Economist Nor Zahidi Alias at Malaysian Rating Corporation wrote in The Edge Financial Daily today that there was too much concern for the fiscal deficit. I will accept that (while I am concerned about the deficit, concerns shown by the public  is overly excessive, especially about the debt limit) although I do still believe the government revenue should aspire to reduce its deficit in the long run.

But I am writing here not to discuss about the deficit per se, but rather an assertion by him that:

In Malaysia’s case, its budget shortfall widened to 6.7% of GDP in 2009 as the government implemented measures to avert deeper economic contraction. As a result, the economy rebounded strongly by 7.2%, whilst revenue growth accelerated by a double-digit pace by 2011. At the same time, the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP narrowed to 4.8% in 2011 from 5.4% in the preceding year. [Nor Zahidi Alias. Budget shortfall no cause for sleep deficit. The Edge Financial Daily. September 5 2012]

First, a small issue of clarification. The economy grew by 7.2% in 2010. Government grew by 16% in 2011. I think the langauge can be a bit confusing.

Now, to the beef. I am disagreeing with the causality cited here. The author wrote that as a result of government spending in 2009 or really, the stimulus, the economy rebounded strongly in the following year.

In 2010, real government spending in real terms slowed to 2.9% from 4.9% in 2009. The economy did rebound in 2010 but given the trend in government spending, it is really hard to attribute the 2010 rebound to the government. This is especially so when government spending typically formed only 11% of total real GDP.

How about gross fixed capital formation (i.e. investment) of the public sector? It grew by 2.9% in 2009 and 5.0% in 2010. The 5.0% is more or less the typical growth in the immediate years before the recession.

In fact, the first three quarters in 2010, GFCF by the public sector contracted. Only in the last quarter of the year did it grow by 34.7%, which was huge. If GFCF had not grown at all in that quarter, overall real GDP growth would have still grown by about 6% in 2010. If the GFCF had contracted at about the same average magnitude in the earlier three quarters, the economy would have still rebounded. So, clearly, the source of the rebound came from somewhere else, not the stimulus.

One might try the multiplier story but given how late the stimulus came, I doubt it, along with the stimulus, really was relevant.

Truly, private consumption and private GFCF growth recovered before the stimulus really came into force. Private consumption registered year-on-year shot up by the first quarter of 2010 and private GFCF registered its first growth in the last quarter of 2009. Both happened well before the stimulus had a chance to act. If one compares the numbers on quarter-on-quarter basis, one will realize that the recovery came even earlier.

So, I cannot agree with Nor Zahidi’s assertion that the 2010 economy rebounded strongly because of the stimulus. The numbers do not show that.


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