Saturday, 8 November 2008

Thai firm invests $15M for broadband facility in the Philippines


A commercial satellite operator from Thailand has invested $15 million for its facility in Manila that will offer broadband Internet services, mainly in rural areas in the Philippines.

Thaicom Public Co. Ltd., Asia's leading commercial satellite operator that created the IPStar broadband satellite system, has inaugurated its Manila gateway, its 11th facility in the world. It tapped local firm We are IT Philippines Inc. (WIT) as its Philippine operator.

Jose Maddatu, chairman and president of WIT, said they are in talks with local telecommunications providers in the country for the lease of the facility in various provinces.

He said the IPStar broadband satellite system can cover as much as 80 percent of the Philippines and can provide broadband Internet services in schools and households located in the most remote parts of the country.

Thaicom also launched the new retail high-speed Internet package called IPStar Bigsky for the Philippine market starting at only $49 or P2,500 a month. The package includes a compact satellite dish that would enable subscribers to hook up to the main satellite.

The Thai company and its local partner target government projects, schools, enterprises and households in the provinces.

"This archipelago consisting of over 7,000 islands makes IPStar an ideal solution to provide nationwide broadband services," said Dumrong Kasemset, executive chair of Thaicom.

Kasemset said they are also negotiating with other service providers to develop and expand the broadband market in the Philippines.

IPStar currently provides broadband satellite services in eight countries including Australia, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

New airline builds P1B hangar in Clark


MANILA, Philippines - Spirit of Manila Airlines, a new Philippine carrier offering international flights from Clark, is investing in a multi-million dollar hangar project for its fleet.

Spirit of Manila president and chief executive Juan Paraiso said the $20-million dollar investment at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) marks the company's commitment in making Clark the hub for its operations.

“We are doing this to ensure the airworthiness and safety of our aircraft, and the fulfillment of our commitment to Her Excellency President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to develop Clark a leading world-class service hub in Asia," Paraiso said in a statement issued on Friday.

Spirit of Manila officially started the construction of the hangar through a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday. The facility, which occupies one hectare of the company's 10-hectare property in Clark, is expected to be completed next year.

The airline's hangar can accommodate wide-bodied aircraft like the Boeing 747-800, the Airbus A-320, and even the Airbus A-380, which is currently the world's largest plane.

Spirit of Manila is launching flights from Clark to Taipei and Macau this month. The airline is also looking at new destinations like Japan and the Middle East to serve overseas Filipinos.

"This will again contribute to the development of DMIA as an aviation center," said Clark International Airport Corp. Jose Victor I Luciano.

The DMIA is being groomed as a premier airport to decongest the old Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. It currently serves local airlines like Cebu Pacific, Zest Air (formerly known as Asian Spirit), and Southeast Asian Airlines; and regional carriers like Tiger Airways of Singapore, AirAsia of Malaysia, and Asiana Airlines of Korea.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Filipinos still spending despite global downturn

BusinessWorld Online

SEVEN IN 10 Filipinos believe the economy is in recession and five out of the same number do not believe the country can recover within a year. Despite these, however, they remain confident about their prospects and are continuing to spend on clothes, holidays and gadgets, a global Nielsen survey showed.

The Philippines was one of the seven countries — out of 52 surveyed — that increased its score in the latest Nielsen Consumer Confidence Index, gaining three percentage points to 102.

The index measures sentiment about the economy and likely expenditure and savings patterns in the next 12 months.

The Philippines’s score was 18 percentage points higher than the global average of 84 but was five points lower compared to last year.

Of the countries surveyed, South Korea posted the lowest confidence score of 36.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Filipino consumers were among the more optimistic when it came to job prospects (fifth out of 14) and personal finances (third out of 14).

The survey also showed that Filipinos felt it a good time to spend, up five percentage points which was the highest in the region.

The improved score was attributed to declining food and fuel prices and the peso’s depreciation, said to have improved the purchasing power of families of migrant workers.

"Every dollar overseas Filipino workers sent in September is 15% higher than what they sent in March, which is why people are more willing to spend now," said Benedicto L. Cid, Jr., The Nielsen Company (Philippines), Inc. managing director.

He said each Filipino working overseas likely supports a family of four, benefiting the entire country as a whole.

"People who make money from remittances are the ones keeping the economy afloat," Mr. Cid said.

The study also noted that Filipinos were less willing to invest in the stock market or in mutual funds, with the number of those likely to opt for such instruments dropping to 17% from 22% in the first half.

Filipinos were increasingly using their spare cash to go on vacations, buy new clothes, pay off debts and improve their homes, it said.

The top concerns for Filipinos over the next six months remained job security, work/life balance, and the economy.

But compared to their peers in the Asia-Pacific, Filipino consumers were said to be the least worried about the country’s economic condition.

The number of Filipino consumers that believe the economy is in recession, however, increased by eight percentage points to 67%.

The disconnect between the optimistic outlook and the negative perception of the economy, said Mr. Cid, could be largely due to access to information.

"They see prices going up, GDP falling and they associate that with a recession. They see these things happening but they don’t necessarily feel it yet," he said.

Philippine gov’t upbeat on ’09 growth

Target hinged on easing inflation, private consumption, and infrastructure
From a report by R. A. M. Rubio
BusinessWorld Online

THE GOVERNMENT IS RAISING its economic growth assumption for next year on the expectation that easing inflation will allow for increased consumer spending and more infrastructure projects.

The Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) still has to approve the figures when it meets Tuesday next week but its executive technical board has suggested raising next year’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth target to 4.6-5.5% from the 4.1-5.1% set last September 30.

The latest GDP growth range, however, is lower than the 6.1-7.1% forecast indicated in the Budget of Expenditures and Sources of Financing (BESF) that has been submitted to Congress along with next year’s budget proposal.

A source from the board said: "Inflation will drop from 2008 levels. Private consumption is expected to rise by 6-8%. There is also a 20% increase in infrastructure spending. That will push up growth relative to this year."

"There is some reconciliation we have to do," Finance Secretary Margarito B. Teves said. "We will have the final figures on Tuesday. We are firming up the assumptions."

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ralph G. Recto said "It depends on what happens to inflation. The most important issue is inflation. If we have lower inflation, we can have higher growth."

The DBCC is composed of the Finance, Budget and Socioeconomic Planning secretaries, and a representative each from the central bank and Malacañang.

The interagency group’s executive technical board is composed of undersecretaries and directors.

Inflation, or the rise in the prices of goods and services, dropped to 11.2% last month from 11.9% in September. It peaked at 12.4% in August as food and oil prices soared.

The central bank expects inflation to drop further in the coming months.

The DBCC technical executive board forecast inflation averaging 6.8% next year — unchanged from the figure approved last September 30 and as reflected in the BESF.

Exports are likely to grow by 3-5% in 2009, better than the zero growth expectation as of September 30 when economic managers discussed how the troubles hounding debt-ridden US financial institutions and their pending bailout would affect the Philippines.

Imports are seen to improve by 6-8%, up from the 5% approved on September 30 and the 10% in the BESF.

Benchmark Dubai crude is expected sell for $75-90 per barrel next year, lower than the $95 per barrel forecast made on September 30 and the $115-125 per barrel indicated in the BESF.

The peso-dollar exchange was pegged at P45-48 per dollar, weaker than the P43-45 per dollar set in the September meet and the P42-45 in the BESF.

The DBCC, said Finance Undersecretary Gil S. Beltran, has approved an adjustment in the "internal" target of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). The change was prompted by the expected lower economic growth and price of oil.

The tax bureau, normally tasked to collect more than half of the government’s revenue needs, must come up with P915 billion next year, down from the P968.3-billion target set in the BESF.

The Bureau of Customs (BoC), however, is expected to perform better due to stronger imports and weaker peso. It target was increased to P310 billion from P300.1 billion.

BIR commissioner Sixto Esquivias IV, meanwhile, said the bureau would likely collect P810 billion by yearend, lower than its P845.2-billion target, as macroeconomic assumptions did not materialize.

"The GDP growth was not as expected. It would account for P17 billion of the shortfall while P18 billion would come from the tax relief law increasing personal exemptions and exempting minimum wage earners from income tax," he said.

"These are beyond the control of the BIR."

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Philippine marvels continue to dominate list of New 7 Wonders campaign

Business Mirror

The Philippines is full of natural wonders that continue to captivate people the world over. Palawan’s Subterranean River, Sulu Sea’s Tubbataha Reef and Bohol’s Chocolate Hills continue to top the list of the ongoing New 7 Wonders campaign.

“The response of people and support from our fellow Filipinos are very evident in this turn out, and we can expect increased tourist awareness of country’s “beautiful treasures,” Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano said.

Esteemed as one of the real highlights of Palawan, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park still is at the top spot. The limestone cave that the river passes through is thought to be one of the longest navigable river-traversed tunnels in the world, and travelers say a journey into the darkness of this riverine cave is a truly unique experience.

Durano added, “Having three nominees from the country gives us a strong hope to be included in the National Qualification round, set next year.”

Following in the fourth rank is the famed Chocolate Hills, a sea of grassy hills that stretch as far as the horizon. Named so because of their chocolate-brown color in the dry season, these hills have become a near ubiquitous icon for Bohol.

Scientists explain that the 1,268 near-identical hills, with sizes ranging from 40 meters to 120 meters, are the result of the uplifting of ancient coral-reef deposits, followed by erosion and weathering.

Eduardo Jarque Jr., Department of Tourism undersecretary for tourism planning and promotions, explained, “The Philippine sites are real gems in this worldwide campaign. Our country is blessed with natural wonders that were not created or significantly altered for aesthetic purposes—a basic guiding criterion in the search.”

Protected marine sanctuary Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, ranks fifth. Divers from different parts of the world have noted its beauty and the diverse species present in the site. Among these are manta rays, lionfish, tortoises, clownfish and sharks, and many others that are endangered.

Only one nominee from a country will be allowed to proceed for the next stage. According to the organizers, until the end of 2008, countries with more than one nominee will be racing to choose the national representative that is allowed to continue.

“Though choosing between three different yet equally unique wonders may be a difficult task, Filipinos should carry on in casting their votes and making their mark,” noted Jarque.

He added that people knowing about the existence of the country’s natural wonders is one of the most effective ways of enticing them to visit.

“The Philippines is fortunate, indeed, to be rich in natural resources. We join the campaign in promoting the nature’s wonders from all over the world,” he remarked.

Guided with the slogan “If we want to save anything, we first need to truly appreciate it!,” the New 7 Wonders campaign is aimed at more awareness and more tourism income to help natural treasures be better preserved for future generations.

Following the resounding success of the New 7 Wonders of the World campaign, in which more than 100 million votes were cast and which took democracy to a global level, they believe the New 7 Wonders of Nature campaign will significantly raise awareness of the incredible variety and beauty of nature around us.

There are three major stages in the campaign: the Nomination Stage, the National Qualification Stage and the Finalist Stage, where 21 finalists will be chosen.

For the Finalist stage, the 21 New 7 Wonders of Nature Finalists will be put to popular vote in early 2009. Voting will continue throughout 2009 and into 2010. During this time, the New 7 Wonders World Tour will visit each of the finalists to allow them to present themselves to the voters across the globe.

Everyone is encouraged to view the live ranking and cast their votes online at SMS and phone voting will be phased in for the Finalist stage by 2009.

The other candidates in the top seven are: Ha Long Bay of Vietnam, second; Cox’s Bazar Beach in Bangladesh, third; Al Hasa Oasis of Saudi Arabia, sixth; and the Ganges River (India/ Bangladesh) at seventh.

Philippine Airlines cuts fares for fliers willing to forgo snacks

Roderick T. dela Cruz
The Manila Standard

PHILIPPINE Airlines has cut its fares for passengers who are willing to travel without snacks.

That became possible with the creation of PAL EconoLight Class, which is aimed at passengers on a budget on domestic routes and selected short-range Asian routes.

PAL said EconoLight Class fares were priced up to 93 percent cheaper than regular Fiesta Class (economy) fares, but designed with fewer amenities.

The airline’s selling period started Nov. 4, and the travel period begins on Nov. 10.

One-way fares of as low as P488, inclusive of all fees and surcharges, are available on domestic flights. International round-trip fares start at $48, excluding surcharges.

The flag carrier said the EconoLight Class would not serve snacks, but passengers may request water on domestic flights. On international flights, unlimited non-alcoholic beverages such as soda, juice, water, coffee or tea would be served with peanuts.

Passengers also receive a free baggage allowance of 15 kilograms each.

PAL EconoLight Class is offered on flights between Manila and Bacolod, Butuan, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Cotabato, Davao, Dipolog, Dumaguete, General Santos, Iloilo, Kalibo, Laoag, Legazpi, Puerto Princesa, Roxas, Tacloban, Tagbilaran and Zamboanga.

It is not available on routes served by PAL Express.

Asian routes cover flights between Manila and Bangkok, Beijing, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Macau, Shanghai, Singapore and Taipei.

Why rice speculators hate Arthur Yap

Alvin Capino
The Manila Standard

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap is probably the most hated figure among rice speculators.

Grain traders who had cornered the summer rice harvest by buying palay at prices higher than even the National Food Authority’s support price of P17 per kilo expected to make a killing during the traditional lean months from July to September.

However, the price spiral that they expected during the lean months did not happen. Most rice traders were already projecting that the retail price of rice would go to P60 and above per kilo since earlier in the year, the price range of rice was already between P40 and P50.

They did not expect government to put in place measures that would prevent speculators from exploiting the market. What the government did was to flood the market with affordable rice for both the marginal consumers as well as the middle class and thus prevent the rice speculators from manipulating rice prices.

Yap prepared well to enable the NFA and the Agriculture Department to ensure stable rice prices. Yap was administrator of the National Food Authority prior to his appointment at the agriculture so he knows how the grains market work.

Last summer, when world prices of rice reached record high and the domestic retail price of rice zoomed to as high as P50 per kilo, Yap launched an aggressive rice procurement and distribution strategy. He made sure that the government had enough stocks both from importation and local procurement so that the government would have enough market clout.

In order to ensure that hoarders and speculators would not be able to corner the cheap regular NFA rice, Yap went into partnership with Church-based groups and local government units to sell rice to poor families at the government-subsidized price of P18.25 a kilo. At the same time, NFA also sold commercial-quality rice at P25/kilo and premium rice at P35/kilo for the benefit of middle-income groups.

The regular NFA rice sold at P18.50/kilo is subsidized by at least P10/kilo by the government. NFA buys palay at P17/kilo but during milling, only 65 percent will be recovered and if you factor in the cost of milling, repacking, storage and transport, the actual cost to NFA of a kilo of rice is P28-P29 per kilo.

The rice speculators, on the other hand, were buying as high as P24 per kilo of palay last summer hoping that they would corner the rice supply and thus dictate prices. It meant that at this buying rate, they had to sell a kilo of rice at P34 to P35 just to break even. Since they were expecting rice to go as high as P60 a kilo during the lean months, they were looking forward to making huge profits.

But these speculators did not anticipate the government’s move to flood the domestic market with rice for both the lower and the middle-income groups. Many of the speculators were forced to unload their rice stock, which they bought high, at lower profit margins or even at a loss.

The grain traders who hoarded their rice stock in anticipation of higher prices during the lean months went ballistic and attacked Yap and the NFA for inundating the market with imported rice and thus preventing rice prices from going up.

But their media attacks failed to gain any public sympathy since it was impossible for the low- and middle-income groups who were enjoying stable rice prices to support complaints of the rice traders who only had themselves to blame for their speculative purchases of palay in order to exploit the market during the lean months.

When their anti-DA/anti-NFA campaign did not work, agriculture insiders said rice millers from all over Luzon sought a meeting with agriculture and NFA officials to arrange a “truce.” Sources say that in one of the meetings at the DA office in Quezon City, the traders pledged to lower rice prices in exchange for an assurance from Yap that the government would stop flooding the market with cheap government rice stocks.

Yap told the traders that he did not want to kill their business but the government would not allow the rice traders to exploit the market at the expense of consumers so he would ensure a balance in NFA rice supply and what the traders would provide the market.

The negative response of the rice traders and their knee-jerk reaction to lash out at Yap are understandable. After all, their profits were affected by the preemptive move by the agriculture and the NFA.

What is surprising is the reaction of sectoral representatives from the so-called progressive groups who joined the rice traders in attacking Yap, the DA and the NFA. The apparent tactical alliance between rice traders and progressive groups is really startling for many people.

The attack line of the progressive groups is that rice importation is helping foreign farmers at the expense of local farmers. However, the assumptions in such tirades appear to be a little irrational.

First of all, the progressive groups would have to admit that without import augmentation, our local supply will not meet demand—unless they can help in a campaign that would successfully convince our people to eat much less rice then rice importation is necessary.

The problem of rice self-sufficiency is also being addressed by the government and under the program being implemented by the DA, we will have 98-percent rice self-sufficiency by 2013.

In the meantime we have to import in order to ensure adequate supply at reasonable prices.

It should be pointed out that farmers and their families are rice consumers too and they as well as the urban poor are beneficiaries of stable supply and prices of rice.

The claim that rice farmers are ignored by the government is also wrong. With the wet or main harvest season in the homestretch, Yap has taken additional steps to ensure that more palay growers would benefit from the higher NFA support price, which President Arroyo ordered increased during the dry crop season to P17 a kilo from P12 a kilo last year.

At the start of the wet harvest season, Yap directed the NFA to buy more stocks from small farmers by opening more warehouses, field over 50 mobile palay-buying stations to purchase palay from farmers from remote barangays and relax quality standards so NFA can buy palay with moisture content of up to 30 percent. This was a relaxation of the previous standard of 24 percent.

Yap has also offered an incentive of P1,800—or enough to buy one bag of fertilizer—for every 50 cavans of palay that small farmers sell to the NFA.

To further help palay farmers, Yap has sought the President’s approval of additional NFA funding so the agency can double palay procurement volume this harvest season. The Cabinet in fact has doubled NFA’s purchase volume to at least one million metric tons this season, or 10 percent of the projected total harvest of 10 million tons this wet crop.

NFA insiders say that with the agency’s purchase of 10 percent of the harvest, the DA/NFA is in a good position to influence the buying rates during harvest time and thereby prevent traders and middlemen from exploiting small farmers by buying their produce to low prices despite high production cost.

Cebu Pacific to build aircraft maintenance complex in Clark

Paolo Luis G. Montecillo
BusinessWorld Online

BUDGET CARRIER Cebu Pacific will break new ground today for a $100-million aircraft maintenance facility that the company is building with a Singaporean firm at the Clark Freeport in Pampanga.

"We are positive that a world-class maintenance, repair and overhaul facility at Clark will further enhance the aerospace industry in the Philippines," Cebu Pacific Chief Executive Officer Lance Y. Gokongwei said in a statement yesterday. The airline has partnered with SIA Engineering Corp., part of the Singapore Airlines group, to build the facility. Cebu Pacific will own 35% of the company, while 65% will be held by the Singaporean firm.

Representatives from the Clark International Airport Corp., Cebu Pacific and its foreign partner are expected to attend the ground-breaking and capsule-laying ceremonies today.

"With SIA Engineering Company’s [aircraft maintenance] proficiency, we will certainly develop the local talent pool of aerospace management and engineering personnel," Mr. Gokongwei said.

He added that a heavy maintenance facility in the Philippines would enhance Cebu Pacific’s reliability and engineering quality.

The project involves the construction of three large hangars that will service long-haul commercial aircraft at a 10-hectare property within the airport. The first hangar will service narrow-bodied aircraft like the Airbus 320, while the second and third will service wide-bodied aircraft such like the Boeing 747 and 777.

The facility is expected to generate at least 1,000 jobs during the construction phase. Officials expect it to be completed by the second quarter of next year.

Trump, partners sign deal on $1-B tourism facility in Subic

Rey Garcia
BusinessWorld Online

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — Three foreign companies that include American real estate mogul Donald Trump’s the Trump Organization have signed a deal to develop a $1-billion high-end tourism facility Subic, Olongapo City.

The other two are Westgate Resorts Asia Ltd. and Heung-A Property Group of Korea.

The first phase of the project will be led by Heung-A’s wholly owned subsidiary, Subic Neocove Corp., and involves the development of the basic infrastructure and a 54-hole golf course worth $250 million. It is expected to be finished by 2011.

"We are excited about being able to combine resources with Westgate and Trump in exploring various real estate opportunities in Asia," Heung-A Chairman Yun Jae Lee said.

The project is expected to create jobs for Zambales residents during construction and for the life of the project.

The deal was signed here by Subic Neocove Chairman Seung Guk Yang, Trump Organization Executive Vice-President Michael Cohen and Westgate Chief Operating Officer Mark Waltrip.

The group is eyeing a 457-hectare beachfront property in the village of Cawag, where it plans to build hotels, residential villas, retail shops, casinos, educational and medical facilities and a convention center over 10 years.

"We hope to maximize the long-term opportunities provided by the various growth areas in this region, tapping the future growth of the area in terms lifestyle, health and real estate investment spending," Mr. Lee said.

Mr. Cohen said they would work on a more definite deal where the Trump group would be a key developer of the beachfront.

Korean Heung-A is into realty, shipping and logistics. Westgate is the largest privately owned time share company in the world, owned by David Siegel, and operates 28 resorts in 11 US states. The Trump Organization is the primary company of Mr. Trump and oversees nearly all of his business interests such as real estate, hotels and golf clubs worldwide.

Mr. Yang said they are targeting mainly long-staying tourists belonging to the high-end class from the US, Korea and other Asian countries.

He added that they want their visitors to put up their own offices here and make it their second home.

High-grade gold, silver found in S. Cotabato

Romer S. Sarmiento
BusinessWorld Online

GENERAL SANTOS CITY — A Canadian mining exploration company has found high-grade gold and silver deposits at a mining site in T’boli, South Cotabato.

Cadan Resources Corp., which operates the Tboli gold-silver project through Philippine affiliate Tribal Mining Corp., said the mine site might contain 584,000 tons of mineral deposits with 10.2 grams of gold and 50 grams of silver per ton.

In September, the company estimated mineral resources at the site at 420,000 ounces of gold and 1.6 million ounces of silver. It pegged the grade at 5.5 grams of gold and 21 grams of silver per ton.

"The latest higher grade results continue to indicate that the Tboli gold-silver resource not only appears to be larger in area. The grade also appears to be higher than [the earlier mineral resource classification]," Tribal Mining President Edgar D. Martinez said.

In a statement, he noted that there had been minimal surface exploration activity within a 400-meter area. Previous tests in the eastern side of the resource ranged from 13.37-81.14 grams of gold per ton, he added.

Tribal Mining obtained a permit to continue its exploration activities on Sept. 9 for potential development of the Tboli gold-silver project.

Canadian miner Cadan, which used to be known as Sur American Gold Corp., started underground development of the T’boli gold-silver deposits sometime later to determine the quality and quantity at the site.

The company’s mine development site straddles an area earlier contested by a native clan and a local cooperative.

The Maguan clan has sought clearance to mine the area of the T’boli Minahang Bayan Multipurpose Cooperative, which supposedly forms part of its ancestral domain claim. Consisting of small-scale mining operators, the cooperative has asked a local court that 21 hectares of a gold-rich portion of the village of Kematu in T’boli town be set aside for its exclusive use.

The land, however, forms part of the 85-hectare mining area granted by the government to Tribal Mining under a mineral production sharing deal.

Mines and Geosciences Bureau Regional Director Constancio A. Paye, Jr. said the dispute between the cooperative and Tribal Mining is separate from the claims of the Maguan clan.

Former South Cotabato Governor Hilario de Pedro III has issued an executive order apportioning the 21 hectares as the "people’s mining site" to address the row.

Mr. Paye said about 20 to 30 tunnels have been dug by cooperative members at the site over the years.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Philippine Central Bank reports on the Philippine Financial System for the First Semester 2008

Media Releases
(Click here for Philippine Banking System Financial Highlights.)
(Click here for Philippine Banking System Growth Rates.)
(Click here for Philippine Banking System Financial Indicators.)

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) recently released the Status Report on the Philippine Financial System for the first semester 2008. The report provides an account of the performance of the banking system and other financial institutions such as non-banks with quasi-banking functions, offshore banks, and trust operations under BSP supervision. Also included in the report are articles on the amended rules governing loans-to-deposits ratio of banks, rationalization of limits on real estate loans of universal and commercial banks, and housing microfinance product. The report is submitted to the President and the Congress, in compliance with Section 39 (c), Article V of the New Central Bank Act (R.A. No. 7653).

The following are the highlights of the report.

Overall Assessment

The Philippine financial system continued to stand on solid fundamentals in the first half of 2008. Market conditions were marked by the worsening subprime crisis and the slowdown of the US economy on the back of soaring world oil prices and shortages in food supply. The local environment was similarly challenging as inflation rose due to the continued volatility in oil, commodity and food prices. Furthermore, rising interest rates, a depreciating peso against the US dollar and notable investor risk aversion (as indicated by hot money outflows and a bearish stock market) were just some of the added major hurdles that banks faced during the semester in review.

Notwithstanding all these, key performance indicators showed the sustained strength of banks’ core balance sheet accounts: steady asset expansion, double-digit credit growth, growing deposit base, ample liquidity, continuing improvement in overall asset quality and solvency ratios well-above minimum norms. Banks likewise managed to register a positive bottomline, albeit with notable slowdown in terms of year-on-year growth, due to contractions in treasury gains against the backdrop of rising interest rates.

Other financial institutions supervised by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) similarly exhibited sustained resilience against the prevailing difficult operating environment.

The effects of the mortgage difficulties escalated in the first half of 2008 and took its toll on the global financial system. Exposures to subprime and the subsequent difficulties eventually led to the collapse of Bear Stearns and other global investment banks. The evident shocks now provide a timely wakeup call for market players and regulators alike to re-assess portfolios and ensure that appropriate risk management technologies are in place as an integral component of the overall corporate governance strategy.

On the domestic front, local banks appear to be positioned well to deal with the challenging external (i.e., subprime crisis) and internal (i.e., volatile prices, rising interest rates) environment. Several factors are seen to be contributing to this relative strength:

  • Lessons learned from previous crises (the last of which was the 1997 Asian financial crisis) and the subsequent regulatory enhancements of the BSP, particularly on risk management and corporate governance reforms; 
  • Banks’ aggregate exposure to sophisticated structured products has been minimal and manageable; 
  • Local banks are well capitalized with a system-wide capital adequacy ratio (CAR) of 15.5 percent (consolidated basis); 
  • There is ample liquidity in the system with liquid assets-to-deposits ratio at 51.7 percent as of June;
  • BSP’s initiatives to align its oversight to reflect market needs, including the tightening of credit underwriting standards and the rationalization of the real estate lending cap of universal and commercial banks;
  • The underlying fundamentals of the Philippine financial system remained sound and stable, aided by strengthened balance sheets through continuing asset cleanup and capital buildup.

In this era of financial globalization, however, it is important to remember that the nature of financial risks worldwide may present a clear and present danger to domestic financial systems if they remain unmitigated. Financial institutions in general have to ascribe to the highest ideals of corporate governance as financial intermediaries and fiduciary entities. Banks in particular are highly leveraged and must therefore carry the responsibility to operate soundly and efficiently.

This is also the opportune time for banks to re-evaluate their asset and trading portfolios to ensure that lending to productive but largely underserved sectors of the economy --- agriculture and microfinance, medium and small scale enterprises (MSMEs) --- are not overlooked. The approval of the Credit Information System Act (CISA) should further boost lending. Parallel to this, the BSP has issued guidelines on housing microfinance product (Memorandum No. M-2008-015) to further encourage banks to actively pursue microfinance. The availability of more microfinance products together with the growing number of microfinance oriented lenders is indicative that microfinance can also be a profitable venture and not just a corporate social responsibility.

Banking System Developments

The Philippine banking system’s performance for the first semester of 2008 speaks of resilience and early preparation. Banks’ key balance sheet accounts registered growths as highlighted by the substantial credit expansion during the period. Meanwhile, the system was able to sustain positive net profits despite the bearish treasury operations amidst rising interest rates and heightened risk aversion. In hindsight, the positive performance benefited largely from earlier financial sector reforms and long bouts of sustained profitability in previous years. These, in turn, made local banks stronger and better managed to withstand internal and external shocks (i.e., subprime crisis).

The emerging landscape has placed a greater premium on efficiency through various banking innovations to expand client reach. For instance, branch kiosks in shopping malls are being used not just for deposit generation activities but for marketing of various consumer finance products. As of end-June 2008, there were 841 banks with 6,928 branches operating in the Philippines.

Total resources expanded modestly by 7.3 percent on the back of sustained growths in deposit liabilities (3.9 percent), capital (0.6 percent) and bank borrowings (bills payable at 35.5 percent and unsecured subordinated debt at 21.5 percent). Assets remained principally funded by deposit liabilities and capital accounts and channeled mostly to loans and other financial assets.

Lending growth reached an all-time high of 25.1 percent (since the 1997 Asian financial crisis) as banks were forced to re-evaluate their asset portfolios in line with the growing risk aversion at the onset of subprime credit crunch. Outside financial intermediation and the interbank market, the ‘Top 3’ loan destinations were still the manufacturing, real estate and the automobile related sectors. During the review period, asset and loan quality continued to improve much closer to their pre-crisis levels of around four percent.

Deposit liabilities posted a modest growth due to significant drop in yields and the availability of other investment products for savers (e.g., trust products). As of end-June 2008, deposit growth slowed down to 3.9 percent from 13.9 percent a year ago. The bulk of these deposits were in peso and short-term demand, negotiable order of withdrawal (NOW) and savings accounts in response to higher inflation and general weakening of the US dollar against the peso.

There was also ample liquidity in the system as liquid assets-to-deposits ratio stayed at 51.7 percent (down from 54.5 percent) while proportion of cash and due from banks over deposit liabilities inched higher to 20.8 percent from 20.3 percent a year ago.

Banks remained solvent during the semester in review as capital adequacy ratio (CAR) was above regulatory and international standards at 15.5 percent (consolidated basis). Banks’ compliance ratio with minimum capital improved for all banking groups led by universal banks.

Finally, banks were able to sustain positive earnings for the first semester of 2008 as net profit stood at P25.1 billion. However, there was a notable softening in major profitability ratios due to a slowdown in treasury gains. The annualized earning asset yield stood at 7.7 percent, 50 basis points lower than the 8.2 percent posted in the same period last year. Other profitability ratios exhibited similar declines: the annualized net interest margin at 4.2 percent (from 4.4 percent), the annualized return on assets at 1.1 percent (from 1.3 percent) and annualized return on equity at 9.6 percent (from 11.7 percent).

President visits housing relocation project

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo shakes hands with residents of Calauan, Laguna upon her arrival Tuesday (Nov. 4) in Barangays Dayap and Sto. Tomas where she personally inspected the 107-hectare National Housing Authority (NHA)-Calauan housing project. The NHA-Calauan housing is a government relocation project for informal settlers and slum-dwellers living along creeks and riverbanks of flood-prone areas in Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela (CAMANAVA), Calauan, nearby towns and other places in Metro Manila. (Dado Aguilar/OPS-NIB Photo)

Monday, 3 November 2008

Quezon City legacy projects lined up

Joel M. Sy Egco
The Manila Standard

The Quezon City government has lined up legacy projects led by the construction of two medical facilities and a highway connecting Commonwealth and Quirino avenues.

Mayor Feliciano Belmonte said the projects would cost around P1 billion.

“It is in the bag,” said secretary to the mayor Tadeo Palma, adding that owners and operators of 15 establishments along the proposed roadway have agreed to vacate and give way to the infrastructure.

“There is no problem in clearing the area so that the link will push through to allow free flow of traffic along these routes.”

Dr. Edgardo Salud, director of the Quezon City General Hospital, told Belmonte that work on the proposed multi-million five-story medical building would start in February next year.

Also in the pipeline is the City Diagnostic Center which would rise on a 700-square meter lot near the Commonwealth market. The proceeds from the sale of the recently auctioned Ocean Theater would bankroll the contruction.

City treasurer Victor Endriga said the P91.8 million winning bid price was earmarked for the center to expand health servives to marginalized communities.

“The city government will buy the lot where the market stands,” Palma said.

The city’s legacy projects would be funded through P7 billion in savings.

Last week, Endriga announced that the treasury had exceeded its collection target by P300 million as early as Oct. 28.

Data gathered from the treasurer’s office indicated that from January to October, the revenues collected already reached P8.9 billion against the P8.5 billion goal.

Endriga expressed optimism that the coffers could reach P10 billion notwithstanding the global economic downswing.

Philippines shifts focus to organic farming

By Marianne V. Go
The Philippine Star

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said the Department of Agriculture will be providing more support to organic farming.

In a recent Senate budget hearing, Yap said the DA is shifting its subsidy program for petrochemical input to concentrate on capacity building programs that will encourage farmers to engage in organic farming and produce their own organic fertilizers.

This intensified push for organic farming, Yap said, would initially focus on providing organic fertilizer manufacturing support to farmers tilling 400,000 hectares, or 10 percent of the estimated four million hectares of palay fields nationwide.

Yap said that this production strategy shift would begin next year and would cover all of the DA’s farm productivity programs.

According to Yap, the DA budget will also concentrate on hard infrastructure programs in the last 18 months.

“We are not going to be giving soft projects anymore,” Yap said.

“So whether it’s palay, corn, high-value crops, fisheries, all of our intervention programs supported of FIELDS will be channeled mainly to hard infrastructure projects and post-harvest facilities along with agricultural extension work.”

Yap said that “in 2009, we are shifting fertilizer support to balance fertilization. Farm communities that are going to go into organic agriculture and organic fertilization, iyon ang mga tutulungan namin (they will be the ones we will help).”

Thus, Yap said, “we will help farmers produce their own fertilizers rather than buy petrochemical fertilizers.”

Yap said broad reforms have been introduced this month in the monitoring and fund disbursement systems for FIELDS intervention programs. He said the changes form part of the DA’s “continuing efforts to guarantee the prudent release of funds to its program partners like local government units (LGUs), non-government organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs), and ensure that government assistance do reach the intended farm-beneficiaries and on time.”

Sunday, 2 November 2008

RP students win 39 medals in Thai world math contest


The Philippine delegation to the 2008 International Mathematics Competition held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, from Oct. 25 to 30, garnered 39 medals, including two golds, in individual and group categories, to finish fourth among 25 countries participated in the annual event.

Thailand Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and Thailand Education Minister Srimuang Charoensiri opened the math competition, underscoring the importance of the contest, which drew 25 countries including math powerhouse China.

Dr. Simon Chua, president of the Mathematics Trainers Guild-Philippines and head of the delegation, said Filipino students, including three from Muntinlupa schools, received two gold medals, 15 silvers and 22 bronze medals.

The Philippines placed fourth among 25 countries with math powerhouse China topping the contest with 51 medals followed by host Thailand with 49 and Indonesia, 41. Trailing the Philippines are Taiwan, 37; Bulgaria, 25; Hong Kong, 23; Singapore, 16; Malaysia, 10, and South Korea, 10.

Aside from the Philippines, other countries that participated in the contest are Australia, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Bulgaria, Thailand, Canada, Laos, Malaysia, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, India, Germany, Iran, Rwanda, South Africa, and Cyprus.

The first gold was won by Ma. Czarina Angela Lao of St. Jude Catholic School, who was the lone gold medalist from the country in the elementary individual competition.

The other gold medal was won by Philippine Team A composed of Geraldine Baniqued of St. Paul College Pasig, Carmela Antoinette Lao of St. Jude Catholic School, Aileen Giselle Chua of Grace Christian High School and Jillian Kristel Sy of Chiang Kai Shek College.

Last year, the Philippines won 14 medals in the same contest held in Hong Kong.

"Our contestants rose above the challenge and proved that they can compete with other students from other countries. We at the Mathematics Trainers Guild Philippines are very happy with their outstanding performance," Dr. Chua said.

Philippine Team A bagged a silver medal in the elementary team competition. The team was composed of Austin Edrich Chua, Ma. Czarina Angela Lao, John Thomas Chuatak of St. Jude Catholic School and Aldrich Aldwin Mayoralgo of Xavier School.

Philippine Teams E and A bagged bronze medals in the group category.

The silver medalists from the Philippines in the elementary individual contest are Dielle Tio of St. Stephen’s High School, Hubert Yao of Iloilo Central Commercial High School, Sean Timothy Cheng of Grace Christian High School, Aldrich Aldwin Mayoralgo of Xavier School, Sterling Alvin Tiu of St. Stephen’s High School, John Thomas Chuatak of St. Jude Catholic School, Aileen Jennifer Cu of UNO High School, and Joelle Sophia Pena of Saint Pedro Poveda College.

In the secondary division, the individual silver medalists are Carlo Francisco Adajar of PAREF Southridge in Alabang, Vance Eldric Go of St. Jude Catholic School, Ricci Ryan Rojo of Zamboanga Chong Hua High School, Geraldine Baniqued of St. Paul College Pasig, John Russell Virata of Gideon Academy and Jillian Kristel Sy of Chiang Kai Shek College.

The bronze medalists in the individual contest in the IMC are Philip Lizarda of San Beda College Alabang, Austin Edrich Chua of St. Jude Catholic School, Andrew Joelle Caguntas of Bangkal Elementary School, Jakov Ivan Dumbrique of St. Paul College of Ilocos Sur, Martin Lewis Koa of St. Jude Catholic School, Richard Milante of Legazpi Hope Christian School, Jason Allan Tan of Jubilee Christian Academy, Arnold Lindros Lau of Xavier School, Mary Kryslette Bunyi of San Beda College Alabang, Regina Paz Onglao of St. Paul College Pasig, Carmela Antoinette Lao of St. Jude Catholic School, Evan Niccolo Lao of Xavier School, Alvin Uy Lim of Quezon City Science High School, Ervin Fredrick Dy of Chiang Kai Shek College, Elvis Jeremy Ayroso of Philippine Science High School, Arielle Elise Chua of St. Jude Catholic School, Aileen Giselle Chua of Grace Christian High School, Charles Rainier Belga of Taguig Science High School, Joel Edward Cardinal of Makati Science High School, and Sarah Jane Cua of Pangasinan Universal Institute, the youngest contestant in the Philippine Team in the high school division.

The Philippine delegation arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Friday night.

The trainers and coaches of the students are Dr. Eduardo Dela Cruz, dean of the School of Education and Normal of Arellano University; Priscilla De Sagun, assistant division superintendent of Makati; Levita Portugal of the Science Education Institute of the Department of Science and Technology; Roberto Degolacion, Joseph Wee, Manuel Kotah, Emmanuel Pena, Jonathan Glorial, all team and deputy team leaders.