Following an overall decline of 0.6 per cent in 2015, the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago has stated that GDP is estimated to have fallen by 6.7 per cent (year-on-year) in the first half of 2016, led by a contraction in the energy sector (10.8 per cent). There is some uncertainty regarding the quantum of the decline which was addressed earlier by us and can be found at http://gafarrell.com/how-much-has-the-local-economy-declined-in-2016/.
The contraction in the energy sector was due to falls in both prices and production. Not only have oil and gas prices fallen dramatically over the last year, but oil production has also declined steadily since late 2006 while natural gas production peaked in late 2009. The decline has been attributed to three main factors: mature acreage, increased emphasis on safety and infrastructural upgrade. The decline has also resulted in a 20% decrease in foreign exchange inflow from the energy sector.
This current environment of slowing economic activity has also led to:
- Worsening conditions in the labour market. The latest data from the CSO indicate that the rate of unemployment increased to 4.4 per cent in the second quarter of 2016 from 3.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2016 and 3.2 per cent in the second quarter of 2015.
- Subdued inflationary pressures. According to the CSOs Index of Retail Prices (RPI), headline inflation on a year-on-year basis measured 3.0 per cent in September 2016, down from 3.5 per cent in April 2016.
- A 6.7% decline in the local stock market over the first nine months ending September 2016.
- A significant drop in the demand for commercial real estate rentals. It is currently estimated that there are over 300,000 sq. ft. of vacant, commercial office space available for rent in and around Port of Spain.
- The slowing of real estate mortgage lending. This has been exacerbated by higher interest rates as well as the worsening weaker labour market conditions referred to above.
On the bright side, there are several new energy projects such as the recently commissioned Angostura Phase 3 project by BHP Billiton, bpTT’s Juniper Project and EOG Resources’ Sercan Development. It is anticipated that these should add a fair amount of natural gas to the local production horizon by early 2017. In addition, OPEC is currently attempting to agree to a decrease in oil output.
It would therefore seem that until such time that there is a recovery in energy prices and local production, the economy, and by extension the real estate market, could be in for a rough period.
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