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All Bets on the Philippines

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As we close our first issue for 2009, the Philippines is in a frenzy—both from holiday shopping and Manny Pacquiao’s victory over Oscar De La Hoya. The unexpected Pacquiao victory has driven Pinoys even deeper into holiday mode. Las Vegas odds heavily favored the Golden Boy at -180 to the Pacman’s +155. Put US$1.85 on De La Hoya and you get US$1.00. But every US$1.00 on Pacquiao, would yield US$1.55. That’s better ROI than anything you can buy on the stock market these days.

The mood in the Philippines as 2008 draws to a close is optimistic. Here in Manila, many of us still don’t feel the effects of the US recession that is shooting down markets all over the world. Shopping malls are packed with people. Night markets seem to attract a throng even in the wee hours. Traffic is plain awful, even close to midnight. Gas prices are down. Transport fares are down. Food for the holiday feasts are still affordable. Smiles and laughter are everywhere.

If you’re in Hong Kong, London, or New York and you’re sick of the gloomy faces, come to the Philippines and you’ll forget 2008 ever happened.

Bankers and businessmen here tell us it’s business as usual. PCCI’s Sergio Ortiz-Luiz Jr even says, “Why stop the economy by not spending? I think people should spend what they normally do.” (But PCCI president Edgardo Lacson points out that the savings rate of the Philippines is better than other countries and says this is one reason why the nation’s economy is not doing too badly.)

Oh, there are the occasional admonitions to slow down on spending, but these have fallen on deaf ears. We’re either too resilient to be affected by a global recession or too shortsighted to care. Perhaps, we are both. The Pinoy’s economic resiliency is mostly attributed to overseas worker remittances, the booming business process outsourcing sector, and small businesses. And with the 100-billion-peso stimulus package that leaders from the private and public sectors are set to infuse into growth drivers like infrastructure, 2009 is looking rosy indeed.

Filipinos, the perennial underdog, may just come out on top of the credit crunch heap. And when we see an underdog like the Pacman thrashing someone nearly four inches taller (And so much bigger! 145 lbs my foot!), it makes us even more optimistic that we can trounce that global recession giant.

So is the Philippine economy bulletproof relative to its Asian neighbors? We’d like to think it is. But it’s a good idea to build a rainy day fund, if you haven’t already started one. Let everyone scoff at your penny-pinching ways. Nobody scoffs at the person with an umbrella in the middle of a sunny afternoon once torrential rains pour.

Have a joyful, frugal new year!

Print ed: 01/09


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