Philippines’ trade chief negative to legislated wage hike for Filipino workers

There had been calls for the Philippine government to review current wages because of higher inflation – due to higher oil prices and the implementation of a tax law – during the past months. (AFP)
Updated 20 June 2018
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Philippines’ trade chief negative to legislated wage hike for Filipino workers

  • “The more sustaining solution for wage increases would be more jobs to be created and more investments to come in”
  • President Rodrigo Duterte last month ordered the Department of Labor and Employment to convene regional tripartite wage boards to study the possibility of adjusting minimum wages

DUBAI: An increase in the minimum wage could have wider, negative implications that will would impact even those who will not benefit from the additional pay, the Philippines’ trade and industry secretary said on Wednesday.
“The reality is not all [Filipino workers] are wage earners,” trade chief Ramon Lopez commented during an economic briefing at Malacañan Palace.
“If we increase wages, the costs will increase which can pressure prices to go up. And of course, those who will be hit are not only the wage earners, but everyone else who did not benefit from the wage hike. They will also be affected.”
“The more sustaining solution for wage increases would be more jobs to be created and more investments to come in.”
There had been calls for the government to review current wages because of higher inflation – due to costlier oil prices and the implementation of a tax law that hit sugar and tobacco product prices – during recent months. Prices of consumer goods rose 4.6 percent last month, slightly higher than the 4.5 percent recorded in April but lower than the 4.9 percent government forecast.
Some legislators are planning to file bills aimed at increasing minimum wages across the country when Congress – the country’s legislative body – resumes regular sessions on July 23.
“Inflation (in May) was caused by oil prices and a shortage in rice,” Lopez said, while prices of sugar and tobacco products increased because of the higher tariffs imposed on them under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law which came into force on Jan. 1.
“The shortage of rice however has been addressed with the government-to-government importation we undertook, and shipments are now being unloaded in various ports around the country to address local supply.”
Lopez, however, did not discount the possibility that regional tripartite wage boards – which formulate and review policies on regional wages – could implement additional daily salaries, although such moves must be based on the prevailing economic conditions in the specific regions granting these increases.
“There can be consideration because of inflation, so if you ask me there could be a minimal adjustment but that should not be more than what is necessary because it would really create a strong pressure on inflation,” he said. “Whatever inflation is felt in the region that could be a basis for the adjustment.”
President Rodrigo Duterte last month ordered the Department of Labor and Employment to convene regional tripartite wage boards to study the possibility of adjusting minimum wages to mitigate the effects of rising consumer prices, the peso depreciation and the implementation of the TRAIN Law. Duterte also directed trade officials to tighten the monitoring of prices of basic goods and commodities to guard against profiteering.
“But if we are successful in maintaining industrial peace, maintaining rule of law, peace and order, no corruption, good business environment, investments would come in and that will drive up wages,” Lopez said. “We have to have investments and job-creation activities so that wages and income will go up naturally because of the supply and demand for labor. That is what we should strive for.”


Oil markets jittery over lower demand forecasts

Updated 18 November 2018
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Oil markets jittery over lower demand forecasts

RIYADH: Oil prices continued to nosedive last week over demand concerns amid an outlook of a slowing global economy. The strong US dollar weighed on both oil prices and the global demand outlook. Currencies weakened against the dollar, eroding their purchasing power.
Brent was down to $66.76 per barrel and WTI dropped to $56.46 per barrel by Friday. The former came close to its one-year low as both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and OPEC released monthly reports that articulated a darkening demand outlook in the short term. This increased fears of an oil demand slowdown. Market fundamentals also suggest that price volatility is likely to remain high in the near-term, although the oil market reached a balance in early October.
OPEC’s Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) arrived with bearish sentiments, revising downward its oil-demand forecast for this year and next, for the fourth month in a row. It forecast that global oil demand will rise by 1.29 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, 70,000 less than what OPEC expected last month. The MOMR also forecast increasing non-OPEC supply growth for 2019, with higher volumes outpacing the annual growth in world oil demand, leading to an excess in supply. The report was welcomed with open arms by the IEA, which had been at least in part responsible for driving sentiment toward a bear market. Surprisingly, OPEC warned that oil demand is falling faster than expected. Necessary action is a must.
Saudi Arabia is not sitting idly by while oil markets look as if they are heading toward instability. Markets were expecting severe US sanctions on Iran, which could have resulted in supply shortages once Iran’s crude exports went to zero. The unexpected introduction of waivers to allow eight countries to continue importing Iranian oil, was however an eye-opener. Now, as the world’s only swing producer, Saudi Arabia will have to take other measures to balance oil markets and drain excess oil from global stockpiles.
Despite what some analysts are claiming, there is currently no strategy to send less oil to the US to help reduce US stockpiles. Yes, some have claimed that Saudi crude shipments to the US are at about 600,000 barrels per day this month, which is a little more than half of what was being shipped in the summer months. But the reasons for this are related to seasonally low demand, the surge in US inventories and refineries heading into their winter maintenance season. Remember that November crude oil shipments were allocated to the US refiners last month before the US waivers on the Iranian sanctions were revealed. Also, keep in mind that Saudi Arabia owns the largest refinery in the US, which has a refining capacity that exceeds 600,000 bpd.

Lurking on the horizon is the massive US budget deficit and increasing rumblings that the US economic boom is over. 

It must be noted that there is a degree of financial manipulation underway in the oil futures markets. At the moment, there are few places where quick profits can be made, so some investors moved from stocks to commodities. Now, there are downward pressures on oil prices as some commodities market traders went long on oil futures, thinking that crude prices would rise. Then these same traders shorted natural gas, assuming that with a warmer winter, prices of that fuel would fall. Unfortunately for the traders, Trump’s sanction waivers on Iranian crude oil exports and cold weather on the US East Coast, caused exactly the reverse to take place. Oil prices fell and natural gas prices rose. Traders were therefore forced to sell their assets to cover margins, pushing oil prices lower. It is expected that some hedge funds and investment funds will also be moving away from going long on oil futures and this will cause further selling.
Lurking on the horizon is the massive US budget deficit and increasing rumbling that the US economic boom is over. The US federal budget deficit rose 17 percent in the 2018 fiscal year. It is now larger than in any year since 2012. Federal spending is up and amidst US President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, and federal revenue is not keeping pace. To make matters worse, the strong US economy and interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve have boosted the dollar.
A strong dollar makes commodities such as crude oil more expensive in international markets and reduces demand. Trump wants oil to be priced as low as possible to help bolster the US economy, which is clearly under strain, and to facilitate sales of crude abroad. But with a looming global oil shortage just a few years away due to a lack of upstream investment, it is incumbent on global oil producers to consider the long term in their output decisions.

* Faisal Mrza is an energy and oil market adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Reach him on Twitter: @faisalmrza