Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Making lemonade

Business Mirror

SOMETIMES the obvious is overlooked.

As individuals treading down the path of life, we learn at a very young age that there are no “magic bullets” in life. Every accomplishment takes effort and that there are no simple answers.

I remember that over 50 years ago, learning to tie my own shoes seemed an impossible task. I keep wondering and complaining why I could not just “know how to do it” instead of having to practice and fail and practice some more.

I know now that tying shoelaces is complex and complicated, involving finger dexterity, the logic of a knot, and a whole set of other factors that, when done properly, gets your shoes tied.

For some reason though, collectively, we still tend to seek a simple, complete, and effortless solution to problems.

We look to leaders in the government for solutions because we pay them to find answers while the rest of us work for a living. Political leaders do not have to “work” so they have the extra time to be solvers.

But the leaders are chosen because of offering simple one-shot solutions. To solve the socioeconomic problems of the Philippines, all we have to do is have better education. Or end corruption. Or change Filipino attitude and behavior as the foreigners always say.

Granted that no one really believes there is a single answer to the Philippines’s problems and we all know that realistically, many improvements must be made to make the nation better.

However, my thinking is that if your problem-solving process is based on an incomplete foundation, you will never get to where you want to go.

You do realize that the Philippines is the most unique country in the world.

Because of that uniqueness, that singularity, it would make sense that virtually every economic decision starts with that fact. Sometimes the obvious is overlooked.

The Philippines is a large archipelago country stuck in the middle of the ocean. That is what is unique about the Philippines; its geography.

The only country that comes close to our situation is Indonesia, which has its own unique situation, as Indonesia is about five times larger than the Philippines in both population and size. And the Indonesian island province of Sumatra is a 30-minute boat ride from mainland Asia.

The last and only time the Philippines was a major economic player because of its geography was 400 years ago during the time of the Manila Galleon. And geography affects every aspect of the Philippine economy.

Take tourism, for example. There is nothing wrong with the Philippines as a tourist destination. So why does Thailand—a place where no one speaks the universal language of English, a population that is sometimes hostile to foreigners, and has too many polluted beaches—get four times as many tourists as the Philippines?

Thailand is easier to get to by air. Spend two days in Thailand and you can also use the rest of your week’s vacation seeing Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and even Ho Chi Min City.

So maybe, any tourism policy should start with the idea that the government needs to do any and every thing to get tourists into our airports. Maybe even an “Open Skies” policy while figuring out how to protect Filipino air transport. Government policy can initiate reclaiming all of Manila Bay and building 100 five-star hotel/casinos and it will still be easier and cheaper to go to Macau, Singapore, or Malaysia.

There is a lot of discussion about the 60/40 rule for foreign ownership. I am not sure that it is as big a problem as it is made to seem. Adjusting the “Negative Investment List” would probably make more sense. The Philippine “economic zones” have been successful in attracting foreign direct investment.

However, the one sector that is fairly investment-friendly—mining—is not at the top of the government priority list. Foreign money does not need the Constitution changed to invest a few tens of billions of dollars. Mineral wealth is also part of Philippine “geography.”

I know that these are simplistic examples. But the point is, like the saying goes, “If you have lemons, make [and sell] lemonade.”

The call-center industry is a good example of how starting with the foundation of what you have, in this case, an English-speaking, educated and Western-cultured work force, can become an economic powerhouse.

On a personal note; are you prepared for the coming Philippine stock-market boom? Or are you worried about your investments? Either way, the information and analysis you need is at mangunonmarkets.com. Browse by and check out samples of the PSE Strategy Guide and the audio Daily Market Updates.

E-mail to mangun@gmail.com and Twitter @mangunonmarkets. PSE stock-market information and technical analysis tools provided by CitisecOnline.com Inc.

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