- ZOUHAIR BAGHOUGH
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First, the Bank’s report has a different “flavour”, if I may say so, from the other reports. 2009 was indeed a year of recession and economic difficulties, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit of ambivalence when I read the following lines about the national economy’s performance: “Cette évolution reflète la forte contraction de la demande extérieure, notamment de la zone euro, adressée à certaines branches industrielles, ainsi que le ralentissement dans le secteur du tourisme et du transport”. The evolution here is that of non-Agricultural GDP (a near-zero growth of 1.4% over the year)
Then, there was this: “la nécessité d’accompagner unatterrissage en douceur de notre économie en 2009 [...]“ This seemingly harmless sentence hides some pretty tough economic conjecture and even thougher future policies for the months to come. A soft landing is usually an euphemism for a recession, or, in our case, a very low economic growth, something we cannot afford in the present circumstances, I shall explain why.
That was the first impression on the preface. The dominant mood suggests that our economy is already unable to sustain the present global economic downturn, and the indicators show that we are quite vulnerable in terms of economic resilience. However, before we go any further, it must be pointed out that our overall growth for 2009 stood at a good level (BAM estimates are 6.9%, something about 5% of real growth) and inflation is in the process of being maintained to low and stable levels over a certain period of time. These are good news of course, but as shown later on, no one can claim credit for them.
Let us now take a closer look to the figures laid in the documents. The consensus is that the Moroccan economy, though it has somewhat successfully dealt with the global economic recession, remains quite weak in case another exogenous negative shock comes along. And even though the public authorities invested large sums of money to support and consolidate the economy, there remains structural hardships that are yet to be addressed. Why would one talk of economic weaknesses? Well, for instance, the report points out -and this is strictly about national economics- that financial markets are far too over-valued: “[des] fortes hausses, en décalage par rapport aux fondementaux, qu’ont connus certains compartiments du marché des actifs et de celui du crédit”. It is understandable why foreign investors were a bit averse to put their money in the Casablanca Stock Exchange (CSE), mainly because the financial assets were over-valued. It spared us the painful effect of a financial meltdown (because of the toxic assets), but the speed foreign in which investments dropped down surely led to a climate of indecision and ultimately, doubts over the real values of bonds and shares on Casablanca stock exchange.
The essential thing to focus on was that it prevented the financial sector from being drown up by toxic assets, thus proving the Moroccan banks’ resilience: “Concernant le secteur bancaire, qui a fait preuve d’une grande résilience, il a vu ses indicateurs poursuivre leur orientation à la hausse en 2009. Le retour graduel de la progression du crédit à un rythme compatible avec la croissance économique n’a pas impacté la rentabilité des banques.” But it certainly has put a strain on the available liquidities: “Les évolutions monétaires et financières se sont caractérisées, dans un contexte de fonctionnement normal des différents marchés, par le ralentissement de la progression de la monnaie et du crédit“, something that prompted the Central Bank to lower the main rates and loosen a bit the required reserves: “S’agissant de la gestion de la liquidité, le Conseil a réduit le taux de la réserve monétaire à trois reprises, le ramenant à 8%, permettant ainsi aux banques de continuer à assurer un financement approprié de l’économie. Bank Al-Maghrib a, par ailleurs, mis à la disposition des banques sur le marché monétaire toutes les ressources requises et a mobilisé tous les instruments de politique monétaire disponibles, pour leur assurer un refinancement adéquat.“
I. The Economic Growth for 2009. The bank admits it in its own words: the economy remained stable and relatively strong because of a remarkable harvest. And many, if not all foreign exchange-oriented sectors suffered severe repercussions from the economic difficulties our foreign markets had to deal with. The total 2009 economic growth breakdown looked as following in the graph proves the eminent role Agricultural GDP played.
There is no need to point out that the agricultural output is subject to none of the devised policies, as it is mainly function of the current climate. Therefore one can assert that no government body whatsoever can claim credit for those 5% growth. It is however quite alarming that the industry sector should suffer so much from a contraction in foreign demand. As indeed it was pointed out, export-oriented industries suffered from the present conjecture, such as chemical and para-chemical industry (-1,4% YoY) and electric/electronic industry (-0.8% YoY) and leather (-4.3% YoY).
The other sector that suffered from recession was construction. While domestic demand remained quite strong, it did not though sustain the drain on liquidities 2009 saw, therefore bringing to an end a constant growth for the past years (construction credit growth went down from 45.6% YoY to 12.8%). I am quite appreciative that our economy did quite good in terms of resilience and growth, but the intrinsic factors that made it so were unfortunately not the result of any policy, but rather the lucky coincidence of good harvest. In terms of consumption, growth was mainly of domestic nature, something our whole economic structure does not admit as such. As the reader might know, our economy is mainly, if not entirely export-oriented: we need foreign currencies for the huge projects the policy-makers are undertaking, for our imports and to fuel up our growth with larger exports, not to mention its role as a security pillow as it were, in case of unexpected changes in commodities’ prices. But now that foreign markets had shrunk to concerning proportions, domestic demand successfully got behind the national economy. That’s how it contributed in terms of GDP growth points:
II. The endogenous variables: workforce and productivity. It is true unemployment decreased a bit in 2009. But surely the present growth does not contribute in abating unemployment a bit, something that should be obvious yet does not compute in Moroccan reality. There is something else that bothers me about our own productivity. Before I go on about it, productivity is, as far as I am concerned, productivity remains one of the best indicators of how an economy is doing in terms of competitiveness and innovation. Plus it allows for scale economies, thus enabling wage rises with virtually no inflation. Morocco has quite bizzare characteristics in terms of productivity. the average relative labour cost has risen over the year. That’s a statistics that is akin to measure marginal labour productivity, something that the Bank did, and it turned out that in the last quarters of 2009, labour cost has risen beyond apparent labour productivity. That effectively means real destruction of wealth, but oddly enough did not contribute to inflation. Do let me explain: demand-driven inflation is fuelled up whenever a general or substantially located rise of wages is effective, without any form of increased productivity.
The figures here do not show any specific growth in terms of output per capita (something below 1% in 2009 YoY) but they do suggest that labour cost has risen (about 4%). However, it does not seem to have a sizeable impact on inflation (as shown later on). It does however show that we are losing ground to much more competitive countries in terms of labour productivity.
In other terms, we are dangerously losing the ground to international competition much more productive and less costly than our own labour force. It might have something to do with unions’ wage claims, but that remains to be proven. The report does not point it out, so the real source of the trouble is somewhere else. In any case, any wage rise in nominal terms is quickly blended and its effects swiftly abated. In facts, every time the minimum wage (SMIG) has been updated, real wage increased, but gradually declined until the next pay rise comes in. And remarkably enough, real minimum wage stood at a near-stationary level, as the graph suggests.
This proves that, even though labour cost handicapped our foreign exchange, minimum wage, the classic target oflaissez-faire partisans, had had nothing to do with. Out of contradiction though, the Bank points: “[...]Parallèlement, les coûts salariaux ont connu un accroissement, suite notamment à la deuxième revalorisation du SMIG[...]“.
III. Inflation and Unemployment: I already mentioned in an earlier post that Morocco dealt successfully with inflation (although only the core one is maintained to low levels) but that has come to the expenses of unemployment. the 2009 YtD inflation has even been made into a deflation, with CPI going as far as -5%, for an overall annual inflation rate of 1%. This has to do with the fact that commodity prices dramatically fell during the year (or in other terms, future prices went down, thus allowing Morocco to buy strategic commodities at a lower-than-expected price) and of course the positive impact agricultural output has on CPI. “Le ralentissement de l’inflation est également attribuable, dans une moindre mesure, aux prix des carburants et lubrifiants. En effet, leurs tarifs ont connu une première baisse mensuelle de 5% en février 2009, en raison de la révision des prix de certains carburants, puis une deuxième de 1,4% en avril suite à l’alignement du prix du gasoil 50 ppm sur celui du gasoil ordinaire auquel il s’est substitué.” As for unemployement, I was a bit disappointed with the way they presented it. Basically, the graph shows a trend pointing to a possible negative correlation between unemployement and economic growth. ze3ma all we need is to increase output, and somehow unemployment will decrease. It is true there is a negative correlation between non-Agricultural GDP and unemployement (F-Test shows a probability of 11% both variances would be independent. Chi-2 test shows a 98% likelihood of statistical relation between both variables) but surely a linear regression cannot capture the exact relation between both variables. The regression’s R-Square is only 10.08%, i.e about only 1 out of 10 statistical couples (xi,yi) has been taken into account. In any case, the Bank admits implicitely a weak link between unemployement and economic growth: “Malgré le recul de la croissance non agricole, le taux de chômage urbain s’est replié de 0,9 point de pourcentage pour se situer à 13,8%. Parallèlement, l’essor de l’activité agricole n’a pas entraîné de baisse du taux de chômage rural, lequel a stagné à 4%. La baisse du taux de chômage a concerné essentiellement la tranche d’âge 25-34 ans et les diplômés, dont le taux a fléchi respectivement de 1 et de 1,4 point de pourcentage. Toutefois, le taux de chômage de ces catégories de la population demeure relativement élevé, se situant autour de 20%.” On a different but related subject, I read something interesting in a digest the HCP published on poverty. “En effet, si un point de croissance économique s’accompagnait, entre 1985 et 2001, d’une augmentation des inégalités de 0,13% et donnait lieu à une réduction de la pauvreté qui ne dépassait pas 1,7%, entre 2001 et 2007, une croissance économique équivalente (de 1 point) n’affectait que marginalement les inégalités (moins de 0,01%), et réduisait, de ce fait, la pauvreté de 2,7% [...]Il convient cependant de noter que cette dynamique de l’ensemble ‘Croissance, inégalité et pauvreté’ ne s’est pas opérée, dans les mêmes proportions, au niveau local, voire régional, provincial ou communal“. The good news are, we have less and less people living below or on the threshold of poverty, and the figures are encouraging indeed, but it has a drawback too: economic growth brings inequality too, and following these figures, every GDP growth point increases income inequality by more than just 0.01%. The HCP itself shows the figures: the 10% well-off get about 40% of the national income. This kind of income inequality does not allow for everyone to get a fair share of GDP growth, surely.
IV. Foreign Exchange:
2009 was quite bad in for our terms of exchange: Not only did we notice a worsening deficit commercial balance, but there was a drain on liquidities too, for the deficit took its tool from our balance of payment. Indeed, “Les sorties nettes au titre des revenus des capitaux se sont établies à 7,4 milliards de dirhams, contre 4,1 milliards de dirhams en 2008. En effet, le solde négatif des revenus privés, passé de 6,7 milliards de dirhams à 9,4 milliards de dirhams, s’est alourdi de 40,6%, en raison de la hausse de 33,4% des sorties au titre de la rémunération d’investissements étrangers au Maroc“. That was the price to pay. Abdellatif Jouhari might have pointed out that our economy was resilient, however in times like these our foreign investors had to cash in their investments, and we need every hard currency dime we have. Why so? In 2009, our total national investments amounted to 265 billion MAD. ([...]“Compte tenu d’une variation positive des stocks de 38,8 milliards de dirhams, l’investissement global s’est chiffré à 264,8 milliards de dirhams, en quasi stagnation en termes nominaux, après une augmentation de 31,2% un an auparavant. Sa contribution à la croissance est revenue de 4,1 points de pourcentage en 2008 à 2,6 points en 2009 et le taux d’investissement brut s’est établi à 30,7%”.) Our national savings amounted to 228 billion MAD. It is clear that about 37 billion MAD need to be found in order to finance the huge investments our country is undertaking. That means 5% of our GDP, while the payment deficit amount to 20% of GDP. In other terms, Morocco needs to levy 195 billion MAD to a. finance its deficit, and b. to finance its investment. Perhaps the recent upgrade in Morocco’s sovereign debt could allow for new sources of finance, but again, in a time like this, and especially for the sort of investments we have, rates are going to be a bit steep I am afraid.
Now, I hope the picture made things clearer for 2009, so we can now move to the 2010 HCP figures.
These show signs of recovery, as it were: “La sortie de l’économie marocaine de sa phase de ralentissement conjoncturel se confirme de plus en plus en ce début d’année. Le redressement des activités non-agricoles s’est poursuivi au premier trimestre 2010, avec une croissance de 5,6%, en variation annuelle, après 5,4%, réalisée un trimestre auparavant. Cette performance a été confortée, en grande partie, par l’amélioration du secteur minier et, dans une moindre mesure, par celle de l’industrie et des branches annexes.” In other terms. the non-agricultural activities are recovering from the previous year. Domestic demand seems to be behind the green shoots: it grew about 4.7% Q1 2010, a bit low compared to Q1 2009, but nonetheless an important contributor to the expected GDP growth (3.6% for Q1 2010 so far). Things are on average going well.
There are however a few things that should be taken seriously: the present state in which public finances are is quite difficult, which might allow for cuts and austerity programs. Indeed, public income has fallen by 4.3% while expenditures rose by 13.4%. Public deficit is now 4% of GDP. Nothing urgently serious, but the forecast is that things will get rougher: because domestic demand is driving growth, there is an expectation of high levels of imports, an increase exports cannot match entirely. That means a further drain in our currency reserves as well as a worsening balance of commerce deficit. Finally, it seems the monetary market suffers from that as well: “Le marché monétaire est resté déficitaire au cours de la première moitié de l’année 2010. Les interventions instantanées de Bank Al-Maghrib ont pu atténuer, quelque peu, l’écart entre le taux d’intérêt interbancaire (3,31%) et le taux directeur de Bank Al- Maghrib (3,25%). Le marché bancaire subit les conséquences de plusieurs facteurs restrictifs de liquidité, en l’occurrence l’importance du déficit de la balance commerciale et la baisse des recettes des investissements directs étrangers.”
To sum up, the Moroccan economy did well in these troubled times, and those of its sectors that suffered from the global crisis are on their way to recovery. However, most of the good results are not the effects of policies, and the present structural hardships, while being addressed with various policies, remain hindering every efforts to get our economy off the valley of the shadows and into the sun. There can be no worthy growth while the present unemployement rate is 9%, nor with income inequality Gini index of 0.46. In short, the present growth still benefits to the few, and not to the many. More radical policies, that’s what we need.