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Return to pre-pandemic debt could pose growth risk

DETERIORATING public finances across Asia will be difficult to reverse, with any attempts to return to pre-pandemic debt ratios posing a risk to growth, ANZ Research said.

“Governments can afford to maintain expansionary fiscal policies and some are doing so,” ANZ Research analysts said in a note.

“We further estimate that restoring public debt ratios to pre-pandemic levels is an exceptionally tall order. It will require governments to run primary surpluses on a scale that will severely hurt growth,” according to Sanjay Mathur, ANZ research chief economist for Southeast Asia and India, and economist Krystal Tan.

The Philippines’ fiscal position will likely continue to weaken in 2021, though its larger budget deficits and debt levels are unlikely to harm macroeconomic stability, they said.

“Based on this fiscal stance, the public debt ratios (in Asia are) likely to continue to rise in 2021. In Malaysia, the debt ratio will remain above 60% of GDP (gross domestic product) and in the Philippines, it will exceed its 50% threshold,” Mr. Mathur and Ms. Tan said.

The government expects the Philippine debt-to-GDP ratio to hit 53.9% and 58.3% this year and in 2021. These are still below the threshold of 70% deemed safe by the International Monetary Fund but are much higher than the record low of 39.6% in 2019.

The budget deficit is expected to grow to P1.815 trillion this year, equivalent to 9.6% of GDP, before receding to P1.749 trillion or 8.5% of GDP next year. The budget deficit in 2019 was P660.2 billion or 3.4% of GDP. — Luz Wendy T. Noble

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