Friday, February 16, 2018

BWorld 185, Lower taxes via more mineral exports

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last February 6, 2018.

Countries that impose zero income taxes on their nationals are dependent on extracting and exporting their natural resources such as oil and natural gas. Qatar, Bahrain, Brunei, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates are examples of such countries.

Instead of minimizing the extraction of these fossil fuels (and keeping them in the ground, as advocated by environmentalist groups), these countries extract these resources big time, export them to the rest of the world, and sustain their governments’ economic and social programs without creating or imposing any income tax.

This is a lesson for the Philippines with an estimated $1 trillion worth of mineral reserves.

On the graph are data from the US Geological Survey (USGS)which indicates that worldwide, the Philippines has the 5th largest estimated reserves in nickel and 4th largest reserves in cobalt. Cobalt is largely used to produce batteries for electric vehicles.

The reserves/production (R/P) ratio is computed here, the ratio represents estimated number of years before the reserves are depleted on the assumption that both R and P numbers will not change, which is unlikely because modern and evolving technology through time will continue to discover bigger reserves, or improve the utilization of existing reserves (see table).

The Philippines’ R/P ratio of 21 years for nickel is short compared to global average of 35 years but longer than Indonesia’s 11 years. There is a need to continue exploration of other nickel deposits in the Philippines as well as optimize the recovery of this and other metals per ton of metal ores extracted.

Our R/P ratio of 70 years for cobalt is good, higher than the global average of 64.5 years.

As more countries demand more electric vehicles (cars, motorcycles, buses, trucks), the global appetite for cobalt will rise quickly. China is currently the biggest importer and consumer of cobalt as it aims to produce more electric vehicles in the medium to long term.

The rising demand for cobalt relative to supply is shown in its rising prices, currently at $36/pound, the highest since some 15 years ago except for 2008-2009 global financial turmoil where cobalt prices peaked at around $53/pound.

Nickel prices have declined to around $4/ton in 2015-2016, now recovering upwards at current prices of around $6+/pound.

So there are big potential for more investments, more jobs, more government tax revenues, from nickel and cobalt alone.

Then there are big potentials for copper and gold mining in this country — if the Tampakan and Silangan projects would push through. Tampakan, estimated to cost $5.9B in project development, will be the single biggest foreign direct investment in the Philippines. For its part, Silangan is worth about $2 billion.

In 2015, the Philippines produced an estimated 83.8 tons of copper metal content, and 20.6 tons of gold metal content. These are small amounts compared to the big global producers of copper: Chile 5,764 tons, China 1,710 tons, Peru 1,700 tons, US 1,380 tons.

Also in that year, the big gold producers were China with 450 tons, Australia with 278 tons, Russia with 252 tons, and the US with 214 tons.

The uncertainties in the mining sector continue to linger even after the Commission on Appointments has rejected former DENR secretary Gina Lopez in May 2017. The new Secretary Roy Cimatu has not yet formally lifted the closure orders for some mining firms and the debate on open pit mining still continues.

The big mining potentials of the Philippines on four metals alone — nickel, cobalt, copper and gold — when realized by removing the endless uncertainties and by relaxing the various anti-mining policies, will allow the country to significantly reduce income tax rates.

Government should have no “right” to confiscate plenty of resources from the pockets and savings of people and private enterprises, especially where there are plenty of private provisions of infrastructure via integrated PPP, private education, private health care, private housing, private security and peace and order.

Bigger mining revenues and mining taxes through lesser anti-mining policy uncertainties will be a key measure toward lowering income taxes, both personal and corporate, in the medium to long term.

ALF 10, Conference 2018 in Jakarta, Indonesia

The Asia Liberty Forum (ALF) 2018 conference ended successfully last week. Venue is the beautiful Mandarin Oriental Jakarta, the hotel is facing the Jakarta Central circle, Thamrin. Plenty of participants from many countries. Hats off to Atlas and the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS).

Opening remarks on Day 1 was given by Atlas President and CEO, Brad Lips (below) then Saidah Sakwan, Chairperson of CIPS.

Then the Cornerstone Talks with six speakers. From left: Amartuvshin Dorj (Mises-Mongolia),
Hizkia Respatiadi (CIPS), Eunhee Park (Teach North Korean Refugees/TNKR, S. Korea), Nila Tanzil (Taman Bacaan Pelangi, Indonesia), Terry Kibbe (Free the People, USA) as moderator, Barun Mitra (Liberty Institute, India) and Razeen Sally (LKY School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore; he's Sri Lankan). ALL good speakers.

Then the first Keynote address by Suraj Vaidya, Chairman of the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Samriddhi Foundation, Nepal. He talked why free trade is good and will significantly reduce poverty in many developing countries.

 Suraj and FNF Regional Director for South Asia, Ronald Meinardus (3rd from right) flanked by participants an speakers from India, Nepal, Afghanistan, US. Ronald introduced Suraj, then interviewed him on stage.

Some of the nearly 300 participants.

Among the pretty faces in the crowd, a local participant.

A photo with Adinda Tenriangke Muchtar (Suara Kebebasan, Indonesia) and Pett Jarupaiboon (EFN-Asia, FNF, Bangkok, Thailand).

More pics to follow...
(All photos I got from the Atlas fb page)

See also:

Sunday, February 11, 2018

BWorld 184, ERC paralysis and implications for consumers

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last February 01, 2018.

Despite a significant increase in the Philippines’ power generation capacity in recent years, the country’s installed capacity and electricity production remains small compared to the ASEAN-6 and North East Asian neighbors.

For instance, its installed capacity of 21.2 gigawatt (GW) in 2016 was what Vietnam has about 10 years before. Vietnam now has twice the Philippines’ installed capacity (see table).

A reliable and stable supply of energy results in economic development.

More power plants mean more electricity generation; more electricity generate will mean more competition for power supply and hence, lower electricity prices for the consumers.

However, an unfortunate turn of events might prevent the Philippines from realizing this both in the short- and medium-term. The Ombudsman has issued a one-year suspension for four of five Commissioners of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) last Dec. 21, 2017.

The officials were charged with violation of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) in connection with the revised implementation date of the competitive selection process (CSP). The Ombudsman also said the suspended officials favored a few power supply contracts.

With only one Commissioner — Chair Devanadera — allowed to work, here are some of the serious implications and problems.

1. No deliberations and resolutions on applications for approval of power supply agreements (PSAs) and projects for transmission and distribution by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), distribution utilities, and electric cooperatives. An estimated P1.588 trillion worth of energy-related projects and capital outlays would be affected.

2. The inability to act on petitions for rate adjustments and pass-on charges; consumer complaints, violations of industry players of existing laws and regulations.

3. Non-issuance or renewal of certificates of compliance (CoC) or provisional authorities to operate power plants.

4. The inability to award procurement contracts, like the ERC meter seals and stickers being placed on electric meters of the distribution utilities, among others.

With these problems, among the solutions would be the following:

1. The President should appoint OIC Commissioners to temporarily act on behalf of the four suspended officials until the suspension order has lapsed in late December this year and the suspended officials will be back in office.

2. Despite ERC paralysis, DoE will allow or accredit players with expiring or pending CoCs to operate and trade at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM). The required ERC approval of CoCs will resume only when there is quorum already at the Commission. DoE Secretary Cusi said that “about 26 generation companies with a total of 3,314.60 MW generating capacities have expired or have expiring CoCs in 2018… Additional new capacities of at least 720 MWs are also expected to go into commercial operation within the next few months. If not allowed to participate in the WESM, the available electricity supply in the market will be curtailed, which can result in higher market clearing prices.”

4. DoE should also be able to accredit or renew Retail Electricity Suppliers (RES) with pending or expiring licenses, until the ERC paralysis is resolved.

Several government branches and constitutional bodies must always put in mind the welfare of the consumers. The inflationary pressure of TRAIN law (higher oil prices, higher coal generation prices, among others) is already mounting.

The “vested interest” of consumers — cheaper, competitively-priced, and stable energy supplies — should prevail over vested interests of politicians and regulators. There should be more power generation companies and power plants, more electricity distributors and retailers — all competing with each other to meet the consumers’ “vested interest.”

See also:
BWorld 178, Top 8 energy news of 2017, January 14, 2018 

Tax Cut 31, Talk at Deloitte TRAIN forum, January 2018

Last month, I gave a talk about the new tax-tax-tax law of the Philippines called TRAIN, signed in December 2017. Audience were accountants, auditors, managers of medium to large corporations plus officials and staff of Deloitte. I said that I entitled my paper as such because I believe that the TRAIN law is a lousy and ugly law.

The audience (100+) smiled, others wondered. My concluding notes:

* PIT cut  rate should be a social goal and a public service in itself. Earning P500,000 (little less than $10,000) or higher per year and be slapped with 32% income tax is  confiscatory, immediately qualifies the government as creator of poverty. No need to raise or create new taxes somewhere.

* Instead of raising the top PIT rate to 35%, TRAIN should have cut it to 20% max, to (1)  be more comparable with MY, SG rates and (2) decentralization preparation, allow state govts to have their own income tax, excise tax, etc.

* Society should reward people who become rich and wealthy via entrepreneurship and efficient professional work, not demonize and over-tax them. We should have more millionaires and billionaires, not less; we should have more super-rich people, not less.

* Federalism can be more attractive to the people, central national government should learn to step back, tax less, regulate less, bureaucratize less, people and investors in the provinces have more leeway, more opportunities to craft their own political and economic identity.

“I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts.”

-- Ronald Reagan, former US President.

Thank you for that opportunity, Senen, Deloitte officials.

See also:
Tax Cut 28, On Trump's planned 15% income tax, January 23, 2017 
Tax Cut 29, Culture of exemptions and culture of envy, February 06, 2017 

Tax Cut 30, Trump's 20% CIT, deregulation, October 09, 2017

Friday, February 09, 2018

BWorld 183, Why low or zero income tax can mean more development

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last January 29, 2018.

“The people are hungry: It is because those in authority eat up too much in taxes.

When the government is too intrusive, people lose their spirit.”

— Lao Tzu, or Laozi
(6th-5th century BC)

The good news about the new tax law called TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) is that overall personal income tax (PIT) rates have declined. The bad news is that the high rates of 30% and 32% were retained, and an even higher rate of 35% was introduced for incomes P8 million a year or higher.

In a period of growing global tax competition, growing decentralization if not disintegration by big governments and countries, economies should introduce low taxes.

Currently, Asian economies with low, flat income tax rates are Mongolia with only 10%, Macau with 12%, and Hong Kong with 15%.

Currently too, there are 10 countries and/or jurisdictions around the world that have zero income tax policy.

Eight of them are in the table below, the two others, Bermuda and Cayman islands, have no available data in the IMF and WEF reports. Hence, they are not included in the table. The global rank and score in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual Global Competitiveness Index (GCI), pillar #1 — Institutions, would represent or proxy for the rule of law of countries included in the report (see table).

These numbers show the following:

1. Citizens of zero income tax countries on average are actually richer (except Bahamas) than people of countries that impose and collect income taxes.

2. Zero income tax countries on average have high scores and rank in the WEF’s GCI (except Kuwait), in institutional strength. The same pattern is also observed for developed Asia except South Korea.

3. Developing and emerging Asia like the ASEAN 5 in the above table have lower scores and global ranking, except Malaysia.

One lesson here is that it is the rule of law, the stability and predictability of institutions, public and private, that largely determine an economy’s wealth and prosperity. Not higher taxes and welfarism, not more regulations and endless subsidies.

These countries like Qatar, Brunei, and United Arab Emirates, even Singapore and Hong Kong, are not known for their big mountains and waterfalls, many white sand beaches and sprawling golf courses. They are known for their liberal and secure investment policies that properly respect and protect private property rights, especially big investments and projects, and non-intrusive tax policies.

Currently, the Department of Finance (DoF) is preparing TRAIN 2, focus on lowering the corporate income tax (CIT) rate from 30% to 25% but with fewer fiscal holidays and exemptions. The goal of DoF is to have a “revenue neutral” law, reduce revenues on one side to be compensated by additional revenues on the other side.

Since the Duterte administration is gung-ho on federalism, this will be a good opportunity for them to drastically cut CIT — only 10%, or 15%, little or no exemptions — then allow the regional or state governments to have their own CIT.

The advantage of this setup is that it instills tax and investment competition among the regions and states.

Thus, the future state of southern Luzon for instance will have a CIT of 15%, the state of western Visayas will have a CIT of 10%, the state of northern Mindanao will have a CIT of only 6%, another state will have zero CIT, and so on.

The DoF should align its fiscal priorities with the political priorities of MalacaƱang and Congress.

TRAIN 1 was lousy because it raised many national taxes or created new ones even if the DoF is aware that soon there will be less national government departments, bureaus, and welfarism to be compensated by more state government departments and welfarism.

Let TRAIN 2 compensate for the short-sightedness of TRAIN 1. Let the national and soon federal government step back as the regional and state governments step forward.

See also:

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Energy 106, US oil output now 10+ mbpd

From only 5 million barrels per day (mbpd) oil production in 2010, up to 10.2 mbpd average for January 2018, congratulations America. And EIA's projection is 10.6 mbpd average for 2018. OPEC (mostly dictatorial member-governments like Venezuela, Iran, Saudi) and Russia are quivering.

"U.S. producers are making new customers out of some of the world’s biggest oil-importing nations in Asia and Europe, posing a serious competitive threat to the only other countries that produce as much crude: Saudi Arabia and Russia....

U.S. producers now export between 1.5 million and 2 million barrels of crude a day, which could rise to about 4 million by 2022. The nation’s output is expected to account for more than 80 percent of global supply growth in the next decade, according to Paris-based International Energy Agency."

"The Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico is the engine for U.S. shale production and acquisitions, helping to increase U.S. output to more than 10 million barrels a day in November for the first time in more than four decades. Exxon Mobil Corp. is spending billions to triple output by 2025 from the Permian, where its costs are as low as $15 a barrel."

See here -- two dictatorial governments having a pact to counter US capitalism in oil. And they will use... US technology? :-)

“The exchange in December highlights how Russia and Saudi Arabia have over the past 18 months forged an unlikely alliance in energy, despite being on opposing sides on other issues such as the Syrian conflict.

The traditional rivals, which combined produce a fifth of the world’s crude, now speak with a united voice on energy-related matters and frame their relationship in strategic terms.

The trigger for a rapprochement that seemed unthinkable a few years ago was a common enemy: US shale oil. The collapse in oil prices from 2014, as hydraulic fracturing unlocked a flood of US crude that caught other producers off guard, set their collaboration in motion.”

And this explains why world oil prices, WTI and Brent, are declining in recent day (last chart, above). Trump's "energy dominance" policy will somehow soften the TRAIN de Du30's "expensive oil via higher taxes please" policy?

See also:

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Inequality 34, Eric Jurado on the richest 1%

Another good article from a friend, Eric. Reposting this.

February 01, 2018 at 12:01 am
By Eric Jurado

Aren’t we all supposed to be equal? And yet the gap between rich and poor just keeps growing. We need to maintain equality among people. Isn’t vigorous government action necessary to keep the playing field level—to keep the wealthy and powerful from taking more than their fair share and oppressing everyone else?

There has been a lot said and a lot written about income inequality—about how unfair it is that a few people are very rich and the rest of us aren’t; that the income gap between the wealthy and even the middle-class, let alone the poor, is so large.

There’s only one problem with this complaint.

It’s wrong.

Income inequality is actually a good thing—when it is the product of a free market economy.

And your own life proves it!

An economy is made up of millions of individuals making decisions about their own lives—where and how much they want to work, what they want to buy, and so on.

You are one of those individuals.

In a free society, you are free to pursue a path in life that you believe best suits your talents. That talent might be teaching, or making music, or banking, or starting a small business, or raising a family. Whatever it is, this freedom helps to make life enjoyable, exciting, and meaningful.

But it’s also an expression of inequality. This is simply because we’re all different. We have different talents, different temperaments, and different ambitions.

That’s okay because—again in a free society—we can seek out opportunities that play to our personal strengths; that distinguish us from others.

If you find what you’re really good at and work hard, you might have great success and make a lot of money. If you’re an outstanding athlete, I’ll buy a ticket to see you play. If you’re a savvy investor, I’ll give you some of my money to invest.

As long as you have the freedom to guide your own destiny, you have a chance to reach your full potential—achieving success, however you define it. But if someone, say, a government bureaucrat, told you that your ambition had limits, that there was a ceiling above which you could not rise, I doubt you’d be happy about it. You’d feel like you were in a straightjacket.

Forced equality means less opportunity to pursue what makes you individually great.

But what about the growing gap between the rich, the 1 percent, and the rest of us, the 99 percent, that one hears so much about? Isn’t that a bad thing?

Again, the answer is no.

Here’s why:

In a free-market economy, people become wealthy making what the rich enjoy today into something almost everybody can enjoy tomorrow. The rich are the test buyers.

Consider the cellphone. Now we all have them, but when Motorola manufactured the first one in 1983, it was the size of a brick, had a half-hour of battery life, reception was terrible, and calls were very expensive. It cost $4000. But if no one had bought that $4000 brick, there wouldn’t be a $40 cellphone today.

In the 1960s, a computer cost over a million dollars. Nowadays, thanks to billionaires like Michael Dell, we have incredibly advanced computers that cost us a few hundred dollars.

Remember what out-of-reach luxury flat screen TVs once cost? Only the rich could afford them. Today, your living room is essentially your own private cinema.

The free market is about turning scarcity into abundance. What was once available to the few is now available to the many. Wealth inequality is an important corollary to that truth.

So, should I resent the people who became wealthy because they have more money than I do, or should I be grateful for the economic system that allows them to enrich my life and the lives of millions of other people?

This feature of the free market—income inequality—can appear terribly unfair. But with a little further investigation, the real picture becomes clear. Income inequality makes what once seemed like impossible luxuries available to almost everyone; it provides the incentive for creative people to gamble on new ideas; it promotes personal freedom, and rewards hard work, talent, and achievement.

In sum, income inequality signals that individual liberty, opportunity, and innovation are all present in a free economy. Pretty good for something that’s supposed to be so bad.

Two final points:

The 1% Club is always open to new members. And you don’t have to be in the top one percent to have a very good life. And that, not the existence of the very wealthy, is what matters most.

Eric Jurado is a hedge fund manager. He covers economic and political issues with liberty as his guiding star.

See also:

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

BWorld 182, Asia Liberty Forum 2018 in Jakarta

* This is my column in BusinessWorld last January 22, 2018.

“There is no evidence that fuel and electricity subsidies benefited the poor. There is no evidence that trade protection benefited the poor. Elimination of subsidies if compensated by reduction of cost doing business (corruption) will help the poor.”

— Muhamad Chatib Basri,
presentation about Indonesia energy and food subsidies,
EFN Asia conference September 2004, Hong Kong

Those conclusions were made by Dr. Chatib “Dede” Basri in his presentation, “Can subsidy and protection do any good for the poor?” at the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia conference in 2004. At that time, he was a faculty member of the University of Indonesia and individual member of EFN. He used an econometric model and the Grosman and Helpman (G-H) model (trade protection is the result of bargaining between government and various lobby groups). The inevitable conclusion of his paper was that market reforms and the reduction, if not removal of dependence by the poor on the state will actually help them and taxpayers over the long term.

Dr. Basri later became Minister of Finance from May 2013 to October 2014 when the administration of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ended. Dr. Basri will be among the keynote speakers in the Asia Liberty Forum (ALF) this coming Feb. 10-11 at Mandarin Hotel Jakarta, Indonesia. The event is sponsored by the Atlas Foundation and co-hosted by the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS).

Aside from Dr. Basri, other important speakers in this year’s conference will be the following:

1. Saidah Sakwan, chairwoman, CIPS; also a commissioner of the Indonesian Business Competition Commission (KPPU).

2. Brad Lips, CEO of Atlas Network, Washington DC, USA.

3. KH Yahya Cholil Staquf, general secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Supreme Council, world’s largest Muslim organization with 50+ million members.

4. Siegfried Herzog, Regional director for Southeast and East Asia, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), Thailand.

5. Suraj Vaidya, chairman of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and also chairman of Samriddhi Foundation, Nepal.

6. Rainer Heufers, executive director of CIPS.

7. Razeen Sally, Prof. at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

8. Ronald Meinardus, Regional director, FNF South Asia, India.

9. Parth Shah, president of the Centre for Civil Society, India.

10. Lorenzo Montanari, exec. director of Property Rights Alliance (PRA), Washington DC, USA.

11. Barun Mitra, founder and Director of Liberty Institute, India.

12. Junjie Ma of Unirule Institute, Beijing, China.

There are many other interesting speakers to talk on many topics — policy reforms to broaden support for classical liberal principles, education policy, Ease of Doing Business Index, Protection of private property rights, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), micro-enterprises, entrepreneurship in e-commerce, state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Are Asian economies getting more market-oriented or state-distorted? Is there greater rule of law now or greater rule of men? Are public institutions more protective or more confiscatory of private property rights?

There are many studies and annual reports that track and monitor various indicators and parameters to help answer these and related questions. Among the important annual reports are Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) reports, Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index (EFI), PRA’s International Property Rights Index (IPRI), World Bank’s Doing Business, and World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index (GCI).

The GCI is composed of 12 pillars and the first pillar are Institutions. These are composed of 21 sub-pillars like property rights, IPR protection, diversion of public funds, public trust in politicians, irregular payments and bribes, judicial independence, favoritism in decisions of government officials, burden of government regulation, efficiency of legal framework in settling disputes and challenging regulations, transparency of government policy making, and reliability of police services.

I checked the latest WEF 2017-2018 report for East Asian economies and compared with the report two years ago for pillar #1, Institutions (see table).

So for Institutions, the numbers above show three important results: One, out of the 144 countries and economies covered, many East Asian nations land in the first half (i.e., 1st to 72nd), 11 of the 15 economies mentioned above. Singapore and Hong Kong are in the top 10.

Two, the biggest gainers in global ranking are India (+21!), South Korea, China, and Laos. And three, the biggest loser in ranking is the Philippines, dropping 17 places or notches.

In the WEF Executive Opinion Survey 2017, the most problematic factors for doing business in the Philippines were: (1) inefficient government bureaucracy, (2) inadequate supply of infrastructure, (3) corruption, (4) tax regulations, and (5) tax rates.

For Asian countries outside the first half like Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Cambodia, there is an immediate need to improve the rule of law and further debureaucratize, deregulate and depoliticize the economy.

See also: