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Here are S.I.B's latest releases: April 2014 External Trade Bulletin, April 2014 Consumer Price Index, First Quarter 2014 Gross Domestic Product.

Statistical Institute of Belize
1907 Constitution Drive
Belmopan, Belize

April 2014 External Trade Bulletin

In April 2014, the value of Belize's total imports was $159.8 million, a $2.1 million or 1.3 percent decrease over the same month in 2013.

The most significant spending decrease was for goods imported into the free zones, which fell by 29 percent to $16 million, followed by Manufactured Goods whose value decreased by 14.5 percent primarily because of reduced purchases of metal roofing sheets and construction steel bars.

Belize imported over $60 million worth of goods from the United States during the month. Cura�ao and Mexico remained the second and third largest sources of imports, respectively, combining for a 25 percent share.

At the end of the first four months of this year, import spending was up by 24 percent to a little over $600 million. The bulk of the increase was on Machinery and Transport Equipment and Manufactured Goods.

CLICK HERE for the whole report

April 2014 Consumer Price Index

April 2014 Inflation Rate 1.3 Percent

Figures released today by the Statistical Institute of Belize show that the all-items consumer price index was up by 1.3 percent from April last year to April this year. This brings the inflation rate for the first four months of 2014 to 1.6 percent. The increase was almost entirely attributable to higher prices in the Food, Transport, and Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas and Other Fuels categories.

The Food index rose by 1 percent in April, with vegetable prices once again showing the most significant increase. Onions, lettuce, cabbages, carrots, Red Kidney Beans and black beans all had price increases of 20 percent or more. Sweet pepper and tomato prices, in stark contrast, fell by about 20 percent. Prices for fresh meats and other meat products, especially beef and pork, were up in April. The average price for a pound of ground beef, for example, rose by 17 percent from $4.55 to $5.31 compared to April 2013.

Despite higher international airfares, the Transport index rose by 1.8 percent, held down somewhat by lower fuel prices.

Home rentals, particularly in Dangriga, San Ignacio and Belize City, were almost 2 percent higher than in April 2013. Butane prices were up by over 10 percent for the month, with the average cost of a 100-pound cylinder up from $115 to $128.

As in the previous two months, Dangriga had the highest inflation rate at 2.5 percent. Orange Walk Town and Punta Gorda recorded the lowest, with 0.5 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.

GDP Down Slightly in First Quarter

Preliminary figures released by the Statistical Institute of Belize show the Belizean economy dipped by 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014, following eight consecutive quarters of positive growth. This decline resulted entirely from decreased production in the goods-producing sectors, specifically agriculture, mining and manufacturing.

In the case of the agriculture, production decreased by almost 10 percent, largely due to a continued downturn in orange production and a late start in the harvesting of sugarcane. Regarding the latter, it should be noted that the opening of the current sugarcane crop was delayed by two months due to an impasse between sugarcane farmers and the Belize Sugar Industries Limited over whether farmers were entitled to a portion of the company's income from the use of bagasse for power generation.

Banana production fell slightly due to unfavourable weather conditions at the beginning of the year. The decline in the three major agricultural resulted in a 30 percent or $26 million fall in their earnings compared with the same period last year.

Crude petroleum extraction remained dismal, declining by as much as 23 percent and reaching its lowest first-quarter level since the start of production in 2006. There were only two oil shipments during the quarter, causing receipts to fall by more than $17 million. The manufacturing sector, meanwhile, declined by 17 percent, reflecting sizeable falls in sugar and citrus concentrate production. Beer production rose 6 percent while soft drink and flour production were virtually unchanged.

Among the other goods-producing sectors, Electricity and Water expanded by a robust 50 percent due to a surge in hydroelectricity generation, which had fallen drastically during the first quarter of 2013 because of minimal rainfall. The Fishing sector, due to the strong showing of shrimp farming, netted 20 percent growth in the first quarter. According to the Belize Shrimp Growers Association, Belize has benefitted from significantly higher prices on shrimp sales to Mexico due to the disease that has severely affected shrimp production there. While slowing from previous years, growth in Construction was just under 7 percent.

Services, which account for about three-fifths of the total size of the economy, edged up by 0.9 percent during the first three months of the year. The Hotels and Restaurant sector, in particular, grew by roughly 13 percent, reflecting a significant increase in tourist arrival during the period as shown in Figure 4. The Government sector was the second best growth performer among services, expanding at a steady 3 percent during the quarter.

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Marty Offline OP
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GDP Sees Negative Growth In First Quarter

The Gross Domestic Product or GDP, it's the total market value of all goods and services produced in a country in a given time period.  And, generally, it is the most relied indicator to see how a country's economy is doing.  Much political grist was made in February when the Statistical Institute of Belize pegged GDP growth for the 2013 calendar year at less than 1%.  Well, there's more to be made now, after the Institute released its initial GDP and inflation figures for the first quarter of 2014 today.  Here's what the number say:

Jules Vasquez Reporting

The GDP experienced negative growth in the first quarter, tumbling to -0.4% - only the second time on record that the first quarter has seen negative growth:

Glen Avilez - Director, SIB
"We see a slight dip in the economy in the first quarter when compared to the same period of last year of roughly 0.4%."

Avilez outlined the three main sectors driving the contraction:

Glen Avilez
"The central reasons or the main reasons for the contraction in the first quarter is attributed to three sectors, agriculture, mining - that is oil, manufacturing being the result of the poor performance in agriculture."

But, even though it is only the second time in 18 years that there has been a first quarter contraction, it doesn't mean the trend will continue:

Glen Avilez
"You should not read too much or try to extrapolate what has happened in the first quarter, to say what will happen for the rest of the year. There have been years where one quarter could make a huge difference.  And so we have three more quarters ahead of us."

The steady decline in oil production continues to drive the contraction:

Glen Avilez
"Oil, the story remain that production is steadily falling. It fell by 25% in the first quarter, and we have production at its lowest level ever - and ever means going back to 2006."

There were sectors that did perform well in the first quarter, shrimp farming, electricity genratrion, tourism and construction - mainly public funded infrastructure work.

Glen Avilez
"Marine products have increased by five to six million dollar, and that is mainly due to the performance of shrimp farming."

Beer production, also showed a strong increase:

Glen Avilez
"Beer production was up by almost 7%, and this is encouraging, given that there is increased imports. We have Kubuli which is the new kid on the block and one would have expected that with the increase in imports of that particular beer, local production would have dipped, but instead we see an increase. Assuming that the population is growing at a constant rate, then I think that it is reasonable to assume that consumption per capita has increased."

And while the beer price is stable, the inflation rate for the first four months of the year is 1.6%.

Glen Avilez
"We have higher food prices, higher transportation costs as well as housing, water electricity and gas prices."

Going by municipalities, Orange Walk was the lowest and Dangriga was the highest.

Turning to per pound or per dozen prices of specific food items - comparing April of last year to this year, most were up.  Topping the charts are items like ground beef, which is up 16% per pound, Cabbage up 44% per pound, red kidney beans up 20% per pound, yellow onions up 26% per pound.

While beef, sugar and sweet pepper were down.

Glen Avilez
"The increase in food prices to vegetables mainly, meats, the prices for meats were also up during the period. So, it is mainly to these two factors and the driving reason would be supply, relative to demand."

Moving to the trade balance - the imbalance continues to grow:

Glen Avilez
"Imports are up and exports are down, substantially."

This was most noticeable in the Corozal Free Zone:

Glen Avilez
"Which according to our figures imports into the zone have fallen by 18 million dollars from last year."

The SIB is currently compiling the results of its April 2014, Labour Force Survey which will be released in late June.

Channel 7

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Marty Offline OP
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Belize Economy at a Glance for First Quarter 2014

Historically, the first quarter for Belize has been the most important�.principally because it is the peak period for our largest income earner tourism.

First quarter imports in 2013 were $580 million�..just over 31% of total imports for that year of $1.856 billion. First quarter exports in 2013 were $249.1 million�.just over 39% of total domestic exports of $627.5 million.

Therefore, when the first quarter goes well� is good news for the economy.

First quarter imports for 2014 were reported at $602 million�.an increase of 3.8% over 2013. Exports for the same period were reported at $204.6 million�.a decrease of around 18%.

We had better make hay while the sun shines�..and grow tourism by leaps and bounds to make up for this growing visible trade gap.

There are various observations that are interesting:

1. The Commercial Free Zone reported imports of $100.9 million for this period in 2013�.however, only $38 million were reported under "re-exports". This year, CFZ reported importing $82.26 million�.but only $7.44 million were reported as "re-exports". This begs the question�.what happens to ALL the goods imported into the CFZ, which is not "re-exported"?

2. Export Processing Zones reported increasing their imports during this period from $24.85 million in 2013, to $28.74 million in 2014. They report no exports. This begs the questions�.what happens to all the goods imported into EPZ's? If EPZs do not export�.why are they called Export Processing Zones, and given 20-year tax HOLIDAY? If they do export�..why is it not recorded as "export from EPZs"? in a form so that we know which EPZ's are exporting and which are not?

3. Pepper sauces exports increased from $735,800 in 2013, to $958,000 in 2014�.a healthy increase of 30%. Pepper farming should be expanding acreages and pepper farmers growing their wealth�.where are they located so that I may find them?

4. Red Kidney beans exports increased from $5.53 million in 2013, to $7.17 million in 2014�.a healthy 30%.

5. Black eye peas went from $1.12 million, to $1.78 million�.a growth of 59%. These last two are rising stars? What is their full potential? How can more Belizeans benefit from participation?

6. Crude oil exports fell from $58.46 million to $40.06 million�.a drop of 31%. A rapidly falling star? Do these numbers reflect the fact? Who is checking? At this rate of decline, we should be down to around ZERO within three years�.failing new finds. What plans do we have to make up for this loss?

7. Everything else that we export went down�..citrus, sugar, banana, papaya, molasses�.except for marine products (principally farmed shrimps) which grew from $21.38 million in 2013 to $27.84 million in 2014, a growth of 30%. Another rising star? What is the cost-benefit to Belize of farming shrimps here? Nova Shrimps was given a lot of "free" land in Belize, Stann Creek and Ambergris Caye�.have those lands been returned to the government and people of Belize for lack of fulfillment of development commitments? or is someone making a mint of "real estate" of these thousands of acres of prime lands obtained from GOB for "free" for the purpose of investment in shrimp farming?

8. For April, imports from Dominica went up from $126,000 in 2013 to $188,100 in 2014�..this is principally Kubuli beer. Imports from St. Lucia went down from $278,000 to $107,000�.this is principally Heineken. So you can see that Kubili growth is cannibalizing Heineken, not necessarily affecting the local Belikin beer business�.which recorded growth as should be expected from the growing tourism and domestic alcoholism. LOL

9. Belize exports to CARICOM countries fell from $30.7 million to $24 million�.a drop of 22%. Imports from CARICOM were reported to increase from $17.3 million to $20 million. We should be exporting a lot more to CARICOM�what targets have we set, if any? What is our national plan for CARICOM exports? When has our Foreign Trade Directorate EVER attempted and succeeded in anything at COTED in an effort to increase Belize exports to CARICOM?

10. Consumer prices�..ground beef up 16.8%� kidney beans up 20.2%�..eggs up 11%�.cabbage up 44.2%�.yellow onions up 26.9%. Belizeans need to go back to soil�..there is money to be made now from agriculture production�but most already sold out their lands for cheap and moved to towns and cities. Export demand for some commodities are pushing up prices�.and hurting Belizean consumers�..this should not be. Domestic pricing for commodities fully protected on the domestic market through licensing should be based on a COST-PLUS formula, and not based on Chicago Board of Trade indexing.

11. 14% of our imports in April 2014 came from Curacao. Yet we know that Curacao is a very small island in the Dutch Caribbean that does not produce much�.but are involved in financial offshore services and shipping. That begs the question�..what is the true origin of those goods currently being reported as originating from Curacao? Does this trade involve goods that want to avoid Miami port? Does this trade have anything to do with under-invoicing and avoidance of paying the right customs duties in Belize when the goods arrive here?

12. Our imports from Guatemala increased in April from $10.12 million in 2013 to $12.17 million in 2014�.an increase of 20%. Panama imports rose from $3.534 million to $6.25 million�.an increase of 77%. Imports from the rest of Central America fell�..but total imports from Central America rose slightly from around $22 million to $23 million. Our domestic exports to Central America does not even reach $0.5 million�.although a steady grey market export trade for corn, beef cattle, molasses, sugar, dressed chicken and eggs is known to be ongoing across the porous Guatemala border.

This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Masters in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.

Patrick Jones

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Marty Offline OP
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Although economy contracted, Barrow says he's looking at the bigger picture

Dean Barrow

At the end of May, the Statistical Institute of Belize reported that the economy contracted in the first quarter of 2014. It wasn't a huge contraction - just zero point four percent, but where the economy is concerned, any contraction is a cause for worry. Not really…says Prime Minister Dean Barrow. He's disappointed of course, but claims that he's looking at the bigger picture.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

"I am disappointed but of course you look at the mix and you see that while overall there has been the contraction that most of the, or very many of the key areas are doing extremely well - tourism, construction, government spending…while agriculture is not in that happy category. The fact is that ultimately the responsibility for the position is principally as a consequence of the decline in oil production, and that is not anything we can do about. I had spoken to Susan Morris at B.N.E. and she had given me the impression that that has now levelled off…that where we reached at the time I spoke to her is where we would stay because while Spanish Lookout continues to go down the Never Delay fields are picking up some of the slack and there were more wells going to be drilled at Never Delay. Obviously that was not the case in terms of this last quarter. The decline was quite dramatic and so while it is worrying because there is absolutely nothing we can do about that except to find more oil, I naturally prefer to concentrate on the fact that the traditional pillars of the economy are doing well, or in the case of agriculture, if there is a little bit of slippage there its easily explainable by the rains, by the strike at B.S.I. and in the case of citrus by greening and the unhappy confrontation crisis/stasis/paralysis situation that was the position until your wonderful government stepped in and solved it."

Channel 5

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