We are back and tomorrow, the Department of Statistics Malaysia will be releasing the second quarter GDP figures. Without further ado…
How fast do you think did the Malaysian economy expand in 2Q20 from a year ago?
- Grew by more than 0% (0%, 0 Votes)
- Contracted by 0.1%-2.5% (9%, 2 Votes)
- Contracted by 2.6%-5.0% (13%, 3 Votes)
- Contracted by 5.1%-7.5% (17%, 4 Votes)
- Contracted by 7.5%-10.0% (22%, 5 Votes)
- Contracted by 10.1%-12.5% (17%, 4 Votes)
- Contracted by more than 12.5% (22%, 5 Votes)
Total Voters: 23
And… what. A. Ride. It. Has. Been. Politics. Economics.
The result is… there is no doubt the second quarter GDP figures will be terrible with a capital T. The question now will be by how much, and for how long.
The problem for the past perhaps 6-7 months has been the unreliability of statistics. Many statistical causal relationships depend on stable correlation. The supply-side shock has changed those relationships and there is a good risk those relationships are broken for good. In the aftermath of the 1990s Asian Financial Crisis for instance, economic growth rate has slowed in the decades after. This recession, the worst since forever, could do the same for various macroseries.
That, I think is how important the past months have been to Malaysian economics.
Now to the statistics.
Industrial production had taken a blow for the whole quarter. However in June, it was almost back up to pre-shock level. Almost, although I feel it is unclear whether a big chuck of the back-to-normal is due to old production lines coming back up, or some sectors overperforming. Or just factories trying to make up lost time (or just goddamn rubber gloves… joking). I write so because mining (with its perpetual supply disruption; investment is needed there to upgrades those facilities) and electricity production are not there yet. But for manufacturing, it shot up quite strongly. But overall, they are bad numbers, and increasingly less.
Similar observations for exports and imports. Both June exports and imports had jumped from May, but for imports, it has not returned to pre-crisis level yet. Not close at all. Imports are important numbers because it is a proxy to consumption and weak June imports suggest domestic consumption will remain weak going into the third quarter. Retained imports mirrored overall import figure: meaning a majority of imports recovery, if it could be called as such, was due to re-exporting activities.
As for inflation, I do not know what it shows with respect to demand. With fuel prices down so much, I think inflation is a bit of a whack as a signal. Core inflation also is not very helpful, which suggests it needs to be improved. For what it is worth, inflation is in negative territory, but I would not call it deflation.
Unemployment rate is another iffy indicator. It has surged, but in June, like other figures, it has become less bad by a margin. But as somebody on social media mentioned, the composition of unemployment might be different now, with more lower quality employment coming in. I would quote him directly I suppose because the way he put it is more eloquent than me (translated roughly):
Unemployed pilots, engineers and other professionals working as food deliverers should not be considered as employed. [@The_Eddie. Twitter. August 11 2020]
Here is where underemployment figure would shed light on the matter. DOSM did report it once several months back in the form of working fewer than 30 hours per week. But we need more regular reporting on that front.
So, until tomorrow…