survey showed that there were less manufacturers than in the third-quarter survey who planned to expand in the “next quarter.” Specifically, a net 31.0% said they had such plans for the first quarter of 2018, compared to the third quarter’s 31.8% and the year-ago 31.5%. It was the lowest “next quarter” expansion plan reading in five quarters. -- BW FILE PHOTO

CAPITAL INVESTMENT in the Philippines is surging past the rest of Southeast Asia as the government and firms ramp up spending.

In the first nine months of this year, net physical assets in the Philippines grew by 10.4% from a year earlier.

That compared with a 6.9% increase in Malaysia and 5.8% gain in Indonesia, according to data from statistics offices.

There’s reason to remain bullish on the outlook.

Philippine government spending jumped by 28% in October, the largest rise in almost a year, with another record budget planned for 2018.

Companies are also joining in: Metro Pacific Investments Corp. plans to invest as much as $16 billion through 2022 on road, water and power projects, while Ayala Land, Inc. is boosting capital spending to a record $2 billion next year.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte is building a network of railroads and highways across the archipelago in an ambitious $180-billion infrastructure program.

Investment firing up adds another engine to the economy, headed for a sixth year of growth exceeding six percent and among the world’s best performers.

CATCHING UP
“The government is very committed to keep spending strong and that has maintained the robust momentum of the investment cycle,” said Eugenia Fabon Victorino, an economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Singapore.

“With growth firing on all cylinders, the Philippines is really standing out in a region where the outlook has turned more positive,” she added.

After lagging its neighbors for decades, the Philippines is catching up. Growth in net physical assets — or gross fixed capital formation — averaged 14.4% in the five years through 2016, the fastest in Southeast Asia and almost twice as fast as Malaysia, according to the World Bank.

Mr. Duterte wants to transform the Philippines into an upper-middle income country by the end of his term in 2022, and the cornerstone of his vision is a plan referred to as “Build, Build, Build.” It includes the capital’s first subway and a 653-kilometer railway to the south.

“Capital formation goes hand in hand with the focus on infrastructure,” said Jonathan L. Ravelas, chief market strategist at BDO Unibank, Inc.

“The private sector has always been investing, but now public spending is catching up.” — Bloomberg

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