PPP vs. ODA, Part 3

* This is my article in BusinessWorld on June 30, 2017.

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This is a continuation of two earlier pieces I wrote about that compared two funding schemes of government infrastructure projects in the Philippines — through public-private partnership and official development assistance.

In this vein, I wish to correct the numbers I previously cited in my second piece, entitled “PPP vs. ODA: Part 2.” I wrote that “Vaughn Montes cited the big contrast between ODA-funded SCTEx and the PPP-funded TPLEx. SCTEx… cost nearly twice at $32.8 billion vs. the approved budget of $18.7 billion or P341 million per kilometer. TPLEx cost only P61 million per kilometer.”

Recently, Dr. Bong Montes sent me his presentation during a Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) meeting. The correct numbers about SCTEx are: Cost overruns are from P18.7B to P32.8B; Cost per kilometer is P349M vs. TPLEx P274M. Thanks for this, Bong.

The same presentation indicated a summary of the delineation of risks and values between Public Private Partnership (PPP) funding and government funding (see Table 1).

The main beef of PPP project funding therefore is the transfer of significant risks to the private sector. The shared risks for both private and government are bankability and force majeure.

The “hybrid PPP” plan of Dutertenomics is to award the construction of many big infrastructure projects via foreign aid or Official Development Assistance (ODA) mostly from China, or the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA), then invite local private operators later for the operation and maintenance (O&M).

This plan will invite big current and future controversies for the following reasons.

One, private O&M operators will not take over a facility that they did not design and construct without prior intensive due diligence. If project quality is poor and thus O&M will be high, then bidders will demand high prices for the O&M. The government-contracted construction company (from China) may have undercut the design and quality to maximize profit and potential kickbacks and leave the headache of high maintenance costs to the separate O&M operator/s.

The most optimal scheme is a straight, integrated PPP funding from design and construction to O&M. The private party mobilizes its internal financial muscle and borrows to fund capex, and make sure that construction is of high quality so that O&M will be lower. As a result, the public and the taxpayers benefit, which also means a lower tax burden to pay for the project cost. Moreover, frequent users of the facility will pay every time they use it and taxpayers from far away provinces and regions who seldom or do not even benefit from it will not be burdened.

Two, Dutertenomics’ sudden pivot to China ODA is highly anomalous because China is not exactly a good source of foreign aid even in the recent past. Its share in total ODA in 2014 and 2015 (latest data available from NEDA) is miniscule, only $123M out of total $30.08 billion (see Table 2).

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Only ODA with at least $70M in two years are included here. Other sources of ODA at smaller amount are Austria, Spain, Norway, New Zealand.

Three, PPP projects are generally the fastest way to do things compared to ODA funding, especially China ODA. Project development to groundbreaking takes 27 months through the PPP, 37 months through Korean ODA, 38 months through Japanese government funding, and 40 months on Chinese aid.

The most famous tollway in the Philippines, the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) was built via World Bank ODA in the 1970s. O&M is private, currently the Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC). The independent design checker and certification engineer on its rehabilitation is Norconsult Philippines, probably the first Norwegian company to do business in the country since the ’70s. NLEx toll fee of around P2.50/kilometer from Sta. Ines to Balintawak is the lowest among the many tollways in the country.

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PPP vs ODA, Part 2

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last week.

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“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”
— Thomas Sowell (US economist and political philosopher)

This paper is a continuation of the same topic in this column last June 8. To summarize previous arguments:

  1. User-pay principle via public-private partnership (PPP) means only those whose the service or facility will pay for its construction and maintenance. As a result, the rest of the population in other parts of the country will be spared of such cost.
  1. All-taxpayers-pay principle means projects are paid by current taxpayers through the annual general appropriations act (GAA) or by future taxpayers through official development assistance (ODA). Taxpayers from Visayas and Mindanao will also pay for toll roads, dams, airports even if they hardly use these since these are located in Luzon.
  1. It is not true that infrastructure projects funded by official development assistance (ODA) and/or taxpayers through the GAA are more beneficial to the public than PPP-funded projects. Iloilo Airport — which was funded by ODA — took longer to build and incurred cost overruns compared to the PPP-funded Mactan-Cebu Airport, which remains on schedule despite initial delays.
  1. There are inherent problems and risks to the public under GAA- and ODA-funded projects since ODA funding normally has strings attached. Thus, a project funded by China ODA may require the government to hire Chinese contractors, suppliers, managers, and even workers.

We now add more reasons why the Dutertenomics’ shift from PPP to ODA (mainly from China) funding of its build-build-build plan is unwise and risky.

  1. In a Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) forum two weeks ago, finance expert Vaughn Montes cited the big contrast between ODA-funded Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) and the PPP-funded Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx). SCTEx took seven years from government approval to completion, two years delayed, and cost nearly twice at $32.8 billion vs. the approved budget of $18.7 billion or P341 million per kilometer. TPLEx cost only P61 million per kilometer.
  1. Investor confidence in the Philippine economy has gained momentum compared to some of our neighbors in the region and it is not wise to constrain such confidence by ditching many PPP projects and shift to ODA and GAA funding.

The expansion of FDI in the Philippines from 2000 to 2009 (last year of the Gloria Arroyo administration) was not significant (less than twice). However, during the same period, FDI expanded almost five times in Singapore, about four times in Indonesia and Vietnam, about three times in Thailand, Cambodia, South Korea, and Taiwan.

But from 2009-2015 or just six years, FDI in the Philippines expanded two and a half times while there was only two times expansion in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar; and less than two times expansion in Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan. It is this kind of investor confidence and momentum that can greatly propel the Philippines into more investments and job creation, faster growth and infrastructure buildup.

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  1. The government’s PPP Center noted that “most PPP bids received in recent years have come at lower than the approved government costs. If in the instance that actual project costs turned out higher than approved government costs, the private sector partner assumes or shoulders cost overrun risk.”
  1. 201706146745fThe China government is the least trustworthy source of ODA funding considering that it is acting belligerently and aggressively in bullying the Philippines and other ASEAN neighbors that have claims over the many islands and islets in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea (WPS). Note also that recent China-funded projects in the country were notoriously scandal-ridden — North Rail and National Broadband Network (NBN)-ZTE projects.

The insistence of the Duterte administration to compromise the income and savings of Filipino taxpayers — even if there are many big private investors, local and foreign, that are willing to shoulder the costs and risks of infrastructure projects — may result in shenanigans and large-scale corruption.

And its consistent pronouncement of relying more on the money and contractors of the bully state across the WPS would further weaken the Philippines’ territorial claims to those islands and exclusive economic zone and weaken the rule of law.

Honest minds in the Duterte Cabinet should remind the President of the economic and political dangers that it is treading on.

US and China stockmarkets, huge divergence

One year until yesterday, US vs China stocks, below.

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What does this mean: that global investors have rising trust of the US economy but flat or rising distrust of the China economy? More trust in Trump policies but less trust in Xi policies?

I checked CNN and BBC’s business sections, seems they did not make any report of this. NYT has one. https://www.nytimes.com/…/19reuters-usa-stocks.html

CNN, BBC, NYT, others are among the top anti-Trump media outlets.

The report says it’s the tech and health companies that were the main attractors,  http://www.foxbusiness.com/…/wall-st-hits-record-highs

Then there’s this news, “Oil falls to seven-month low on more signs of growing crude glut.” This could mean that US shale producers are gaining the upperhand over OPEC countries, so back to low world oil prices. I’m waiting for sustained below $40/barrel in the coming few weeks or months. http://www.foxbusiness.com/…/oil-falls-to-seven-month

I checked Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index, while the China stocks are declining, HK’s are rising, faster than the growth in US stocks actually.

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I am a non-finance guy so I asked several friends about this development, including my friend in HK, Andrew S. if this means that there is a growing divergence in investor trust between the economies of the mainland and the HK SAR.

Andrew offered a different perspective. He said that “Of the 10 biggest companies that make up the hang Seng index.  Probably less than 5% of their combined revenue/profit comes from Hong Kong.  The Hang Seng Index is of zero value as a reflection of HK’s economy.”

I’m inclined to believe that the HK stock market has a positive, non-zero value to the overall HK economy because there is more rule of law, more policy stability in HK market than say, the PH or TH or ID or MY markets.

Mr. Trump has been making plenty of economic, fiscal, energy policies that almost reverse the 8-yrs policies of Mr. Obama. I am curious if Trump’s policies were factored in positively by investors in the US stock market. Like the recent decline in world oil prices as reflection that Trump’s energy policies are doing positively for the US. Shale oil frackers, coal producers, they are improving. And manufacturing, transport firms that are energy-intensive like airlines.

From a WSJ oped last week, June 15:

“Remember the “energy independence” preoccupation of not so long ago? The U.S. is now emerging as the world’s energy superpower and U.S. oil and gas exports are rebalancing global markets. More remarkable still, this dominance was achieved by private U.S. investment, innovation and trade—not Washington central planning.

Thanks largely to the domestic hydraulic fracturing revolution, the U.S. has been the world’s top natural gas producer since 2009, passing Russia, and the top producer of oil and petroleum hydrocarbons since 2014, passing Saudi Arabia.

Trump’s reversal of Obama energy policies is a big contributor to this. More shale gas and oil, more coal, production and exports. To surpass Russia in gas production and surpass Saudi Arabia in oil production is one big achievement.

From the reports, biggest gainers yesterday were some pharma firms since Trump is trying to get rid of Obamacare. Like United Health Group, up 14.5% since Nov 6 2016.

Meanwhile, China’s market is “very very expensive for a long while” according to another friend, Peter A. This means the bubble is slowly crashing already? Hard to predict because China’s communist government will never allow Freedom of information, will hide the real data.

More globalization means more mobility of capital, labor and technology to markets worldwide that have more rule of law.

Japan and China courting the Philippines

japHere’s a news report from forbes last January 14, 2017. I think both will win. Both will have greater access to the PH’s

(a) big, young population as consumers or needed migrant labor,

(b) SE Asia’s fastest growing big economy since about 2009,

(c) nice tropical tourism destination for their people,

(d) both have quarrel over a small island that’s obviously closer to Japan than China, so both have issues over international rule of law,

(e) both have ageing population, so both would need an infusion of young migrant labor from the PH, today or tomorrow.

While many support the state-sponsored population control (aka RH law to prevent “unwanted pregnancies” that become “unwanted babies” that become “unwanted workers” and entrepreneurs someday?), the Japs, Europeans, etc. envy the PH’s big, young population. https://www.bloomberg.com/…/japan-turns-to-asia-s

(f) Both have huge, big governments that are heavily indebted (220%+ of GDP for Japan, 40%+ for China but if the debt of their state corporations and banks, local governments, private corporations are included, about 240% of GDP). So both will need the money of middle class and rich Filipino tourists who can afford to travel to more countries around the world.

China belligerence to hide insecurity

* This is my article in BWEconomicForum last December 14, 2016.

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ON OCCASION, a fraternity gets big enough such that its members begin to establish cliques of their own, causing disunity in the organization. This, in turn, prompts the officers to initiate a “rumble” with another fraternity. As a result, cliques are set aside and the frat moves as one in protecting their brods or beating up members of the other fraternity. This same logic may apply to China.

One of my dormitory roommates, a member of a fraternity, told me that anecdote while we were both students at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. While fraternities would seldom or never admit publicly that they initiated a rumble, it nevertheless is common knowledge to some members.

The same strategy may have been practiced by China in its continuing belligerence, particularly over secessionist regions and territories that it presumes to claim. The government in Beijing is increasingly becoming insecure with its more informed, more assertive citizens who dislike central planning and government-led intimidation. Some irreverent or potentially secessionist regions keep asserting their aspirations so it acts belligerently and court regional or global fallout in the process.

During the BusinessWorld-PAL ASEAN Regional Forum held last Nov. 24, one of the sessions was “The South China Sea or West Philippine Sea: The Economics of Competing Territorial Claims.” Speakers were Bonji Ohara of Tokyo Foundation, Thanh Hai Do of Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, and Dindo Manhit of Stratbase-Albert Del Rosario Institute in Manila.

The three speakers talked about non-military, non-confrontational schemes to resolve the territorial dispute. Rightly so. An insecure government like the China Communist Party (CCP) that bullies its own citizens will have no hesitance to bully other countries with smaller military capabilities.

What are the sources of insecurity by the CCP? First and foremost are the vocal and assertive potential secessionists.

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Insecurity driving China’s hostility in territorial rows, secessionist areas

The election of Ms. Tsai Ing-wen (DPP) in Taiwan last January has temporarily jolted the CCP and sounded another round of belligerence. Hong Kong pro-independence activists never went away, as shown by the Umbrella Revolution two years ago to the recent election of young legislators who are openly campaigning for HK independence from China.

The Uighur activists have figured in violent and fatal attacks in recent years. XUAR shares borders with five Muslim countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And there are other potential rebel areas too like Macau and Manchu.

Second, a debt-fueled economy propped up by cronyism and dictatorship. As of 2015, China’s debt (government household + corporate debt) has reached 280% of gross domestic product (GDP).

Two papers have made the following observations:

“Unsurprisingly, the lion’s share of the money has been funneled into China’s immense state-owned enterprises, which largely explains why they hold an outsize share of the country’s corporate debt,” John Minnich said in a piece entitled “China’s economic problems will come to a head in 2017,” published in Market Watch on Nov. 23. “(State-owned companies account for over 55% of that debt, despite contributing only 20% of GDP.) It also explains why, by comparison, China’s central government has an unusually low level of debt. (Beijing’s debt equaled only 22% of GDP in 2015.)”

Similarly, in a May 10 piece for Fortune Magazine entitled “China’s Government Says It’s Over Debt-Fuelled Growth,” Scott Cendrowski said that: “[C]redit ratings agency Moody’s noted that China’s total debt has climbed to 280% of gross domestic product, including China’s state-owned company liabilities that totaled 115% of GDP at the end of last year. For comparison, in Japan and South Korea, which also have large government-owned sectors, SOE (state-owned enterprises) liabilities were 31% and 29% of GDP in 2014.”

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Insecurity driving China’s hostility in territorial rows, secessionist areas

Third, rich and intelligent people are leaving China, with a potential to come back as new reformists or outright becoming members of the opposition.

There was one survey in 2015 showing that more millionaires leave China than any other country in the past 14 years.

Here is another observation from the Wall Street Journal, two years ago: “China’s culture of corruption and abuse of power is a major reason so many of the country’s rich want to leave. A Barclays survey released Monday found that 47% of Chinese with more than $1.5 million in assets are planning to emigrate, and this is consistent with past research. Developed-country programs that allow investors to essentially buy residency continue to attract waves of Chinese,” Hugo Restall said in a piece entitled “China’s Unhappy Rich” for the WSJ’s Sept. 17, 2014 edition. “Many of China’s brainiest young people also want out. According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, the annual number of students who go abroad for study and don’t return reached 70,000 in 2012….”

The CCP’s insecurity should rise through time because their own citizens inside and outside China hate heavy restrictions and dictatorship. To hide or temper this insecurity, China will try to be belligerent to hype up nationalist sentiments from its people.

China imploding someday, perhaps in one or two generations, will be a welcome news for the world. China may also break up into many new countries and governments. The main country may remain under the communist party, similar to what happened in the former USSR. But the newly formed countries will be more democratic.

President Duterte and ‘Pakyu’ EU

These are news reports from September 21 to 23, except the news on “Killings prompt ‘hesitation’ among European investors” which was published a month earlier, August 2016. I also include here the fb postings by a friend, famous commentator Bernard Ong. No further comments from me.

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From Bernard Ong, September 21, 2016:

“China supplies almost 100% of the shabu to the Philippines. Coddles the international drug lords & their syndicates. Takes over our seas & reefs. Chases Pinoy fishermen away from their traditional livelihoods. Corrupts our local officials to extract minerals in irresponsible manner.

Sounds 1000x more damaging than other countries urging the Philippines to respect universal human rights. Something we ought to be doing without anybody’s prodding.

If you must say Pakyu. Be brave, be smart. Point your Pakyus in the right direction.

Pity the die-hard followers who have to switch-on & switch-off their anti-US hatred and pro-China/Putin love.

Those who don’t suffer from mood swings due to drugs, bipolar & other conditions will find it hard keeping up with whom to bash & whom to praise. Last time I checked, the Mochas & Sassots & ThinkingPinoys that feed their confused minds are still on bashing the West (govt, media, human rights) mode. Those guys have not received the memo. Slow. Andanar is sleeping on his job.

My suggestion to die-hards is not to wait for clues from Idol’s speeches. Flip-flops do not provide useful guidance.

Just think for yourself. Think of what is best for the Philippines. Key word is think. Then you won’t bash the UN, US, EU, international media. Not that they are saints. But it is against Philippine interest to do so – we risk losing a lot (investment, aid, trade, tourism, jobs, defense) for the shallow pleasure of petting one man’s ego and venting anger. High cost, high risk, no benefit.

Ignore the leader’s mood swings. Better yet, correct him when he goes off course. Maybe he will listen to you.”

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“EU is the Philippines’ biggest foreign investor with an FDI stock of over 366 billion pesos.

EU investment is distributed among 600 companies, employing about 400,000 Filipinos, in relatively higher-paying jobs, in sectors like energy (e.g. Shell), manufacturing (e.g. Loreal, Unilever), finance (e.g. Deutsche Bank).

EU invests almost $400B overseas each year. Philippines gets only 0.1% of that. Could easily double or triple with our market potential – IF we don’t create the perception of risk by behaving like a rogue nation ruled by thugs instead of laws.

To make these numbers digestible: If the Philippines misses out on $3 billion investment in next 6 years, that means 60,000-120,000 fewer high-paying jobs, less income, less buying power, less taxes, less money for infrastructure. There are multiplier effects. Ignore at your own peril.

So “Pakyu EU”. Close the lights on your way out.”

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China’s debt, central planning and central crashes

* This is my article in BusinessWorld yesterday.

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“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” — Friedrich Hayek.

One of the characteristics of centrally planned economies like China is that officials and planners centralize many resources, which creates centralized expectations from the people, and since planners’ egos cannot really plan and control all factors, this often results in centralized economic dislocation, disappointment, and anger.

Take the case of China’s debt.

Officially, China has a gross public debt/gross domestic product (GDP) ratio of only 41% in 2014, manageable and just slightly higher than the debt/GDP ratio of Taiwan and South Korea (38% and 36%, respectively). But China has more debt that what it will officially admit.

A report by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) said that China total borrowings (individuals + companies + local and central governments + state enterprises) was 282% of GDP in 2014, higher than the debt ratio of the US, Germany, Canada, and other big economies. (See Graph 1)

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High debt, private and public, will always create financial turmoil, today or tomorrow. Especially in a dictatorship that abhors political competition and yet wants to mimic economies that allow market and political competition.

This was discussed in “The Chinese Financial Crises and their Impact on Asia,” one of the panel discussions during the recently-concluded “Asia Liberty Forum” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from Feb. 18-20. The session was chaired by Prof. Christopher Lingle of the Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala. The speakers were Dr. Carmelo Ferlito, IDEAS Senior Fellow, Malaysia and Adjunct Faculty Member at INTI International College Subang, Malaysia, Andrew Shuen of Lion Rock Institute, Hong Kong, and Dr. Mao Shoulong, Renmin University, also of Unirule Institute, China. These three independent think tanks — IDEAS, Lion Rock, and Unirule are all members of the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia. (See Graph 2)

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In his presentation, Carmelo Ferlito noted that from 2003-2008, China’s total debt was stable to declining at 170% of GDP, then by 2009, it exploded and kept rising. He further noted that “a lot of this debt is sitting in local governments or state-owned enterprises. There is assumption that government can let its “zombie” entities stumble on as debt-paying vehicles or maybe occasionally let a couple default without any systemic contagion.

But now the Chinese government again began buying stocks to prop up its plummeting stock market, that is unsustainable.”

LESSONS FOR SOUTHEAST ASIA

With the continuing financial turmoil in China that started last year, there are lessons to be explored for emerging economies in the region like the Philippines.

  1. Fiscal and household irresponsibility will snap. As public and private debts become bigger, economic uncertainty will also rise as those debts should be repaid. People will never know who can pay back and when, and who will default.
  1. Moral hazards. A central planning government tends to attract less-studied behavior by the public. As a result, people with low financial literacy may be encouraged to gamble their savings at the stock market, thinking that the government will bail out anyway.
  1. Central planning leads to central disappointment. Central planning cannot and will not cure and control everything, including stock prices, booms and busts, debt spirals, and inflation. Central planning can only postpone small busts until these become bigger and burst. Authoritarianism can never be compatible with free markets.

The great Nobel prize economist and political philosopher, Friedrich Hayek, has some words to say about central planners. It is important that economists and planners outside communist China should heed them.

“No man or group of men possesses the capacity to determine conclusively the potentialities of other human beings and that we should certainly never trust anyone invariably to exercise such a capacity.” — The Constitution of Liberty (1960), Chapter 6, “Equality, Value and Merit.”

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the President of Minimal Government Thinkers, a member of the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia, and a fellow of South East Asia Network for Development (SEANET).  minimalgovernment@gmail.com