Two thousand-year-old Lazarus Long—a character in several Robert A. Heinlein science-fiction novels—gave this advice in Time Enough for Love: “Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”
I feel the same way when talking to foreigners about the Philippines. In fact, were I the secretary of tourism, I would suggest as the slogan “You Don’t Know Jack About the Philippines.”
Most foreigners that have never been here get their knowledge about the country and our economy from the multilingual Filipino concierge at an exclusive boutique resort in Switzerland. They might have noticed that a Filipina is the nursing director at the US hospital they were treated at. But you can’t really blame them since all the global press wants to focus on is Duterte, drugs and deranged Islamic insurgents.
However, a social-media post by an American expat about the first-quarter economic growth was annoying—“Fake numbers from a failing country. Philippine companies cannot compete at all in the world market.”
Our knowledgeable friend moved to Australia and last year—according to his social-media posts—shipped his classic American car to his new home in Melbourne. What this “expert” on Philippine business apparently does not know is that the Victoria International Container Terminal in Melbourne is owned and operated by Filipino listed company International Container Terminals Inc. (ICT).
ICT operates 19 container ports outside of the Philippines, from Ecuador to Pakistan and China, and in 2016 generated $1 billion of revenue. Not bad for a company from a country that cannot compete in the global markets. Strange how facts never get in the way of a negative narrative about the Philippines.
Note also that the combined profits of the 30 Philippine Stock Exchange index companies rose 12 percent in 2016. The profit growth of the 30 Dow Jones Industrial index companies for 2016 was 0.00 percent over the previous year. And this country is the one failing?
The Chinese snack-food business is worth $12 billion a year and private Philippine company Liwayway Marketing Corp.—through its “Oishi” brand—is No. 5 in sales. Oishi has 14 manufacturing plants in China. Here’s something interesting too. Oishi products are shipped from China to be sold in England—and maybe to our American friend in Australia.
The country’s agriculture sector grew 5.28 percent in the first quarter, but taking advantage of exporting Filipino fruits has not been easy, especially for companies other than the multinationals like Dole and Del Monte.
Public company Agrinurture Inc. has quietly expanded into China, as I have mentioned before. The key has been to invest in a local Chinese distribution company with the existing infrastructure that is always costly and time consuming to set up for any foreign operation. To boost its sales, Agrinurture is looking to invest even more in that Chinese company to gain greater economy of scale and majority control.
Vladivostok, Russia, has about the same population as Parañaque City but is the home to the Russian Pacific Fleet with 23 submarines and six Air Wings. Three prominent Philippine cities—Davao, Cebu and Makati— call Vladivostok their “sister”. If a Russian submariner—while keeping a watch on the US Seventh Fleet off Japan—reaches for a banana, it probably has a “Produce of the Philippines” label. There is a good chance that banana is part of an Agrinurture export shipment.
The Philippine global economic reach is more than a construction worker in Dubai or a Jollibee in Winnipeg, Canada. But, unfortunately, pigs are never going to learn how to sing.
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