Peru: Economic slowdown ahead
A decline in global commodity prices has hit Peru hard, with the country recording its first quarterly trade deficit since 2008 and authorities lowering their 2013 growth projections.
In late May, Julio Velarde, president of Peru’s central bank, announced that GDP is expected to rise by 6.1% in 2013, down from a previous forecast of 6.3%. Former minister of economics Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was less optimistic, telling local newspaper El Comercio that he did not expect the economy to expand by more than 3-4% this year.
Economists have been revising their projections downward since the country announced a trade deficit of $223m for the first three months of the year. Authorities are still expecting a trade surplus for the whole year, but in April, Velarde announced that the central bank was lowering its 2013 trade surplus estimate from $2.8bn to $900m.
The slowdown has been attributed to weaker global demand for minerals, which accounted for 56.8% of Peru’s exports in 2012. Copper and gold alone made up 23% and 21% of overseas sales, respectively. Prices of these commodities have fallen in recent months – gold is off about 20% since the beginning of the year, while copper has been in decline since February.
This downward trend in commodity values, particularly copper and iron ore, is associated in part with slower growth in China, Peru’s largest trading partner. The Asian giant accounted for 17.1% of exports in 2012, according to Peru’s Association of Exporters. However, the revelation in early June by the Financial Times that the Chinese State Reserves Bureau had re-entered the metals market after a period of destocking could provide just the boost that Peru needs.
News of the economic slowdown comes just months after leaders from banks and brokerage houses told OBG that they were anticipating a significant surge in copper production over the next three years resulting from previous investments in the sector.
However, with metal prices falling, some of these projects were in danger of being put on hold. In May, Romulo Mucho, the president of the Institute of Mining Engineers, told the local press that he expected a 23% decline in investment in exploration activities in 2013 in comparison to 2012. Some mining projects that are nearing final phases of construction are likely to be completed, but other greenfield activities are being put on hold at least until higher commodity prices can justify further investment.
While Peru is struggling with shifting external demand over which it has very little control, other factors closer to home may be playing a role in the cooling economic climate. In May Walter Bayly, the CEO of Credicorp, Peru’s largest financial holding company, told Reuters that the country suffers from a perception that the government is less than fully committed to free-market policies in the wake of speculation that Petroperú, the state-owned oil and gas company, would purchase a local refinery owned by Spain’s Repsol.
Bayly also noted that the state’s infrastructure projects had slowed. This has put a damper on the construction sector, which grew at an annual rate of 3.7% in March, compared to double-digit expansion in 2012, according to the National Institution for Statistics and Informatics. These same data show that the overall economy slowed in March, with GDP rising at an annualised rate of 3%, down from 6.15% in January and 4.98% in February.
Looking forward, it is not likely that the economy will recover to reach previous growth estimates before the end of this year. However, efforts by the Humala administration to improve the investment climate would likely go a long way in reaffirming confidence in the country’s growth prospects.