IT’S as though the horsemen of the apocalypse have finally arrived.
First there was the turmoil that swept through the Middle East and North Africa that caused global oil prices to soar to their highest level in two years. As if the tension in these oil-producing regions was not enough, came the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, one of the Philippines’ largest trading partners and a major source of official development assistance (ODA) funds.
Already, the country is reeling from the adverse effects of these global events.
Displaced overseas Filipino workers in volatile Libya and devastated Japan, for example, have come home and will expectedly be in dire need of jobs. The steady increase in local pump prices of petroleum products have meanwhile pulled up the cost of basic goods including electricity. Stock prices have also wilted under negative pressure brought about by global uncertainties. The outlook isn’t helped any by the workers’ clamor for wage hikes.
Also, Japanese companies here have to contend with supply and production problems as it will take some time before production from Japan gets back to normal. As well, there are fears that major projects funded by ODA funds from Japan will have to be scrapped or delayed as Japan needs all the money it can get to finance its own reconstruction and recovery from the recent triple disasters.
These dire circumstances may seem enough to drive Filipinos into despair, but experts in the field of business have always maintained that crises are opportunities in disguise. There are always ways to make money or adapt to changing global and local circumstances.
Leo Riingen, who owns the local franchise of Informatics schools, suggests that returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) or those unable to get jobs in the troubled Middle East can take a course oriented towards business process outsourcing (BPO) that can readily land them a job locally.
“BPO is a growing sector, and it is always looking for manpower. Training is available to get them into the BPO job market. They can take IT and call center courses,” says Riingen, adding that Informatics offers these specialized courses.
Pacita U. Juan, president of the Women’s Business Council Philippines, on the other hand, recommends that Filipinos with funds plunk their money in the agriculture sector, which accounts for at least a third of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
Planting more herbs and vegetables locally, for example, will not only reduce food costs at home, but may also minimize the need for restaurants and other institutional buyers to import what they need for their operations.
Juan adds that food security should be a priority as the Philippines already has the land and the favorable weather to meet its local food requirements. There will never be a lack of a domestic market for basic food products, thus agriculture investments are a sure win for investors.
The government-run Center for International Trade Exhibitions and Missions (CITEM), meanwhile, notes that there is a rising global preference for environment-friendly and natural products due to heightened awareness of climate change and the need to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.
This development is good news for those who want to break into the export market, which is showing signs of a broad-based recovery, according to CITEM executive director Rosvi C. Gaetos.
CITEM, which is staging the Manila F.A.M.E. International at the SMX Convention Center until April19, is particularly encouraged by the 6 percent share of the apparel, clothing accessories, woodcraft and furniture sector in the December 2010 exports, an aggregate increase of 70.6 percent, or $251 million from $199.72 million the previous year.
“This significant increase made apparel and clothing accessories the country’s third top earner, and woodcraft and furniture the fourth, indicating a marked recovery of the export market that the local creative design industry should take advantage of,” says Gaetos in a statement.
Last year, Philippine exports rose to $51.393 billion, up by 33.7 percent from $38.436 billion in 2009.
Gaetos says the emerging recovery of the world market for home and fashion lifestyle products has put CITEM in a stronger position to push Philippine exports at the forefront of the global marketplace through the Manila F.A.M.E.
Manila F.A.M.E. remains one of the favorite sourcing destinations of such famous brands as Pier 1 Imports, Crate and Barrel, Neiman Marcus, Ballard Designs, Kalalou, Roost, Lawrence of La Brea, Hermon & Hermon, Papaya, Samaco, Lane Crawford, Li & Fung, El Corte Ingles, Hollander, Konert, Impressionen, Asplund, Etoile Kaito, itokin, Euro Diwan, BML, Kontekas, DK Home, Haans Lifestyle and Briefing Collection.
As for stocks, Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship founder Jose Concepcion III, who also heads RFM Corp., prefers to keep a conservative stance.
“When you talk to chartists, they say we are in a bull run in the stock market. Interest rates are quite low. But I prefer to be conservative and look to buy local bonds that are dollar denominated or the local paper of blue chip Filipino companies,” says Concepcion.
He says he would also consider buying land in good areas that can cater to the high end market. But on the whole, he’d rather sit and wait until tensions in the Middle East dissipate because until then, volatility will be with us, and crisis will not be far behind. But then again, so will opportunity. •