Amid fears of global economic recession, let’s worry about high power rates, too

Those who regularly read the business news would know that the US-China trade war has been hogging the headlines way back in 2017.

Two years ago, the United States launched an investigation into China’s trading policies and imposed tariffs on Chinese products worth billions of dollars a year after. Beijing, naturally retaliated.

The trade war between these two countries escalated after China allowed its currency, the Yuan to depreciate for the first time in over 10 years. This move was criticized and China was called a currency manipulator by the US.

I will not delve on how the trade war will place the Philippines in an advantageous or disadvantageous position. I leave that to economists.

Now, perhaps you are wondering why am I writing about this trade war when my expertise is the energy sector?

The answer is simple. The trade war, just like other major global developments in the Philippines  hurt the Philippine peso since global issues such as the spat between the US and China affect emerging economies such as ours.

For example, the peso sank to Php51.955 from Php51.79, down by 16.5 centavos on August 6 after the US tagged China as a currency manipulator. A trader quoted by a Business Word report said that “The peso weakened significantly due to demand for safe-haven currencies after the US Treasury Department labelled China as a ‘currency manipulator,’ further heightening current tensions between the US and China.”

According to S&P Global Ratings director Andrew Wood early August,  the Philippine Peso has been weakening as the trade and currency war of the two giant economies makes currencies vulnerable to downward pressure. “The Philippines and India have relatively strong external profiles, stronger than Indonesia, but they have proven to be relatively vulnerable when we do have these global contagion effects in the currency markets in the past. So the peso and Indian rupee could also be somewhat vulnerable to downward pressure,” Wood said

But the row between China and the US is not the only thing that’s affecting the performance of the Philippine Peso against the dollar.

peso dollar

Some forecasts say that the peso could be on the softer side and go as low as Php 53.50 against the dollar. Photo c/o Business world

For example, worries over a pending global economic recession last August 15 weakened the peso where trading day ended from 52.498 to a dollar from a 52.28 close a day before. “The peso depreciated as a potential U.S. recession pushed investors towards risk aversion,” a BPI Research market report said. It added  that a possible US economic slowdown and reports that Germany posted zero economic growth in the second quarter also caused the Pesos’ depreciation.

Some forecasts say that the peso could be on the softer side and go as low as Php 53.50 against the dollar or even slight below the P54 level if worries over a global economic recession worsen. For example, Mizuho Bank head of economics and strategy Vishnu Varathan as quoted by ABS-CBS news said that “For most of the next half, we’re looking at the peso on the softer side,” he said.

So, what does a weak peso mean for Filipino consumers?

As I have been pointing out, fluctuations to the peso dollar exchange will hurt the Filipino consumers.

I have discussed this at length in many posts. But let me reiterate that our energy planners love for a “floating” power sales agreements (PSAs) and reliance on traditional power sources can cause high energy rates. This is all thanks to the pass-on costs provision in our PSAs where consumers shoulder the cost of the falling peso against the dollar. Unfortunately, our reliance on coal, which we mostly export and pay for in US dollars means that we will pay higher electricity rates when the peso falls against the dollar. It also does not help that our independent power producers also have the majority of their billings in dollar denomination.

Yes, one can argue that the peso may also strengthen despite the forecasts of analysts. But it could also go the other way around.  Unfortunately, there’s no way of exactly predicting what will happen to the local currency. And there lies the problem with the floating PSAs. It leaves consumers in a vulnerable position.

So, again, we must revisit having fixed price contracts work for us as we watch how the Philippine peso fares against the US dollars amid the chaos in the global economy. Let us see the good in letting the consumers pay the  same amount for their electric bill for a specified period regardless of the performance of our local currency. This will ease the burden of consumers who pay more for energy when the peso is weak.

And while we’re at it, helping develop our renewable energy sector will also ease the burden of the Filipinos. Doing so will reduce the need to import traditional power sources that trade in US dollars.

Let the economists and analysts debate on what the government should do in light of the on-going trade wars and possible global economic slowdown. In the meantime, our energy planners should take a closer look at how these global issues will affect power rates and how we can ease the burden of consumers  by turning to renewable energy which can peg electricity rates at a fixed prices and eliminate the need to import raw materials for energy production.

I believe the world will be going towards energy independence as a goal for every household and community.  The reliance on big thermal plants and high voltage transmission networks will wane in the coming years.  Increasingly, electricity consumers will want to have more control of how and when they consume power in their homes.

This development of taking “power in their own hands” will mean that electricity consumers will be able to delink forex and global price risks.  And maybe with more independence, other supply and demand markets, other than WESM, may spring up independently.

Let me discuss these possibilities in my next blog.

References:

https://news.abs-cbn.com/business/08/19/19/peso-seen-in-p5150-p5350-vs-1-range-on-global-recession-worries

Peso sinks further on yuan move

Peso to trade sideways

https://www.philstar.com/business/2019/08/07/1941135/philippines-vulnerable-us-china-trade-tension-currency-war

https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1077961

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