Expansion of economic activity in third quarter driven by tourism sector: MMA

Expansion of domestic economic activity in the third quarter of 2014 was “driven by the sustained growth of the tourism sector,” according to the Maldives Monetary Authority’s (MMA) quarterly economic bulletin.

“Total tourist arrivals to the country increased to 299,491 in Q3-2014, growing by 7 percent when compared to the corresponding quarter of last year while bednights grew by 5 percent,” the bulletin stated.

The central bank explained that the “difference in the growth rate of arrivals and bednights is explained by the fall in the average duration of a tourist visit from 6.0 days to 5.8 days during the period.”

Tourism receipts are meanwhile projected to reach US$594.9 million in the third quarter, an annual growth of 20 percent.

“In Q3-2014 the average operational bed capacity of the industry also increased by 4 percent when compared to Q3-2013 and rose to 26,921 beds, contributed by the opening of three resorts and thirty-three guesthouses during the period,” the bulletin revealed.

“Despite the increase in the operational bed capacity of the industry, the occupancy rate of tourism accommodation facilities remained relatively unchanged at 70 percent when compared to Q3-2013, owing to the higher increase in bednights.”

However, tourist arrivals in November declined by 5.1 percent compared to the same period last year, according to statistics from the tourism ministry.

While tourist arrivals reached 89,778 guests last month, 94,584 arrivals were recorded in November 2013, with arrivals from Europe and the Asia Pacific region down 6.8 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively.

Industry insiders had previously noted that a recent increase in T-GST alongside the continuation of Bed Tax in November had contributed to fewer bookings.

The Russian market meanwhile continued to decline due to the weakening of the Russian economy, with Russian arrivals declining by 31.3 percent to 5,273 arrivals in November from 7,675 arrivals in November 2013.

“Arrivals from the country declined at an annual rate of 7 percent in Q3-2014, compared to a decline of 5 percent in arrivals in Q2-2014,” the bulletin stated.

The number of Chinese tourists – representing the single largest market share with 27 percent – declined by 4.9 percent.

However, total tourist arrivals from January to November increased 7.9 percent from 1,020,190 guests in the corresponding period last year to 1,101,113 in 2014.

The MMA’s quarterly bulletin observed that the Chinese market was the “single major contributor to arrivals growth” in the third quarter of 2014, increasing by 8 percent compared to the previous quarter.

“Meanwhile, arrivals from Europe (which constitutes over half of total tourist arrivals) registered a marginal increase of 2 percent in Q3-2014 compared to a 6 percent growth in Q2-2014, contributed mainly by the increase in arrivals from Germany and Spain,” the bulletin noted.

“While the UK market (the largest market from Europe) posted a sluggish performance owing to weak economic conditions, the German market, being the second major source market from Europe, registered a 7 percent growth (12% growth in Q2-2014). Both Germany and UK each accounted for about one-fifth of European arrivals during Q3-2014.”

Other sectors

The central bank noted that the fisheries sector “continued to be adversely affected by falling tuna prices that deteriorated further in the international market during the review quarter.”

The volume of fish purchased from local fishermen by fish processing and exporting companies in the third quarter registered an annual decline of 24 percent, the MMA revealed.

“Additionally, the poor performance of the fisheries sector was also reflected by the fall in both the volume and earnings of fish exports in Q3-2014, by 31 percent and 21 percent, respectively,” the bulletin explained.

The construction industry “continued to strengthen, as indicated by the strong annual growth in construction-related imports and commercial bank credit to the sector.”

Reflecting a 17 percent annual increase in commercial bank credit to the wholesale and retail sector as well as a 13 percent annual growth in private sector imports, the bulletin noted that trade activity also improved in the third quarter.

The rate of inflation in the capital meanwhile decelerated from 3.1 percent in the second quarter to 2.5 percent in the third quarter, “contributed primarily by the slower growth in food prices.”

“Meanwhile, inflation excluding the volatile fish prices also decelerated during the quarter at the same rate as total inflation, explaining the relatively stable fish prices during the year as a whole,” the bulletin observed.

Overall inflation remained “steady and low” at 5.0 percent, the central bank noted.

“However, food inflation registered a much lower rate of 0.2 percent in the review quarter, compared to 3.2 percent in Q2-2014 and 7.4 percent in Q3-2013.

“A large decline in prices was noted for vegetables, particularly onions, and can be attributed to the significant decline in onion prices in India, where 89 percent of onions are imported from. The slowdown in domestic food prices also reflect the easing of global food prices, which have been declining for the most part of 2014.”

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MMA reports increased business activity in second quarter

All sectors of the domestic economy with the exception of the tourism industry reported increased business activity in the second quarter (Q2) of 2014, according to the Maldives Monetary Authority’s (MMA) Quarterly Business Survey.

With regard to the current level of employment, businesses across all sectors, except for those in the tourism sector, indicated an increase in Q2-2014 compared to Q1-2014,” the report observed.

“Looking ahead, all sectors anticipate an increase in employment in Q3-2014, reflecting the optimism shown by majority of businesses towards improved activity levels in this quarter.”

While businesses in the construction sector reported an increase in prices, the report noted that businesses in the wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing and tourism reported a fall in prices.

“As for business costs, businesses across all sectors experienced an increase in all labour related costs and other input costs in Q2-2014 when compared to Q1-2014, while they expect a further increase in costs in Q3-2014 as well.”

In the construction industry, the survey found that factors which limit growth opportunities included “delays in payment by clients and cost of raw materials.”

“Other significant factors include limited access to bank credit and foreign exchange, high cost of labour and finance; and shortage of materials,” the report noted.

The quarterly survey is conducted by the central bank for a “quick assessment of current business trends and expected future economy activity” by questioning senior managers “on the direction of change in various business variables such as sales, output, prices, exports, capacity utilisation and employment”.

Survey forms were sent out to 135 large enterprises in four main sectors of the economy which are construction; manufacturing; tourism; wholesale and retail trade. A total of 65 enterprises responded to the survey which represents an overall response rate of 48 percent,” the report explained.


Tourist arrivals increase 9 percent in June

Tourist arrivals increased 9 percent in June compared to the same period last year, reaching 83,347 guests, says the Maldives Monetary Authority’s (MMA) monthly economic review.

However, this is a decline of 9 percent when compared to the previous month,” read the economic review for June.

The annual increase in arrivals was contributed by the increase in the number of arrivals from both Asia and Europe. In June 2014, total bednights rose by 9 percent in annual terms while the average duration of stay remained unchanged at 5.6 days compared to June 2013.”

The occupancy rate meanwhile increased to 59 percent from 55 percent in June 2013.

Cash flow

The central bank also revealed that government securities – treasury bills and bonds – rose 18 percent in June compared to the same period last year, which was “contributed by the increase in the amount of T-bills issued by the government to manage its growing cash flow requirements.”

The monthly review noted that “the outstanding stock of T-bills held by commercial banks at the end of June 2014 increased both annually and monthly, whereas T-bills held by non-banks increased only annually.”

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad had expressed concern last week with shortfalls in projected revenue posing difficulties “in managing the budget deficit” and affecting the government’s ability pay to civil servants.

“We try to make regular salary payments even if we have to take loans in order to do so,” he said, adding that the ministry was “trying to make the salary payments through any means possible.”

The MMA had previously warned that shortfalls in revenue and overruns in expenditure could jeopardise the country’s debt sustainability.

In May, MMA Governor Dr Azeema Adam called for “bold decisions” to ensure macroeconomic stability by reducing expenditure – “especially the untargeted subsidies” – and increasing revenue.

Fisheries, inflation and reserves

During June 2014, both the volume and earnings from fish exports increased compared to June 2013,” the monthly review revealed.

“As such, the volume of fish exports increased by 33 percent, while the earnings on fish exports rose by 6 percent during this period. The increase in the volume and earnings of fish exports was contributed mainly by the increase in export of frozen yellowfin tuna.”

The rate of inflation in the capital Malé meanwhile “accelerated slightly to 3.5 percent in June 2014 from 3.3 percent in May 2014,” which was “largely contributed by the acceleration in the growth of food prices, especially fish prices.”

In monthly terms, however, the rate of inflation “fell marginally” in June, “largely due to the fall in prices charged for furnishing, household equipment and maintenance, which off set the increase in fish prices during the review month.”

With imports increasing 19 percent while exports declined by 22 percent, the MMA revealed that the trade deficit widened by 27 percent in May compared to the same period in 2013.

Gross international reserves meanwhile “rose in both monthly and annual terms by 12 percent and 39 percent, respectively, and reached US$477.6 million at the end of June 2014.”

“This mainly reflects the temporary increase in foreign currency transfers by the commercial banks in the review period. As for reserves in terms of months of imports, it also increased in both monthly and annual terms and reached 3.1 months during the review month,” the report explained.

Quarterly business survey

The MMA’s Quarterly Business Survey for the second quarter of 2014 meanwhile noted that a majority of respondents from the tourism sector “indicated a decrease in total revenue, resort bookings and average room rates” during the current off-peak season.

While 10 percent of respondents indicated a decline in hiring and 83 percent reported no change, a majority reported “a decline in their financial situation” during the quarter.

“In analysing the factors which limit growth opportunities for businesses in the tourism sector, most businesses noted competition within the sector, issues with the regulatory framework, shortage of skilled labour and the high cost of finance as the most significant factors,” the survey found.

However, respondents expected revenue and average room rates to increase in the third quarter – “reflecting seasonal variations” – while most respondents expected “business costs such as labour and other input prices to increase in the next quarter”.

More respondents planned to increase capital investments than those who expected a decline, the survey found.

In July, the Ministry of Tourism revealed that tourist arrivals had reached half a million at the end of May, which was an 11.9 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

Moreover, the MMA revealed in its quarterly economic bulletin that tourism receipts in the first three months of the year increased by 10 percent compared to the first quarter of 2013, reaching US$801.1 million.

The bulletin noted that the 10 percent annual increase in arrivals was “entirely driven by the significant increase (24 percent) in arrivals from the Chinese market.”


Bill on construction and infrastructure development released for public comments

The Attorney General’s Office has released the draft bill on construction and infrastructure development for public comments on Thursday, 19 June.

Interested persons are required to submit comments in writing by July 6, according to an announcement on the AG Office website.

A copy of the bill, consisting of a 102 articles, is currently available on the website.


Slippages in revenue or expenditure will undermine debt sustainability: MMA macroeconomic report

Shortfalls in revenue or overruns in expenditure in 2014 “will undermine medium-term debt sustainability” and adversely affect the exchange rate and prices, the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) has cautioned in a report on macroeconomic developments in 2013.

On the outlook for the economy in 2014, the report released this week noted that the fiscal deficit was projected to decline to 3.2 percent this year from 4.7 percent in 2013 on the back of higher revenue from tourism-related taxes and payments for resort lease extensions as well as rationalisation of subsidies.

Despite this positive outlook, there is a considerable amount of uncertainty surrounding the 2014 budget. Overruns in current expenditure will most likely lead to financing difficulties for the government or further crowding out of the private sector,” the central bank warned.

“Any setback to fiscal consolidation either due to slippages in revenue or current expenditure will undermine medium-term debt sustainability and will have adverse implications for exchange rate and prices.”

Outlook for 2014

Economic growth in 2014 is projected at 4.5 percent, an increase of 0.8 percent from the previous year.

Growth will be driven by the continued expansion of tourism activity which is to be mainly supported by the robust growth of Chinese tourists,” the report explained.

“In 2014, growth is also expected to benefit from the recovery of construction sector which registered declines in the past two years. Activity in the construction sector is expected to recover due to the easing of material shortages and the continued expansion of residential construction projects amid improved bank credit to the sector.”

While the transport and communication sectors are expected to grow “in tandem with better prospects for the tourism industry,” the report noted that primary fishing activity is projected to decline slightly.

Inflation is expected to “remain moderate” in 2014, which “largely reflects the weaker outlook for global commodity prices”.

However, lower commodity prices were expected to “offset the upward impact of one-off factors such as the introduction of GST on communication services and reversal of import duty for certain goods during the year.”

The current account deficit is expected to widen by 16 percent to US$269.9 million this year as “improved receipts from tourism is insufficient to off set the increase in imports, interest payments and remittance outflows.”

While imports are expected to grow “in line with the projected increase in economic activity from tourism, construction and government sectors,” exports are expected to decline on account of a projected decrease in fish catch and global tuna prices.

Meanwhile, gross international reserves are projected to improve in 2014 mainly due to inflows from the planned new revenue measures stemming from the tourism sector. In line with this improvement, reserves in terms of months of imports, are also projected to increase slightly,” the report stated.

Revenue and expenditure

While total revenue excluding grants reached MVR11.5 billion (US$745 million) last year – an increase of 18 percent from the previous year – revenue collection was lower than anticipated “owing to delays in the implementation of the planned new revenue raising measures as envisaged under the budget.”

Tax revenue accounted for 75 percent of total revenue in 2013 while non-tax revenue “declined marginally” to MVR2.8 billion (US$181 million).

Total government expenditure in 2013 was MVR13.5 billion (US$875 million), which was four percent below the target.

The report explained that capital expenditure was significantly lower than expect, “which offset sizeable overruns in current expenditure.”

Meanwhile, although the government repaid some of the unpaid bills from previous years, a further build-up of arrears took place in 2013 as well and if these are considered total expenditure for 2013 will be much higher than estimated,” the report stated.

Current expenditure accounted for 84 percent of total government spending in 2013, reaching MVR11.4 billion (US$739 million), which was 11 percent in excess of the budgeted amount.

Salaries and allowances contributed the largest share at 48 percent of current expenditure, “reflecting the bulky public sector,” followed by subsidies and social welfare contributions at 18 percent, administrative costs at 13 percent, and interest payments at eight percent.

As large debt repayments were made between December 2012 and February 2013, interest payments in 2013 declined by 19 percent compared to the previous year and stood at MVR893.6 million (US$57.9 million).

Debt and deficit

As a result of “slippages in both revenue and expenditure” in 2013, the fiscal deficit is currently estimated at 4.7 percent of GDP, down from 9.2 percent in 2012.

The budgeted target for 2013 was however 3.6 percent.

The report noted that total debt of the government reached 78 percent of GDP at the end of 2013 as a consequence of “the sustained high budget deficit” over the past years.

Domestic debt accounted for 58 percent of total public and publicly-guaranteed debt.

In 2013, the financing requirement of the government was met almost entirely through domestic sources: mainly through the issuance of Treasury bills (T-bills) to the domestic market and monetisation,” the report explained.

Net credit to the government by the MMA “increased from MVR4.7 billion at the end of 2012 to MVR6.0 billion at the end of 2013,” the report revealed.

The total outstanding stock of T-bills meanwhile reached MVR8.2 billion by the end of 2013.

“A large part of this increase was attributable to the increase in investments by other financial corporations and public non-financial corporations, which can be seen from the increase in their share of holdings (as a percent of total outstanding T-bills) from 28% at the end of 2012 to 44% at the end of 2013,” the report stated.


Housing Ministry authorised to withdraw land owned by Malé City Council: Civil Court

The Housing Ministry has the authority withdraw lands under the Malé City Council if the cabinet decides such lands are required for social, economic and national security purposes, the Civil Court has ruled on Wednesday.

The ruling came in response to a request temporary injunction by the owners of Lemongrass restaurants after police forcibly halted construction of a new restaurant in Malé’s carnival area last week.

The plot had been leased to Lemon Grass restaurants by Malé City Council.

But the Housing Ministry decided to take the plot back and ordered the police to halt ongoing work. Owners of Lemongrass restaurants told local media over 80 percent of construction had been completed.

The Civil Court ruled that when lands leased to people under third party agreements are withdrawn the government would have to pay compensation to the tenant.

On March 27, following a cabinet decision, the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure decided to take over all major lands in Malé City from the city council.

The Housing Ministry and Malé City Council have clashed periodically over the ownership of land in Malé.

Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Dr Mohamed Muiz told newspaper Haveeru at the time that the lands that will be taken from the council including the artificial beach, carnival area, south harbour area, lands near the T-Jetty, Usfasgandu area on the southeast, and Dharubaaruge multipurpose hall.

Muiz said all of the plots were to be developed under a master plan formulated by the ministry, and that there were no problems between the council and the ministry.

“We are taking almost all large plots [in Malé]. We will very soon inform the council in writing that those have been taken [from the council]. We will work with the council. I don’t think this will create any problems,” Muiz said.

‘’The government has the authority to take such lands to utilise them for social and economic purposes.”

Muiz further said that all arrangements of transfer, including the issue of any existing contracts with a private party, will be dealt according to the laws and regulations.

Director of Lemongrass Ahmed Atheef Hussain told Sun Online that the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure had claimed that the restaurant was being constructed in violation of regulations, and requested police to halt the work.


Vice president inaugurates harbour reconstruction projects

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has yesterday (March 17) inaugurated the harbour reconstruction project on Gulhi island in Malé atoll.

The vice president said that the initiation of the island’s harbor project would in turn lead to a better life for the people.

He went on to say that this government would determine the difficulties being faced by the people in carrying out its developmental projects. He also said that the government would not exclude anyone in delivering its services.

Prior to his visit to Gulhi Island, Jameel inaugurated the Kaafu Guraidhoo harbour construction project.

According to a President’s Office press statement, during his speech the vice president reiterated the government’s commitment to fulfil its pledges to the people. He remarked that the developmental endeavors of the administration ‎would ‎completely transform the country by the end of its five-year term.


Bandidhoo harbour construction resumes after five years

The Bandidhoo harbour project officially recommenced yesterday (March 10) after a five year pause in construction.

Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Dr Mohamed Muizzu and Meedhoo MP Ahmed Siyam Mohamed were at the ceremony to inaugurate the project, Sun Online reported.

The project was initially started by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government in 2008, and stopped during that year’s change in government.

Sun Online reported that Housing Minister Dr Muizzu said the present government would fulfil its pledges and produce results, as it has proved over the past few months.


Tourism industry GDP growth flatlined in 2012, reveals Finance Ministry

The tourism industry’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2012 declined by 0.1 percent following 15.8 percent growth in 2010 and 9.2 percent in 2011, the Finance Ministry revealed in a “Fiscal and Economic Outlook: 2012 to 2016” statement included in the 2014 budget (Dhivehi) submitted to parliament last week.

“The main reason for this was the political turmoil the country faced in February 2012 and the decline in the number of days tourists spent in the country,” the statement explained.

“The most important statistic used to measure productivity in the tourism sector is the total number of nights tourists spend in the country. As the most number of tourists to the country now come from China, we note that the low number of nights on average that a Chinese tourist spends in the Maldives has an adverse effect on the tourism sector’s GDP.”

However, despite negative growth in 2012, the tourism industry is expected to have grown by 5.5 percent in 2013, with a 5.2 percent growth rate forecast for 2014.

The Maldivian economy is largely dependent on tourism, which accounted for 28 percent of GDP on average in the past five years, and generated 38 percent of government revenue in 2012.

Tourism growth

According to the annual tourism yearbook published by the Tourism Ministry, the average occupancy rate of all tourist establishments in 2012 was 2.5 percent below the previous year – at 70.6 percent.

The major decline in occupancy rate was recorded from the resort/hotel sector, while the occupancy rate of guest houses and safari vessels remained constant at 23.4% in 2012,” the yearbook stated.

The average duration of stay fell from 8.6 days in 2009 to 6.7 days in 2012.

Moreover, following 20.7 percent growth in tourist arrivals in 2010 and 17.6 percent in 2011, the growth rate slowed to 2.9 percent in 2012, well below the annual average of 7.7 percent growth rate from 2008 to 2012.

The yearbook revealed that the overall positive was largely a result of the “outstanding performance” of the industry prior to the transfer of power in February.

“Fiscal discipline”

The outlook statement meanwhile observed that most economic and monetary problems facing the Maldives were “directly or indirectly related to the state’s ‘fiscal discipline.'”

The Finance Ministry noted that a fiscal responsibility law ratified in May stipulates that government debt must be brought below 60 percent of GDP within the next three years.

While public debt in 2012 stood at 78.6 percent of GDP in 2012, the outlook statement revealed that it had fallen to 72.6 percent this year.

However, the figure is expected to grow to 81 percent of GDP in 2014.

A budget surplus in the coming years would be necessary to reach the legally mandated target, the finance ministry stated.

Fiscal deficit (as a percentage of GDP)

While the estimated fiscal deficit in the 2013 budget was MVR1.4 billion (US$90 million) or 3.6 percent of GDP, the deficit at the end of the  year would stand at MVR1.7 billion (US$110 million) or 4.7 percent of GDP, the statement noted.

The main reason for the higher than expected deficit spending was failure to implement proposed revenue raising measures intended to generate MVR1.8 billion (US$116.7 million) in new income.

The measures included hiking the Tourism Goods and Services Tax (T-GST) to 15 percent, raising the airport service charge to US$30, leasing 14 islands for resort development, raising tariffs on oil, introducing GST for telecom services, and “selectively” reversing import duty reductions.

In April, parliament rejected government-sponsored legislation to raise the departure tax on outgoing passengers, prompting Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad to seek parliamentary approval to divert MVR 650 million (US$42 million) allocated for infrastructure projects in the budget to cover recurrent expenditure.

The move followed a cabinet decision to delay implementation of new development projects financed out of the budget due to shortfalls in revenue.

Meanwhile, Jihad reportedly told parliament’s Finance Committee last week that no foreign bank was willing to lend to the Maldives anymore because of instability.

When the new revenue did not materialise, Jihad said the finance ministry approached foreign banks to sell treasury bills, but was turned down. Some banks refused to roll-over previously sold T-bills, he added.

As a result, Jihad said, the government was forced to overdraw from the public bank account at the Maldives Monetary Authority.

Moreover, banks only agreed to buy T-bills at an 11 percent interest rate, Jihad said, which would not be sustainable for the government.

While MVR500 million (US$32 million) a month was needed to pay salaries and allowances for state employees, government income in some months was just MVR300 million (US$19 million), Jihad noted, leaving no option but to turn to the central bank.

Deficit and debt

The total public and publicly guaranteed external debt in 2012 stood at MVR11 billion (US$713 million) and was estimated to have reached MVR11.6 billion (US$752 million) this year, the outlook statement revealed.

A total of MVR2 billion (US$129 million) from foreign loans was disbursed in 2013 for development projects, with 7.44 percent from multilateral financial institutions, 34.5 percent from bilateral partners, and 51.8 percent from commercial banks.

The MVR839 million (US$54 million) estimated as budget support in 2013 meanwhile included US$25 million from a stand-by credit facility provided by India in 2011 and a US$29.4 million loan from the Bank of Ceylon.

External and domestic debt

The external public debt is projected to increase to MVR12.5 billion (US$810.6 million) next year, the finance ministry noted.

Domestic debt in 2012 was MVR13.8 billion (US$895 million) and MVR16 billion (US$1 billion) in 2013. This figure is projected to rise by 15 percent to MVR18.5 billion (US$1.19 billion) next year.

The state’s total debt in 2013 is therefore estimated to be MVR27.7 billion (US$1.79 billion) – expected to rise to MVR31 billion (US$2 billion) in 2014.

The government spent MVR2.7 billion (US$175 million) in 2012 and MVR3.5 billion (US$227 million) in 2013 for loan repayment and interest payments to service foreign and domestic debts.