The Philippines: Between a Rock and a Modern Place

It would be hard to imagine Manila's streets without its awesome “Kings of the Road”, the iconic Jeepneys. Repurposed from left-behind Willys Jeeps post-World War II, Jeepneys are colorfully painted open-air minibuses that have been the cornerstone of affordable transport for the masses in the Philippines. But as the country pushes hard for a greener tomorrow, these diesel-guzzling relics are set to become a thing of the past.

Peninsula Hotel's upscale take on the traditional jeepney, trading vibrant hues for leather seats and air-conditioning

The transition to eco-friendly vehicles has been a bumpy ride though. Frustrated with insufficient government subsidies for vehicle upgrades, Jeepney operators have staged protests and strikes, resulting in several deadline extensions. If the Marcos administration, like its predecessor, can't effectively push this through, it will deal a blow to the Philippines' clean energy ambition.

But green aspirations aren't the only obstacles the nation faces. Since my first visit in 1987, the Philippines has undeniably made enormous strides in economic advancements, but as is the case with many developing economies, the ripple effects of growth have been sluggish. Crucial issues, such as poverty and high unemployment, still loom large. High inflation and interest rates are also taking a toll on the country’s growth momentum.

Freshly released data reveals the Philippines' GDP increased by just 4.3% in the second quarter of this year, a drop from the preceding quarter's 6.4%. This marks the country’s most tepid growth since 2011 when excluding the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021.

Yet, it's not all bleak. I remain hopeful for the Philippines' economic prospects. Not only does the country have a youthful, English-speaking workforce, but it also has a growing middle class and one of Asia's lowest household debts. I’m particularly bullish on its retail sector, especially the housing repair materials segment.

While on a short trip to Manila last month, I had the pleasure of touring the Philippine Stock Exchange, guided by Randy Roxas, Managing Director of stock brokerage firm Philippine Equity Partners.

Alongside Philippine Equity Partners’ Randy Roxas, who showed us around the stock exchange, and my research associates

I also had the privilege of recounting my experiences as an emerging markets fund manager at a Bloomberg event.

Always a pleasure sharing my journey of uncovering undervalued stocks in emerging markets

While the road to growth might seem long and winding at times, I firmly believe in the nation's potential. The Filipino spirit, always hopeful and persevering, ensures that every setback is but a setup for a grander comeback. To the Philippines and its incredible people: Here's to the journey ahead, filled with hope and endless possibilities.

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