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December 24, 2008

Philippines: Weak exports to hit balance of payment surplus

The Philippines' balance of payments surplus this year is likely to fall to a four-year low of $500 million with hefty remittances barely helping to offset weak exports, Reuters quoted the central bank as saying Tuesday.

There is a possibility that the surplus may shrink further next year as the global financial crisis dampens demand for Philippine exports and dents incomes of millions of Filipinos working overseas.

The central bank said remittances from overseas workers, which amount to about a tenth of domestic output and underpin consumption, are expected to grow 6-10 percent in 2009, down from the 13 percent growth to $16.3 billion estimated this year.

Central bank deputy governor Diwa Guinigundo told reporters the balance of payments should remain in surplus next year, echoing governor Amando Tetangco's comments made in an interview with Reuters on Monday. But he refrained from giving an exact estimate.

"It is difficult to say," Guinigundo said. "It will depend on how fiscal stimuli in different countries, especially the U.S., will work out and how it will improve market sentiment, and how the domestic economy will hold up."

The Philippines had a balance of payments surplus of $8.58 billion in 2007, an eight-year high.

Exports are expected to grow 3.0 percent in 2008, the midpoint of a government range of 2-4 percent, the central bank said.

Manila had originally forecast five percent growth in exports this year, down from last year's 6 percent rise, but downgraded the forecast after the global financial crisis dented demand for Philippine products, particularly electronics.

Merchandise export receipts grew 1.9 percent in the first 10 months of the year.

Imports were seen climbing 11 percent in 2008, up from 7.2 percent growth in 2007, largely due to a high oil and rice import bill earlier this year, the central bank said.

The central bank also expects the current account surplus to narrow to around $2.2 billion by year-end from last year's $6.35 billion.

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