Growth figures for 1992 due for revision

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 May, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 May, 1993, 12:00am

HONGKONG may see its rate of growth for last year marginally upgraded after revised fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) figures are issued by the Government tomorrow.

The figures, scheduled for release in the afternoon, should reveal a slightly faster rate of growth for the economy than has so far been admitted by the Government.

It may even encourage the Government to upgrade its economic forecast for the current year when it releases its First Quarter Economic Report later this month.

The changes will be only a matter of one percentage point or so, but are significant in underpinning confidence in the economy.

In the 1993-94 Budget documents issued two months ago, the Government decided to stay with its forecast of five per cent annual growth for 1992.

But in each of the last few years the Government has taken a conservative approach - even in its late forecasting - and there have been subsequent minor upgrades in the rate of growth.

The Government also warns in its Budget documents that the final quarter estimate is ''crude'' and has the potential for a substantial revision.

In 1991, for example, the final quarter of the year was estimated at 4.4 per cent in the May estimate and the annual rate of growth was later upgraded.

The upgrade in the annual figure was not substantial, but it took growth above four per cent - from 3.9 per cent to 4.2 per cent - so was psychologically important.

The respective quarterly growth rates for last year, beginning with the first quarter, are estimated at 5.2 per cent, 4.6 per cent, 5.2 per cent and 5.1 per cent.

But there is room for revision in that final quarter figure, and given the apparently good performance of various sectors of the economy in the three months to December, it would not be a surprise to see it revised up.

This could, in turn, lead to a slight upgrading of the figure for the annual rate of growth for 1992.

Throughout 1992, the Government stuck with its estimate of five per cent growth for the year, despite marked changes in the estimates for various components of that growth.

But given the healthy activity in almost all sectors of the economy (with the exception of construction), five per cent growth may be a little slow.

It is perhaps more likely that growth was slightly better than that, at 5.2 or 5.3 per cent.

Such a revision would also fit with the Government's practice of being conservative in its earlier estimates for growth and then revising upwards as more information becomes available.

More important will be the indications on the likely outcome for the current year which will be given in the Government's First Quarter Economic Report.

This will give the first real indications of the likely GDP growth in the first quarter of the year and the updated forecasts for GDP for the full year.

In its Budget documents issued on March 3, the Government opted for a slightly higher growth rate than last year at 5.5 per cent.

But a better than expected outcome in the final quarter of last year, and an upgrade of the 1992 annual growth rate, could see the 1993 forecast increased.

This is unlikely in the First Quarter Economic Report, however, as the Government prefers to err on the cautious side in its estimates so as not to unsettle confidence later.

But the powerful start the economy has made in the current year would seem to suggest that - barring unforeseen circumstances - slightly faster growth than 5.5 per cent can be expected.

This columnist began the year predicting growth of 5.6 per cent for the year, but since the Government Budget was announced, has upgraded that figure to closer to six per cent.

The only caveat on that is that nothing dramatic occurs to change the outlook.

On the basis of the present trade performance, the underlying economy has to be doing well and increased Government spending outlined in the Budget will help.

Orders-on-hand also point to healthy four-to-five months ahead.

But there are some clouds on the horizon that could affect the outlook later in the year, which the Government economists will be only too aware of.

The first and most obvious of these is US President Mr Bill Clinton's decision on Most Favoured Nation trading status for China on June 3; will conditions be attached to renewal and if they are, what will be China's response? AN ADVERSE decision, or retaliation from Beijing to any conditions, would see Hongkong confidence hit practically overnight, and an almost immediate trade and economic slowdown.

But there are other concerns on the horizon which could adversely affect Hongkong's growth.

On the domestic front, there appears to be weakness in some segments of consumer demand.

While in Europe, the economy in Germany, which was expected to grow by little more than zero, is now expected to contract, especially with increased industrial unrest.

This, in turn, will have an effect on the outlook for the whole of Europe.

In Asia, Japan is destined to record only slow growth in the domestic economy, despite its dynamic export performance and the stimulus packages already announced by the government.

Though substantial, these measures to get the economy to grow in part reflect a re-packaging of previous programmes and, in any case, will take the rest of the year to have any effect.

Hongkong's economy is reliant for sustained growth on the continued buoyancy of the mainland economy and in the continued growth of the economies of east and southeast Asia.

Yet there are signs in China that the economy is now growing faster than even the most bullish in government believe is desirable, with high inflation and a deficit on external trade emerging in the first quarter of the year.

These potential difficulties apart, however - and they are only potential - it is likely Hongkong growth in the first quarter of 1993 was in the mid-to-upper five per cent range.

In the next month, too, there should be a slight upward revision in the five-per cent growth estimate for the territory's economy last year. Ian Perkin is chief economist at the Hongkong General Chamber of Commerce.