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Tuesday, January 06, 2004

We're on the Slippery Slope

There seem to be some signs in the air that push may be about to come to shove. I think over the next couple of days I'll try and knock up a couple of major posts. The efficient cause is this bit of news from Portugal, which may seem to suggest that the supposed Harrod-Balassa-Samuelson free lunch honeymoon (which has to count as one of the worst pieces of 'justifying what there is simply because it is' pieces of quackery where there should have been solid science in recent history) may be about to come to an end. One of those darned 'catch up' economies may have just caught up so hard that's it's come to a dead halt. The Bank of Portugal has predicted growth of only 0.75% this year, and even that only if there is the anticipated growth in global demand (which I doubt extremely). Those who have been over to Fistful will have seen that I am already begining to specualte about whether we are begining to see the end of growth in the Italian economy, well just remember Portugal is lined up nicely in the queue to see where lunch is going to be served.

Portugal is set to put recession behind it this year with 0.75 percent growth, however the recovery will be less strong than previously thought, the Bank of Portugal said.

"The weak growth predicted for 2004 owes itself fundamentally to another expected moderate decline in internal demand," it said in its twice-yearly economic outlook. The bank had estimated in its last outlook issued in June that the Portuguese economy, one of the European Union's smallest, would grow 1.0 percent this year, after after a contraction of about one percent in 2003.

By comparison, the European Central Bank last month predicted the economy of the entire 12-nation eurozone would grow between 1.1 and 2.1 percent this year. The Portuguese central bank predicted domestic demand would drop between 0.5 and 1.0 percent this year as government spending cuts and low consumer confidence caused by rising unemployment continued to take their toll.

The fall in domestic demand was highlighted on Monday when Portugal's national association of auto dealers reported sales of new cars had plunged by more than 15 percent in 2003 over the previous year to the lowest level in 14 years. But the fall in domestic demand would be made offset in 2004 by a sharp rise in exports caused by an expected recovery in the global economy, the bank said.

"The upturn in the world economy, and the European economy in particular, were definately confirmed at the end of 2003 and they should go forward this year, which explains the assumptions for growth which were adopted," it said.

The bank predicted exports would grow between 4.75 and 6.75 percent this year, after rising 3.0 percent last year.

The bank predicted exports would rise further in 2005, between 6.0 and 9.0 percent, helping economic growth to pick up in 2005 to 1.75 percent. Despite the improved economic outlook, Portuguese unemployment, which stood at 6.3 percent of the workforce in the third quarter of 2003, would continue to rise this year before stabilising in 2005, the bank said.

However, inflation would become tamer easing into a range from two to three percent this year from 3.3 percent in 2003. Portugal, a nation of just over 10 million people and one of the European Union's poorest members, struggled last year through its first recession since 1992. The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates the Portuguese economy contracted 0.8 percent last year, giving Portugal the worst performance of the OECD's 30 members.

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