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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Chile's Economy In Perspective - October 2008

Chile Country Outlook

Claus Vistesen: Copenhagen

Executive Summary and Outlook on key indicators

There are many lenses and perspectives through which to look at economic development. In this note, the process known as the demographic dividend is conceptualized in a Chilean context. The analysis shows how Chile during the past two decades has benefited from the dividend proxied by the increasingly favorable trend in overall age structure of the society. By some measures Chile’s demographic dividend is ending in these very years, but by adapting a slightly broader definition of the optimal working age and subsequent productivity profile it appears that Chile still finds itself in the proverbial sweet spot. Coupled with the favorable windfall from copper exports and the subsequent transformation of this into an unprecedented net wealth position of Chile’s public accounts, the economy looks on a very solid footing to face whatever travails which might come next.

As for the immediate outlook for Chile it appears that a slowdown is steadily rolling its way in. Tightening credit supply by financial institutions, a hawkish central and deterioration in terms of trade (forecast by the central bank) are all factors to be taken into account. Finally, a slowdown in the economy’s rate of job creation rate suggests that the slowdown may now finally be set to take hold in the immediate future. Consequently, headline GDP is expected to moderate somewhat in H02 2008 and H01 2009.

Chile has benefited immensely from the global boom in commodities and specifically the surging price of copper. The revenues from copper exports have kept Chile’s external trade balance solidly in the black for he past 4 years and the subsequent windfall have provided Chile with bulging coffers in the treasury. Official forecasts suggest that this may now be about to end, but it needs to be stressed that as long as copper prices stay in the region of the current level and absent a complete slump in demand, the trade balance should continue to provide a sound counter balance to the negative income account.

As is the case in most other emerging economies the Chilean central bank is strongly focused on an inflation rate currently running well above its 3% target (9.5% in July). With this in mind, it is reasonable to expect that the central bank will continue to raise to a policy rate of 9.5% before the end of 2008. Coupled with the recent suggestion by official advisors that the central bank abandon open market operations to manipulate the Peso, the hawkish position should benefit the Peso in H02 2008. One risk to this call would be a significant spike in risk aversion that could lead to an emerging economy wide capital flight.

An Orderly Slowdown Ahead

The Chilean economy continued to expand in Q1 albeit at a slightly lower pace than in 2007. GDP growth expanded 3 % on the year and 1.4% q-o-q where the latter figure translates into an annualized growth rate of 5.6%. Not many forecasters, official as well as commercial, expect this figure to hold however. Morgan Stanley recently revised its 2008 GDP estimate downwards from 4.3% to 3.8% whereas the central bank is more sanguine in their bid of 4.0 to 5.0% for 2008. Chile expanded 5% in 2007.

On the demand side the expansion in Q1 was largely driven by gross fixed capital formation. For 2008 the central bank is predicting investments to increase by 13% driven, to a great extent, by energy and mining related capex. Consumption however grew at an overall slower pace than 2007 and is not expected to top a 5% growth rate in 2008. As for government spending, the central predicts that the formal rule established in light of the recent copper bonanza (see below) will persist in 2008 where the public surplus is expected to clock in at 0.5% of GDP.

Despite the apparent solid performance figures signs are emerging to indicate the Chilean economy may be slowing. This possibility is hinted at in the recent central bank monetary report where a decidedly cautious tone is presented. The central bank ascribes a relatively high downside to the effects from incoming inflation pressures as well as negative hydrological conditions which are tantamount to the energy supply in Chile.

One sign that the economy may be entering a softer patch comes from industrial production figures where production fell in both April and May at -2.8% and -0.9% (m-o-m) respectively. If we turn to yearly figures, the recent months have been more volatile than the stable levels observed in 2006 and 2007 but the trend is inexorably one of decline. Over the first six months of 2008 industrial production averaged a 4.2% increase which compares to an average of 5.2% in the corresponding months of 2007.

Domestic demand as proxied by sales of consumer goods also shows signs of decline in growth rates. In the first half of 2008 sales averaged a monthly (y-o-y) growth rate of 4.2% which compares with 7.7% in H01 2007 and 5.0% in H02 2007. An educated guess suggests that domestic demand will grow in the region of 3.5% to 4% in 2008 which must be compared to a corresponding growth rate of 6.3% in 2007. Clearly, this does not signify a crash, but more so a moderate slowdown in line with global fundamentals. Morgan Stanley’s in-house Chile analyst Luis Arcantales also weighs in on the situation of the consumer. Arcantales notes three headwinds in the form of rising inflation, tightening credit standards, and a slower job creation. According to Arcantales the banking sector in Chile has acted swiftly, and in essence proactively, in the face of the global outlook where tighter credit standards seem certain to be a part of the equation. In the second quarter of 2008 44% of banks consequently reported that they have tightened credit standards. If we add the fact that the central bank of Chile is still in the midst of a hiking cycle, which so far as taken the rate to 7.75% from 5% in June 2007, it is clear that demand and supply for consumer credit is likely to fall further.

With respect to labour market dynamics employment continued to expand briskly in Q1 2008, but seems to have slown down somewhat in Q2. Out of an estimated 7.186.130 people in the labour force 6.583.130 were in employment which translates into an unemployment rate of 8.4% (603.000). In Q2 the number of people in employment furthermore decreased slightly 0.3%. Compared to Q2 2007 the unemployment rate increased 1.5% and compared to Q1 the corresponding figure was 0.4%.

This coupled with a hawkish central bank and a deteriorating credit environment for consumers suggests that Chile may be heading down a notch a two when it comes to top line economic growth.

Inflation is creeping up

As a part of the general slowdown in economic activity the lingering increase in inflation definitely seems to be the most pre-occupying threat from the point of view of policy makers and sell side research.

JPMorgan suggests that Chile may be set to enter a stagflationary phase as growth nudges below trend at the same time as inflation remains elevated. JPMorgan furthermore anticipates the central bank to move in strongly to counter the inflation trends which will further put pressure on Chile’s economy.

Unlike in other economies inflation pressures do not seem to come as quickly on the back of easing commodity pressures as first expected. In July, inflation rose to an annual rate of 9.5% and even though the central bank opted to raise interest rates 50 basis points on the 14th of August the real interest rate is still negative. This may not in itself be a solid policy gauge since, as we learned above, credit already seems to be tightening considerably due to restraints on the part of a proactive financial services sector. At this point, inflation forecasts for 2008 are hovering between 8-9% and with a formal target of 3% we can expect the central bank to continue with the rating cycle. The central – confident in its investment strategy, forecasts that inflation should fall towards its 3% target in Q2 2009.

We are reluctant to look this far ahead but concur that inflation is set to remain high for the rest of 2008. This, in turn, will in turn keep the central focused on inflation. It is thus perfectly possible that we see a central bank refi rate of around 9.5% before 2008 is out.

One important factor here is also the Peso where the central bank has recently been engaged in open market operations to stem the flow of appreciation against the USD and in fact to maintain what has been a steady depreciation since April.

Given the inflationary tendencies and their persistence advisors close to the central bank have explicitly suggested that such open market operations be abandoned due to the threat from inflation. Given the recent and new found strength of the US dollar it is difficult to say whether the Peso will be flattered too much by the central bank’s hawkish stance (against the USD that is). However, it is reasonable to expect we think that the Peso will appreciate moderately provided that the central bank decides to stop its open market operations. At the end of June the Peso marked a 10 year low against the Dollar, a value we feel should fall slightly in H02 given the continuing hawkish position by the central bank.

Copper, Copper Everywhere

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Chilean economy since the advent of the 21st century has been the extraordinary windfall from copper production and exports. According to most estimates Chile alone accounts for one third of the world’s copper production and in light of the relentless upward March of copper prices Chile has seen its goods trade surplus swell accordingly.

In formal terms, the so-called copper Bonanza began in 2004 and has continued un-abated up until this point. Given the recent decrease, across the board, in basic commodities the goods trade balance seems set to deteriorate but only slightly as far as goes 2008. In Q1 the goods balance stood at 6231 mill USD which is up considerably from the previous quarter. In Q2 and Q3 the goods balance is forecast [1] to take the value of 6555 and 6147 mill USD respectively where the trend is more important than the point forecast itself.

However, the external balance is not only about tangible goods.

Consequently, and while a positive trade balance is still keeping the overall current account in surplus, a negative income balance is beginning to pull the trend down. Add to this that the trade balance in 2008 looks set to be weaker than in 2007 the current account could very well swing into negative in 2009 which would be the first time in five years. In fact, the central bank is predicting the current account to swing into negative already in 2008. This seems a quite bearish forecast but much will depend on the rate of import growth which is the major determining factor in the forecast. As such, the central bank forecasts the goods balance to deteriorate to 17.000 mill USD in 2008 from 23.653 mill USD in 2007. Clearly, this would be at odds with the model deployed above but given its high degree of prediction error in terms of point forecasts, the central bank’s forecast should not be explicitly challenged at this point.

Much more important than the immediate outlook of the external books is, however, the way Chile has chosen to manage the recent years’ copper bonanza. One crucial aspect to note is then the extent to which Chile has maintained fiscal discipline in the face of the surging commodity boom. In numbers, Chile has consequently aimed at an annual fiscal surplus of 0.5%/GDP to act as a counterweight to the incoming copper revenues. In more traditional economic terms one could also see this as a proactive attempt to avoid that Chile fall under the yoke of a Dutch disease type correction.

So far, Chile has honed up to its intentions.

Between 1996 and 2006, Chile’s public balance averaged 1.5% of GDP a position much better than that held by its peers in East Asia and Latin America. From 2005 to 2007 the structural surplus as a percentage of GDP was 1% and is expected to 0.5% in 2008. However, the pure fiscal surplus, in 2008, as a percentage share of GDP stood at 8.1% which is quite extraordinary on any measure. In 2008 the corresponding figure is set to decline to 4.8% which still represents a solid cushion.

Apart from handing Chile the highest sovereign debt rating in Latin America it also prompted Luis Arcantales recently to dub Chile the real thing referring to the fact that Chile, unlike its Latin American peers, has chosen to build up a structural fiscal war chest rather than one of foreign FX reserves. Ultimately however and a in a context of global liquidity the bottom line remains much the same. Consequently, Chile’s treasury recently laid out a plan on how to construct an optimal global portfolio from which the copper windfall could be transferred into financial assets. Through the so-called Economic & Social Stabilization Fund (FEES), Chile plans to put a substantial amount of its savings into equities and corporate bonds. Thus, and quite in line with other sovereign investment vehicles (SWFs), so will Chile’s savings also be going for yield, even in a situation where the government is a net creditor with outstanding debt at about -11% of GDP.


[1] This is how our model performs in a post mortem perspective.

In general, the fit in terms of point forecasts is not that good, but the fitted trend is very close to the actual movements with a correlation coefficient of 0.92. From a standard model selection criteria point of view the model performs marginally better at predicting the trade balance than a random walk model although it is considerably better to predict the time series in changes. The model is consequently formally built upon variables in changes to correct for stationarity problems.

List of References

Arcantales, Luis: Morgan Stanley GEF - Can’t Beat the Real Thing! 18.03.2008
Arcantales, Luis: Morgan Stanley GEF – Dark Clouds for the Consumer 20.08.2008

Friday, September 5, 2008

Chile Central Bank Raises Interest Rate

Chile's central bank raised its target interest rate to 8.25 percent, the highest in almost a decade, as policy makers show their determination to win the fight against inflation. The bank's five-member board, led by President Jose De Gregorio, is trying to contain consumer price increases that are triple its target. The bank said today that the speed of further rate increases depends on economic statistics, dropping a clause from last month's statement that said raising the rate is the ``most likely'' scenario.

``The future course of the policy rate foresees further adjustments to ensure that inflation converges with the target, at a rhythm that will depend on new information gathered and on its implications for projected inflation,'' the bank said in its statement.

Inflation last month was within expectations, the bank said. Core inflation, which excludes food and fuel, remains high, confirming that price increases have spread through the economy more quickly than policy makers expected a few months ago, the bank said. The bank indicated that it felt that domestic demand is still growing strongly.

Inflation reached a 13-year high of 9.5 percent in July. It eased in August to an annual rate of 9.3 percent, more than triple the bank's target of 3 percent. The bank has raised interest rates by 6.5 percentage points in the past four years and 2.75 percentage points in the past 12 months. So far the rate increases haven't slowed Chile's economy, which expanded 6.25 percent in the 12 months to July, the fastest pace since March 2007.

The bank also stated that the data they had suggested the economy will grow faster in the second half of the year  than it did in the first. The bank is due to announce new projections for growth and inflation on Sept. 11.

Annual core inflation, which excludes fuel and perishable food, was 9 percent in August -  the fastest since the institute started tracking the figures -  and this was for the second month in a row. 

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Economic Growth in Chile

By Claus Vistesen: Copenhagen

There are many perspectives through which to look at economic development and growth. Geography, institutions or perhaps just plain good old physical capital accumulation are all important parameters. This small piece suggests a further metric and attempts to frame the argument with Chile as a case study.

Specfifically, this note explains the process known as the demographic dividend and conceptualizes it in a Chilean context. The analysis shows how Chile during the last two decades has benefited from the dividend proxied by the increasingly favorable trend in overall age structure of the society. By some measures Chile’s demographic dividend is thus ending during these very years. Yet, by adapting a slightly broader definition of the optimal working age and subsequent productivity profile, it appears that Chile still finds itself in the proverbial sweet spot and will continue to do so for the next decade. Coupled with the favorable windfall from copper exports and the subsequent transformation of this into an unprecedented net wealth position of Chile’s public accounts, the economy looks on a very solid footing to face whatever travails that might come next.

A Good Run

As can be observed below, Chile did indeed lose a substantial amount of output surrounding the Latin American debt crisis in the 1980s as well as the Asian currency crisis in 1997. Yet, and although Chile’s economy did not emerge unscathed from the past three decades of emerging market crises, the economy still managed to recover in terms of output. [1]

Chile's growth performance depicted by the chart is interesting in so far as it shows us the period that some scholars have dubbed Chile's Golden Age (Gallego and Loayza, 2002) due to the extended period of high growth rates. Between 1984 and 1998 Chile's growth rate in output per capita averaged 5.15% a year with a volatility of 2.64% p.a. This compares with an average growth rate in output per capita between 1998 and 2008(f) of 2.61% and a subsequent volatility of 1.73%. The 1985-1998 figures are remarkable and thus deserve some explanation.

According to Gallego and Loayza (2002) Chile's impressive growth performance primarily comes down to improvements in total factor productivity induced by increased investment in human capital and the development of a sound and coherent institutional setup. As such, and not unlike other growth accounting exercises the authors initially find that TFP accounts for the biggest share of output growth alongside the usual suspects of capital accumulation and growth in the labour force, the latter which is (in)famously coined as synonomous with population growth in the neo-classical growth model

The empirical approach is rather straight forward in terms of methodology, and is closely related to the tenets of endogenous growth theory as well as of course Mankiw, Romer and Weil's (1992) seminal findings that investment in human capital be considered an important part of capital accumulation. Formally, the authors first estimate a cross-section regression framework (GMM) based on a, more or less, standard neo-classical growth model augmented with human capital (schooling rates and life expectancy). The authors also include; government consumption to GDP, financial market development, terms of trade shocks, trade openess, and a black market premium. They find that this model account for 43% of the growth observed in Chile.

Unsatisfied with this result, the authors imbue the model with a number of variables whose origin in the growth theory framework are inspired by the tenets of endogenous growth theory. These variables include proxies for the political system, governance, public services and infrastructure, and with these, the new model moves reaches a coefficient of determination of 73%.

In line with endogenous growth theory the authors consequently find that this initial "residual" best be explained by improvements in the institutional edifice of Chile's economy. As a result and although the notorious convergence effect will tend to lead to lower overall growth rates in period t0 than in period t-1, the authors suggest that Chile focus further on institutional improvements to foster growth in the future.

Far be it from me to take issue with these results. However, in the following I propose another way to look at the past and future growth performance of Chile. It is important to understand that the two approaches are not mutually exclusive but ultimately directs the attention to a different set of governing mechanisms when it comes to economic growth.

A Demographic Dividend?

In one of their many papers on the subject David E. Bloom and David Canning (see Demographic Challenges, Fiscal Sustainability and Economic Growth, PGDA Working Paper no. 8) provide a useful historical sweep of the different approaches to demographic changes and their significance on the economic edifice. From the Malthusian epoch to a more optimist view on the benefits of vibrant population dynamics (see e.g. Simon Kuznets, Julian Simon, and Ester Boserup) and on to what Bloom and Canning coin as the “neutralists” [3] , the perspective on the importance of demographics has certainly changed a lot.

One crucial lesson to draw from the historical prism of demographic discourses is that the demographic transition is a far more complicated process than a mere transition in population growth rates as well as one of sectoral shifts in the economy. Lee (2003) consequently shows how the demographic transition also fundamentally changes the age structure of society whereas others such as Malmberg and Sommerstad (2000) and Hugh (2006) have suggested that the demographic transition be re-thought all together. Common for these contributions is the shifts in age structure, the complex mechanisms which govern these changes, and their subsequent effect and operationalization on the macroeconomic edifice.

Bloom, Canning and their fellow scholars on the PGDA at Harvard, [4] have furthermore showed how age structure makes a much more solid demographic yard stick, for gauging economic trends, than merely looking at population growth and absolute size of the population. This, I think, is the ultimate lesson to derive from decades worth of thinking on demographic processes. I would essentially divide the lesson into two irrefutable points. One is that age structure matters much more than population growth and that a simple metric such as median age can give us a tremendous amount of information on an economy's given and future growth path. The second points is simply that the demographic transition is not, by a long shot, over. In fact, nobody knows when it will end.

It is within this framework that the process known as the demographic dividend enters, and not surprisingly, it is all about age structure and how economies who go through the demographic transition at some point will find themselves with above average conditions for growth as the working age as well as productive share of the population is maximized. In terms of median age and as a crude benchmark, we can say that those economies with median ages between 25-35 are situated in or close to the optimal age structure for economic growth. Nothing comes for free however, and it is crucial to point out that the demographic dividend provides an opportunity rather than a sure benefit. For example, it seems that Eastern Europe and Russia, by and large, have gone through their demographic dividends without experiencing the corresponding win-win situation in which favorable growth conditions coincides with advances in terms of institutional quality and political stability.

The demographic dividend operates through two interconnected mechanisms in the form of falling fertility and declining infant mortality. In most countries, falling mortality as the economy moves through the demographic transition has been accompanied, with a lag, by falling fertility Bloom and Canning (2006). If we add a steady increase in life expectancy to proxy the general improvement in the health of the population these interconnected processes endow an economy with a period of, let us say, 15-20 years in which the young and working cohorts of the society are relatively big compared to the dependent cohorts. The former are often defined as the cohorts aged <20-25 [5] years and for the latter's part >65. As for quantitative importance, Bloom and Canning (2004) have shown this to have a positive effect on per capita output as well as they have famously shown how one third of the East Asian Tiger economies’ impressive growth spurt in the latter part of the 20th century can be explained by the demographic dividend.

More generally Bloom & Canning et al. (2007) have also demonstrated, through cross sectional regression data, how age structure can significantly improve the forecast of economies' growth rate relative to world GDP.

Chile’s Demographic Dividend

If large parts of East Asia have already had their demographic dividend what about Chile then. Is Chile about to receive, or more aptly; is she in the middle of her demographic dividend?

As can readily be seen, Chile almost displays a textbook case of economic development. In this way, infant mortality has fallen back sharply since the middle of the 1970s as well as life expectancy has increased. Outside the immediate realms of economics, biologists and health economists speak of the process known as the epidemiological transition to explain the progression of the change in (and drivers of) variables such as mortality, life expectancy, and other public health metrics.

The reduction of, and subsequently the current level of, infant mortality in Chile rivals that of many developed economies. According to Albala and Vio (1995) Chile managed to reduce infant mortality by 82% between 1970 and 1992 and Jimenez and Romero (2007) further shows how provisions of services to counter perinatal risks and acute respirator distress have helped Chile to reach an impressive infant mortality rate of 8.9 infants per 1000 thousands in 2000.

With respect to life expectancy Albala and Vio (1995) describe how the mortality rate of people aged 65 and more decreased 73% between 1970 and 1992 . Especially, a reduction in the mortality from cardiovascular causes is highlighted. In a more recent paper Albala, Vio et al. (2002) also latch on to increasing risk posed by a transition from a prevalence of infectious diseases to on in which chronic diseases ascend in importance. The usual suspects here would be an increase in obesity as a result of malnutrition through the consumption of high-fat/high-carbohydrate energy-dense foods and a decrease in physical activity. Chronic diseases which spring from such developments would then be e.g. type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Evidence of this development appears in the context of school children; from 1987 to 2000 the prevalance of obesity among first grade school children rose more than 100% for both boys and girls.

Much debate has and will be devoted to the extent that such adverse developments from economic development could, at some point, break the curve in terms of life expectancy. At this point however, it seems as if advances in healt care services and the subsequent improvements in old age life expectancy are enough to keep the curve ticking upwars.

Returning to the question of demographic dividend in Chile, the trend of the decline in infant mortality exhibits the expected negative concave relationship as per function of the fact that the value cannot fall below 0. In order to build a simple model framework and by applying the logic expressed through theory above, we can construct a rudimentary econometric model to formalize the argumet.

Consequently, we let the lagged change (one year) [6] in the infant mortality rate predict the change, in year 0, of the fertility rate. Given the properties of the time series in question, and the theoretical framework above we would expect a positive but also a concave relationship since both variables are bound by the fact that they cannot fall below 0. In general terms, this model clearly assumes that the process of decline in fertility throughout the demographic transition is infinitely simpler than it really is. The crucial point here is that while the decline in infant mortality may be able to explain the decline in fertility on a certain part of the curve it cannot, and may in fact see its sign reverse, as we move further towards replacement level fertility and beyond. One could even with reasonable claim ask whether in fact the decline in fertility towards replacement levels is driven by infant mortality reductions alone. Nevertheless, the model estimated looks as follows where both variables are in changes.

Which leads to the following estimation:

The visual inspection of the model can furthermore be derived from the graph below.

In general, the model is far from solid but it manages to get the message across in the sense that it links the decline in fertility to the lagged decline in infant mortality [7] . The key thing to remember is the implicit and theoretical concave relationship cited above; a relationship also confirmed by the scatter plot.

The interesting thing about Chile here is that, according to standard demographic theory, the demographic transition should, by and large, end now as fertility trends towards replacement level. Not a lot of serious scholars would believe that however and we can thus expect fertility to decline below replacement level (see e.g. Wolfgang Lutz here). The extent to which it does not, Chile would clearly constitute something of a remarkable case. This is also why policy makers would be wise to consider implementing steps to avoid fertility dropping into lowest-low territory [8] , since what we know with almost certainty is that the demographic transition does not stop once infant mortality hits near rock bottom.

This point also highlights the idea that while the demographic dividend presents a window of opportunity so does the backdrop represent a penalty. This point is crucially related to the fact that only very few economies (e.g. the US and perhaps also France) have been able to stay at, or return to, replacement levels of fertility. In most other cases, fertility seems set bound to fall further and the only real metric to gauge is the speed by which this occurs. In an emerging market context the evidence is worrying to the extent that many economies have seen their fertility rates crash completely over the course of less than a decade. The next 5-10 years in Chilean, and indeed Latin American context, will be extremely interesting to watch in this regard.

Given the fact that Chile's fertility level is already approaching replacement level, the model cited above has, in all likelihood, run its course. What will likely cause Chile's fertility rate to fall below replacement level requires an entirely different set of explanatory variables and also theoretical edifice. Key trends would for example include an elaboration of the quantum and tempo effect of fertility in a context of rapid economic development and changing social norms.

To summarize the argument in a Chilean context, the ultimate data series to gauge, in the context of the demographic dividend would be age structure and the effect from the processes described above.

As per usual, beauty is in the eye of the beholder since depending on which definition you ascribe to the optimal age structure, Chile could be said to be in and out of the demographic dividend. The truth probably is that Chile is in the twilight hours of its demographics dividend. However, with a median age of about 30 years Chile still enjoys, and will continue to do so in the immediate future, the benefits of an age structure conductive to balanced economic growth.

One important point to note here is that the 25-44 bracket peaked sometime in the middle of the 1990s. Much evidence suggests though that it is a bit untimely to make the cut at the 44 year old age group, since many people are perhaps not far from their productive peak between 44 and 64. On the other, the peak of the 25-44 age bracket may still constitute an upper level of economic capacity if viewed as the ability and propensity to sustain housing booms, large negative external balances etc.


Chile still has ,and will continue to enjoy for the immediate future ,a favorable age structure for harboring economic growth and dynamism. Favorable is in this context defined through the spectrum of the demographic dividend and the subsequent increase in, and high proportion of, working age people to total population. Depending on fall in fertility, the demographic dividend is definitely tapering off at this point. If experience from East Asia is anything to go by Chile as well as its Latin American peers are now set to enter a new phase of the the demographic transition in which fertility steadily moves below and beyond replacement levels. The speed here is crucial. If it happens slowly, Chile can expect to posses a relatively balanced age structure in the decades to come but if the decline is swift and lingering the effect could be otherwise.

This small piece has also touched upon the way we conceptualize economic growth and development. I would not want to discount methods such as the one deployed in Gallego and Loayza (2002). However, I have suggested that a different perspective is a also considered. I would, in particular, emphasise this in the context of the future drivers of economic growth. Nobody can disagree with the impetus to move forward on strong institutional settings. Yet, economic development is not only accompanied by a demographic dividend but also, arguably, a demographic penalty which occurs as the effect of the dividend recedes and the decline in fertility continues. This would be where concepts such as the quantum and tempo effect of fertility comes in. it is also where policy makers would be wise to consider that a relentless strive to reach the apex of the value chain will also bring with it a deficit in terms of the proper quantity/quality mix of human capital.

List of References

Albala, Cecilia; Vio, Fernando; Kain, Juliana and Uauy, Ricardo (2002) - Nutrition transition in Chile: determinants and consequences, Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA), University of Chile

Albala, Cecilia and Vio, Fernando (1995) - Epidemiological transition in Latin America: The case of Chile, Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA), University of Chile

Bloom, D and Williamson, J (1998) Demographic transitions and economic miracles in emerging Asia. World Bank Economic Review. 12(3) 419-456.

Bloom DE et al. (2007) - Does Age Structure Forecast Economic Growth? PGDA Working Paper no. 20.

Bloom, DE & David Canning (2006) – Demographic Challenges, Fiscal Sustainability and Economic Growth, PGDA Working Paper no. 8.

Bloom, DE and Canning, D (2004) - Global demographic change: dimensions and economic significance, In Global demographic change: economic impacts and policy challenges (proceedings of a symposium, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Jackson Hole)

Gallego, Francisco & Loayza, Norman (2002) - The Golden Period for Growth in Chile: Explanations and Forecasts, Working Paper, Central Bank of Chile no. 146

Hugh, Edward (2006) - Rethinking the Demographic Transition (can be downloaded by request)

Jiménez, Jorge and Inés Roméro, Maria (2007) - Reducing Infant Mortality In Chile: Success In Two Phases, Health Affairs, 26, no. 2 (2007): 458-465

Lee, Ronald (2003) - The demographic Transition: Three Centuries of Fundamental Change, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 17 (fall 2003), pp. 167-190

Malmberg, Bo & Lena Sommestad (2000) - Four Phases of the Demographic Transition, Implications for Economic and Social Development in Sweden, Working Paper 2000:6, Institutet for Framtidstudier

N. Gregory, Mankiw; Romer, David, and David N., Weil (1992) - A Contribution to the Empirics of Economic Growth, Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 107.

Kuznets, S (1967) Population and economic growth, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, III (3).

Simon, J (1981) the ultimate resource. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

[1] Although Chile did not recover from the Asian currency crisis to pre 1997 levels.

[2] Bloom & Canning (2006) – Demographic Challenges, Fiscal Sustainability and Economic Growth, PGDA Working Paper no. 8.

[3] Basically, this would be the modern institutional paradigm that has emerged within the economic growth/development discourse (see e.g. Daron Acemoglu, Dani Rodrik and Amartya Sen).

[4] See numerous contributions here: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/pgda/working.htm

[5] I would argue that this is the right threshold (unlike the <15>

[6] The time series are in changes to correct for non- stationarity. As for the lag, the optimal number of lags could be more rigorously verified on the basis of theory and the statistical properties of the time series in question (VAR)

[7] Although, as can also be observed in the graphs, it cannot predict sudden reversals in fertility trends; i.e. these would essentially be treated as exogenous shocks to this model.

[8] A TFR of <1.5

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Chile Industrial Output Still Rising Slowly

Chile's industrial production rose less than expected in July after shrinking in the two previous months. Output expanded 3.0 percent in July from the same month a year earlier, the National Statistics Institute said today in Santiago.

Industrial sales rose 2.1 percent in the same period, less than median estimate of seven analysts for a 4.1 percent rise. According to a separate release Chile's jobless rate was unchanged at 8.4 percent. The peso strengthened for a second day, rising 0.8 percent to 515.75 per dollar at 9:44 a.m. Santiago time.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chile's Economy Accelerates in Q2 2008

Chile's economy expanded faster than expected in the second quarter, indicating that the central bank may well feel more comfortable raising interest rates in order to slow inflation further. Chile's GDP grew by 4.3 percent in the second quarter, up from a revised 3.3 percent in the first quarter, according to data out today from the Santiago-based central bank.

The faster-than-expected growth was driven by an 11 percent increase in domestic demand, suggesting policy makers have room to raise interest rates further without bringing the economy grinding to a halt. The central bank has raised its overnight rate by 1.25 percentage points to a nine-year high of 7.75 percent this year in an effort to bring down the highest inflation rate since 1994. The central bank raised interest rates by half a percentage point at each of its last two monthly meetings, and most economists now feel there will be a quarter-point increase at its Sept. 4 meeting.

Private consumption grew 5.9 percent in the second quarter, as Chileans spent 15 percent more, in real terms, on durable goods. Fixed capital, or assets, expanded 23 percent from a year earlier in the second quarter, led by investment in machinery and equipment.

Chile companies are set to invest more than $57 billion, about a third of the country's annual gross domestic product, by the end of 2012, according to recent statements by Finance Minister Andres Velasco.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chile's Central Bank Raises Interest Rates

Chile's central bank raised its target interest rate to 7.75 percent yesterday. This is now the highest level in almost a decade, and marks the strength of the determination at the central bank to slow Chile's inflation back down towards the bank's target zone. Central bank President Jose De Gregorio and his team boosted the key rate by half a percentage point for the third straight month, making borrowing costs the highest since December 1998.

Consumer prices rose at an annual pace of 9.5 percent in July, matching June's rate, the fastest since September 1994. The bank warned that further rate rises will probably be needed to bring annual inflation to its target rate of 3 percent. It should also be noted that real interest rates in Chile are still negative - minus 1.75% - when compared with the current rate of inflation. Core inflation - ie the CPI less fresh fruit, vegetables and energy - was running at 9% in July, which is quite high, and even in relation to core inflation real interest rates are still negative.

Last month's inflation was faster than expected, the central bank said in today's statement. International ``inflationary pressures'' remain even as prices for oil and other commodities have fallen, the bank said.

``Given the deterioration in the inflationary outlook, this rise in the policy rate is necessary to ensure that inflation converges toward 3 percent'' during the bank's two-year policy horizon, it said in the statement. ``In the most likely scenario, further adjustments will be necessary to ensure that inflation converges with the target.''

Chilean economists increased their forecasts for 2008 inflation to 8.0 percent in the August central bank survey - up from the 7.5 percent regisetered in July's survey. They left their forecast for next year's price rises unchanged at 4.5 percent.

Last month's core inflation - which excludes fuel and perishable food - was the fastest since the National Statistics Institute started tracking it in January 1997 as housing, health care and transportation became more expensive. The cost of long- distance bus tickets rose 12 percent. Food climbed 18 percent in the 12 months through July.

Chile's Monetary Policy Group - an independent team of five academics that monitors the central bank's policies - unanimously called on Aug. 12 for the bank to raise rates by half a percentage point and end efforts to weaken the currency. The central bank has been purchasing $50 million a day since April to build reserves and stem gains in the peso - but the academics warned that the weakening of the peso could spur further inflation, on the other hand if they sterilise the purchases (ie reduce the money supply accordingly, then this can be a way to avoid excess liquidity arriving in Chile in the search for extra yield as Chile raises interest rates.

The peso has fallen 16 percent since the central bank announced the dollar purchases April 10.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chile Industrial Output Falls Again In June

Chilean industrial output shrank 0.9 percent in June over June 2007. This was the second consecutive decline. The industrial production index has now fallen year-on-year in three of the past four months, according to National Statistics Institute data. Unemployment was also higher than expected at 8.4 percent, the institute said today in Santiago.

Metal production fell as output of molybdenum, which is used to strengthen steel, declined 28 percent. The Chilean peso fell 0.51 percent to 510.22 pesos per dollar as of 10.37 a.m. in New York on expectation the data may slow the pace of interest- rate increases.

The central bank raised its overnight lending rate by half a percentage point at each of its last two monthly meetings. The bank is committed to slowing inflation to 3 percent within two years from the 9.5 percent annual pace it reached in June, and will probably need to raise rates again, according to Vice-President Jorge Desormeaux.

Consumer spending fell 2.3 percent in real terms from a month earlier, the third month in a row that sales of consumer goods have declined or remained unchanged. Supermarket sales, which increased 14 percent year-on-year as inflation pushed up the prices of food, rose just 1 percent in real terms.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Chile Economic Growth May 2008

Chile's principal economic activity index, the IMACEC, rose 2.1 percent in May compared with a year earlier, which was a marked slowdown after growth of 4.8 percent in April, according to data from the central bank yesterday. The IMACEC, a monthly index, measures more than 90 percent of the components which make up Chile's gross domestic product. GDP figures are issued quarterly. So it gives us some short term measure of the level of economic activity.

The pace of growth slowed from April, which followed a 0.3 percent contraction in March, the central bank said today. The annual economic growth rate fell to an average of 2.4 percent in the three months through May, from 6.5 percent in the same period a year earlier.

Chilean economists generally cut back their forecasts from over 3 percent after a June 30 government report showing a 2.4 percent contraction in industrial output in May. Similar results in June would leave the country on course for first-half growth of around 3 percent. Production seems in part to have slowed due to strikes, energy shortages and floods that destroyed crops and swept away road and rail access to Codelco's El Teniente copper mine.

June's activity data should be better than May's because heavy rain brought the drought that was causing a rise in the price of price power generated by hydro-electric dams to an end. Water-driven turbines provide as much as 70 percent of power in central and southern Chile. The electricity, gas and water industries probably didn't act as a drag on the economy in June, as they had in earlier months. The depreciation of the peso versus the U.S. dollar during June also helped exporters. The Peso declined 9 percent in June to hit a 10-month low of 527.89 per dollar on June 30.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Chile Inflation June 2008

Chile's annual inflation rate rose to 9.5 percent in June, the fastest pace since 1994, the National Statistics Institute said today. Consumer prices rose 1.5 percent month on month, more than the 1.2 percent rise in May. The core inflation rate was 0.8 percent in June, up from 0.7 percent last month.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Chile Inflation May 2008

Chilean inflation accelerated more than economists expected in May to the highest in more than 13 years, raising speculation the central bank will lift interest rates this month. The peso rose following the news. Consumer prices climbed 8.9 percent in the 12 months to May. Last month alone prices rose 1.2 percent, the National Statistics Institute said today in Santiago.

Chile's peso gained the most in almost three months after consumer prices rose in May more than economists forecast, boosting speculation the central bank will raise interest rates to stem inflation.

The peso climbed after the report. Chile's currency advanced the most since March 11, jumping 1.6 percent to 480.51 per dollar at 4:59 p.m. New York time, from 488.5 yesterday.

In a separate report, the central bank said Chile's economy expanded at a seasonally adjusted 4.1% percent annual rate in April. As can be seen below the Chilean economy has now been slowing steadily since last summer.

The 4.25 percentage-point difference between the Chilean and U.S. benchmark lending rates, along with gains in copper, the nation's biggest export, has helped fuel a 9.5 percent increase in the Chilean peso in the past 12 months.

Banco Central de Chile, which last raised the overnight lending rate in January to a six-year high of 6.25 percent, next meets on June 10. Minutes released earlier this week show policy makers considered a quarter-percentage point rate increase at their May 8 meeting, before unanimously voting to leave the target rate unchanged.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Chile GDP Q1 2008

Chile's gross domestic product expanded at the slowest pace since 2003 in the first quarter with mining output falling substantially and a drought cutting hydroelectricity supplies. Chile's economy expanded 3 percent in the first quarter from the year-earlier period, down from the 4 percent rise achieved in the previous quarter.

In fact the economy grew 5.8 percent in the first quarter on a working day adjusted basis - ie taking into account public holidays etc (since easter was in March this year) - so the headline number isn't quite as bad as it looks.

Indeed, quarter on quarter, GDP was up by 1.4% on a seasonally adjusted basis.

The worst drought in 50 years in Chile lowered hydropower reserves as shortages of natural gas curtailed output by generators, resulting in a slowdown in economic activity and industrial production. Industrial output as measured by the National Statistics Office was down 0.1% year on year in March.

Mining output declined 2.7 percent because of labor disputes and lower yields from mines. Copper output fell 8.4 percent in March from a year earlier. According to the central bank output from the utility industry dropped 16 percent. Electricity generation fell 2.2 percent in March because of the drought and gas shortages.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Chile Inflation April 2008

Chilean annual inflation fell back slightly in April, registering the first decline in a year, with consumer prices rising by 8.3 percent over April 2007 , compared with an 8.5 percent rise in the 12 months through March, according to the National Statistics Institute. Consumer prices rose 0.4 percent in April from the previous month, led by food.

Today's inflation report will likely allow the central bank to keep its benchmark lending rate unchanged at its monthly meeting later this week.

Central bank policy makers voted unanimously on April 10 to keep rates at a six-year high of 6.25 percent for a third month, and changed the bias on their policy statement to neutral, removing a sentence from its previous statement that said it could not rule out raising rates again.

The central bank aims to keep inflation in a 2 percent-to-4 percent target band. The bank changed its bias to neutral partly because leaving it unchanged for three consecutive months would weaken its message, according to the minutes released last week.

In the year up to April, the price of rice rose 8.9 percent, bread increased 8.5 percent while beans and lentils rose 6.2 percent, the institute said.

One other factor which may well be in the minds of central bank decision makers is the fact that Chile's economy expanded in March at the slowest pace in almost six years - growing by just 0.7 percent - down from 5.6 percent in February according to the Bank of Chile IMACEC index.

The worst drought in 50 years has cut hydropower reserves as natural gas shortages curtail output by generators, slowing economic activity and industrial output, the National Statistics Institute said on April 30. Electricity generation fell 2.2 percent in March, which had two fewer working days than March 2007.

Chile's economy last expanded at a slower pace than that registered in March back in June 2002, when it slowed to 0.51 percent from 0.68 percent May 2002.

In the first quarter of 2008, the Chilean economy expanded 3.1 percent year-on-year compared to a year-on-year expansion of 6.2 percent in the first quarter of 2007, the central bank said.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Chile's Peso At 10 Year High

Chile's peso climbed to its highest in a decade yesterday on speculation the central bank will raise its benchmark interest rate in a bid to slow inflation, luring money to the country's fixed-income market. The 3.25 percentage-point difference between the Chilean and U.S. benchmark lending rates, at its widest since March 2002, has helped fuel an 11.5 percent increase in the peso this year. That's the biggest gain among a wide group of 26 emerging-market currencies.

The peso rose for an eighth day, strengthening 0.5 percent to 445.23 per dollar at 5:04 p.m. New York time, from 447.42 yesterday. It touched 442.69, its strongest level since February 1998.

Annual inflation accelerated to an 11-year high of 8.1 percent in February, the state statistics agency said yesterday, while a separate central bank report showed the economy expanded 3.4 percent in January.

Policy makers raised the lending rate on Jan. 10 to a six- year high of 6.25 percent in a bid to slow consumer price rises. They next meet on March 13. The central bank targets inflation at between 2 percent and 4 percent

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Chile Inflation Febuary 2008

Chile's inflation rate rose to the highest level since 1996 in February, raising expectations that policy makers will increase lending rates to a six-year high when they meet next week. Consumer prices rose 8.1 percent in the year through February, up from 7.5 percent in January, the National Statistics Institute said today. Consumer prices rose in the month from Januaryt by 0.4 percent.

The annual inflation rate has tripled from 2.7 percent last February as the worst drought in over a century devastated crops and gas shortages and low reservoir levels forced generators to burn more expensive fuel. The cost of electricity in Chile surged 20 percent in the month and prices for fresh fruit and vegetables soared.

Prices of tomatoes rose 20 percent while those for potatoes climbed 19 percent in February. On average, fruit and vegetables rose 3.5 percent.

The peso has gained 11 percent against the dollar, and it appears that traders are buying the currency - which climbed 1.4 percent to 448.00 pesos per dollar at 10:16 a.m. New York time yesterday, its highest level since trading at 445.30 on Feb. 20, 1998. - on expectations the central bank will raise the benchmark rate, now at 6.25 percent, for the third time in four months on March 13.

At the same time economic growth is slowing visibly, with the economic activity index increasing only 3.4 percent year on year in January, down from the high of 8.26% hit in March 2007.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Chile Leaves Lending Rate Unchanged at 6.25%

Chile's central bank kept its lending rate unchanged yesterday after inflation eased from the fastest pace in a decade. The bank also signaled that it's prepared to act again in the future if need be to ensure price increases slow.

Policy makers left the benchmark rate at 6.25 percent after two consecutive increases at previous meetings. Stable consumer prices in January and slower economic growth in December left the bank room for a pause today. The central bank last month lifted its benchmark rate to a six-year high after annual inflation in December accelerated to the fastest since 1996.

The bank said further rate increases may be needed to ensure inflation slows to the target of 2 percent-to-4 percent. The annual inflation rate may climb in coming months before it starts to ease, the bank said.

Falling food, clothing and transportation costs helped trim the annual inflation rate in January to 7.5 percent from 7.8 percent in December. Growth in South America's fourth- biggest economy slowed in December as interest-rate increases totaling 1.25 percentage point since July and unsettled global conditions began to bite.

Chilean economists have lowered their 2008 forecasts for consumer prices and economic growth, according to a central bank survey released today. The annual inflation rate will end 2008 at 3.8 percent, compared with the 4 percent forecast in January's survey. Chile's economy will expand 4.6 percent in 2008, compared with the 4.9 percent forecast in last month's survey, according to the report.

Chile, the world's biggest copper producer and exporter, on Jan. 14 announced a $200 million recapitalization of the country's fuel price-stabilization fund to cut consumers' payouts at the pump. The measure led to a 1 percent drop in fuel prices last month.

At the same time, restrictions on electricity production have slowed the economy. Output has been hurt by natural-gas shortages triggered by cutbacks from Argentina and low reservoir levels reducing hydroelectric generation. Chile will cut electricity voltage 10 percent and extend daylight savings until the end of March in a bid to avoid power rationing, Energy Minister Marcelo Tokman said today.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Chile Inflation January 2008

Chile's monthly inflation rate was unchanged in January, fueling speculation that policy makers will decide to pause at this week's interest rate meeting and keep the interest rate unchanged at 6.25 percent. Annual inflation slowed to 7.5 percent from 7.8 percent in December, the government-run National Statistics Institute said today in Santiago.

In January, the decline in food prices, clothing and transportation costs kept the consumer price index unchanged, the institute said. Core inflation rate rose 0.4 percent from December, according to the report.

The central bank last month lifted its benchmark rate to a six-year high after annual inflation in December accelerated to the fastest pace in a decade. Today's consumer prices report coupled with a separate report showing that the economy slowed in December may allow the bank to keep rates unchanged at its Feb. 7 meeting.

The central bank separately reported that the economy expanded 3.7 percent in December compared to December 2006.

In their monetary policy report published Jan. 16, the central bank cut their expectations for economic growth and said consumer prices in 2008 would rise on average 7.1 percent. Annual inflation ended 2007 at 7.8 percent, the highest since 1996.

Chile's peso fell the most in two weeks following publication of the GDP and inflation reports, since they served to dampen speculation the central bank will raise borrowing costs this week. The peso dropped 1.3 percent to 472.34 per dollar at 4:20 p.m. New York time yesterday. The peso has gained 5.2 percent so far this year, the biggest advance among a basket of 27 emerging-market currencies.

Nonethless at 6.25 percent Chile's benchmark rate remains 3.25 percent percentage points higher than the benchmark U.S. lending rate, and this is the widest gap since March 2002.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Chilean Central Bank Voted Unanimously for January Rate Rise

Chilean central bank policy makers voted unanimously to raise the benchmark lending rate Jan. 10 in a bid to curb the fastest inflation in more than a decade.

"Given the data since the previous meeting, the council considered that the most plausible options on this occasion were to raise the rate by 25 or 50 basis points"

The central bank lifted its target rate a quarter point for the second consecutive month to 6.25 percent after annual inflation climbed to 7.8 percent in December. In a monetary policy report published Jan. 16. the bank's economists cut their expectations for economic growth and said consumer prices would rise on average 7.1 percent this year.

The monetary policy committee next meets Feb. 7.

Jose de Gregorio, who has presided over rate increases at both of his monthly policy-setting meetings as central bank president, warned on Jan. 17 that the target rate may need to rise again.

``Excessive wage growth, unleashed by high recent inflation,'' or signs that inflationary shocks are having a greater-than-expected impact on prices, may lead to further fiscal tightening, the board said, according to the minutes.

The Chilean peso rose to a nine-year high on Jan. 29 as the difference between Chilean and U.S. interest rates widened.

Chile Industrial Output December 2007

Chilean industrial production rose 3.4 percent in December from 4.2 percent in November, the country's National Statistics Institute said today in a statement. Industrial sales rose 4.6 percent from a year earlier, the institute said.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Chile Is Riding The Storm!

Chile's peso gained the most in a week yesterday after the Federal Reserve lowered its benchmark U.S. interest rate. The Fed lowered the overnight rate 0.75 percentage point to 3.5 percent, widening the spread with Chile's 6.25 percent key rate to 2.75 percentage points. This is the biggest difference since 2002.

The rate cut is obviously going to translate itself into increasing appreciative forces in a number of emerging currency markets, among them the Chilean peso one. Indeed, if I had to list half a dozen emerging markets I thought would weather the storm better than others, Chile would definitely be there, as probably would Brzil (in Lat Am), Morocco and Turkey on Europe's southern fringe, and Thailand and India in Asia.

As if to confirm my intuitions Chile's peso advanced the most yesterday since Jan. 11, rising 1.4 percent to 478.64 per dollar at 2:33 p.m. in New York, and extending its advance so far this year to 4.3 percent. The yield on Chile's 8 percent bonds due June 2015 was little changed at 6.64 percent, according to Deutsche Bank Chile.

Concern that a slowdown in the U.S. economy will hurt demand for Latin American exports has put a certain restraint on gains in the region's currencies, and we are now about to see just how much "decoupling" has taken place in this particular corner of the globe.

All of this is reflected in the very upbeat tone adopted by Chile's Finance Minister Andres Velasco, who is quoted by Bloomberg as saying that yesterday's decision by the U.S. Federal Reserve to cut its benchmark interest rate was a "good signal" for markets. Velasco asserted that Chile is well-prepared to deal with the coming international crisis, since the government of the country which is the world's biggest copper exporter has used revenue from record prices for the metal to pay down debt and accumulate a fiscal surplus of $19 billion.

``The other day an investor remarked that when the tide goes out you see who's got their swimming suit on properly,'' Velasco said. ``I have no doubt that in this low tide, Chile will be seen to be very well-prepared and very well-dressed for whatever comes,'' The Fed's cut ``will contribute to the return of calm,'' the finance minister said, ``But there are no magic solutions. The world is living through, and will probably keep living through, a period of international volatility. We have to be very calm and very alert. In previous years we've saved, we've reduced debt, we've had a surplus, we've strengthened public and private finances,'' Velasco said. ``Sometimes people asked why we were doing all this, well now we see the answer and we see it very clearly.''

According to Velasco Chile's government hasn't yet discussed cutting its target for budget surpluses. Senators from the ruling coalition were reported by local newspaper La Tercera to have called yesterday for the government to aim for a balanced budget, instead of an excess of 0.5 percent of gross domestic product. This move seems sensible, given the strong downside risk which exists at this point.

Chile's central bank raised its benchmark lending rate to the highest in six years earlier this month as it seeks to curb the fastest inflation in a decade. Policy makers raised the benchmark rate a quarter point to 6.25 percent.The bank acted in response to inflation that climbed to an annual rate of 7.8 percent in December, driven by higher costs for food and transportation.

In the short term Chile's inflation problem may well get worse before it gets better, but as external conditions steadily change I doubt this will be the main threat to Chile's economic stability, so some counter-cyclical internal demand management in advance of any coming shock would seem to me to be a pretty prudent move.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Chile's Central Bank Raises Rates

Chile's central bank raised its benchmark lending rate to the highest in six years as it seeks to curb the fastest inflation in a decade. Policy makers raised the benchmark rate a quarter point to 6.25 percent in a meeting yesterday.The bank acted in response to inflation that climbed to an annual rate of 7.8 percent in December, driven by higher costs for food and transportation. The question is, with the US Fed set to lower rates rapidly, will this move curb inflation, or attract funds which can only serve to accelerate it. With the Peso set to rise, dollar denominated loans are going to look increasingly attractive to Chilean clients.

It was the second consecutive monthly increase as the bank tries to bring inflation down to its target for two years from now: 3 percent plus or minus 1 percentage point. The bank's overnight lending rate has risen from a low of 1.75 percent in the first eight months of 2004.

December's inflation was a ``significant surprise,'' the central bank said after the meeting. ``Further additional adjustments may be necessary to guarantee that inflation converges with the target rate.''

The Chilean peso rose to its highest level versus the dollar since 1999 today on expectations the central bank would lift rates while the U.S. Federal Open Markets Committee cuts.

Chile's economy grew 4.6 percent in November from a year earlier. It is the only Latin American country to have closed its income gap with the U.S. since 1990, as surging demand for the country's exports has stoked expansion, Finance Minister Andres Velasco told El Diario Financiero last week.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Chile and the OECD

Chile has a thriving and well-managed economy although income levels are only 40 per cent of the western average, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that is likely to reinforce Chile’s case for joining the 30-nation group.

More efficient government spending on education and social programmes, success in tackling the "black" economy and getting more women and young people into work will be crucial to maintaining Chile's strong economic growth, according to a new OECD report.

The OECD Economic Survey also says public finances are robust, growth is strong, and inflation, despite having risen recently, remains low. But labour productivity compares poorly with many OECD countries. Boosting productivity will require more business innovation and improving the education levels of the workforce.

Chile's healthy public finances are allowing increased spending on education, healthcare and other social programmes. Although educational attainment levels of Chilean pupils compare well with other Latin American countries, they are generally lower than in OECD countries. The report argues that extra money alone will not raise educational standards or enrolment and graduation rates. It calls for more focus on the quality of education through, for instance, greater attention to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and additional training programmes for teachers and school managers.

Improving education and skills is also key to discouraging people from working in the informal or "black" economy. About 20% of Chileans aged over 15 and working at least 20 hours a week did not have a formal labour contract in 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, says the report. Streamlining business registration and tax procedures would reduce the number of enterprises operating informally while the labour code could made more flexible. At the same time, social security schemes should be enhanced to encourage firms and their workers to be part of the formal economy.

The percentage of women aged over 15 in the labour force has risen over recent years but remains relatively low at around 42%. Male participation in the workforce is about 73%. Increasing the number of women in paid employment would support Chile's long-term economic growth and help reduce poverty, the report says. It adds that further incentives could be provided by more flexibility in working time arrangements, adapting social security provisions and increasing publicly-funded child-care, especially for the poor. Policies to raise educational attainment would also help as participation is higher among better-educated women.

OECD countries have launched a drive to engage more closely with emerging economies worldwide. Chile is one of several countries, along with Estonia, Israel, Russia and Slovenia, which have been invited to open membership negotiations. OECD has also launched a process of "enhanced engagement" with major emerging economies including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa, with a view to strengthening mutual links.

The OECD in May invited Chile to begin negotiations on becoming a member, a process expected to take at least two years and separate from Monday’s report.

The OECD report praised Chile’s strong economic growth – expected to be about 6 per cent next year – prudent fiscal policies and low, albeit rising, inflation. It also approved of the way it has been saving windfall copper revenue generated by record prices.

It highlighted important reforms to the pension system that the government of Michelle Bachelet, the president, has undertaken.

The report noted that a fifth of people over 15 who work more than 20 hours a week are in the informal economy. It was vital to change that to boost productivity and thus keep Chile growing sustainably.

Chile should also make labour rules more flexible and provide access to affordable child care to boost the number of women in the workforce from about 42 per cent now.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Chile Inflation December 2007

Chilean consumer prices climbed more than expected in December, boosting expectations that policy makers will raise interest rates next week to slow what is now the fastest annual inflation rate in almost 12 years. Consumer prices rose 0.5 percent in December, the government-run National Statistics Institute said yesterday in Santiago. The annual rate rose to 7.8 percent, the highest level since June 1996. The month on month rate of 0.5% however was down on November's 0.9% rise as fresh food prices dropped 0.8% on the month.

Housing costs, including basic services, and transportation both rose 1.4 percent from the previous month, following a 21 percent increase in long-distance bus fares and a 16 percent rise in the price of airline tickets. Core inflation, which strips out the prices of minus fresh fruit, vegetables and fuel, accelerated 0.9 percent in the month and 6.3 percent from December last year, the institute said.

The central bank voted unanimously last month to raise the benchmark interest rate by a quarter-point for the fourth time since July, citing an unexpected rise in inflation. Policy makers were concerned that faster inflation would spread across the economy and affect inflationary expectations, according to the minutes of the meeting released yesterday.

Chile's economy more than doubled dollar terms in the three years ending 2006 as surging demand for the country's exports stoked expansion of what is Latin America's fourth-largest economy.

Annual inflation has accelerated from 2.6 percent in 2006 to close out 2007 at a level that is almost double the central bank's target of 3 percent plus or minus 1 percentage point.

The bank's monetary policy council has pushed up the overnight rate to 6 percent from 5 percent last June - up from as low as 1.75 percent in September 2004 - as the economy and inflation have accelerated.

The peso strengthened for a third day on the back of the news, rising 0.1 percent to 495.72 per dollar at 12:51 p.m. New York time from 496.42 per dollar late yesterday.