Wednesday, March 29, 2017

No 47 In My List of Reasons Why Productivity Gains are so Difficult

From a batch of NBER working papers a few weeks ago (abstract; emphasis added):

CEO Behavior and Firm Performance
Oriana Bandiera, Stephen Hansen, Andrea Prat, Raffaella Sadun

We measure the behavior of 1,114 CEOs in Brazil, France, Germany, India, UK and US using a new methodology that combines (i) data on every activity the CEOs undertake during one workweek and (ii) a machine learning algorithm that projects these data onto scalar CEO behavior indices. Low values of the index are associated with plant visits, and one-on-one meetings with production or suppliers, while high values correlate with meetings with high-level C-suite executives, and several functions together, both from inside and outside the firm. We use these data to study the correlation between CEO behavior and firm performance within the framework of a firm-CEO assignment model. We show results consistent with significant firm-CEO assignment frictions, which appear to be more severe in lower-income regions. The productivity loss generated by inefficient assignment is equal to 13% of the productivity gap between high- and low-income countries in our sample.

In short, 13% of the productivity difference between rich and poor countries is due to having roughly 17% of CEOs in poorer countries not spending their time properly (relative to their industry).

And people think it’s about robots.

Technical Notes

Bandiera, Oriana & Stephen Hansen, Andrea Prat, Raffaella Sadun, "CEO Behavior and Firm Performance", NBER Working Paper No. 23248, March 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Chart of the Week: Why Seafood Prices Have Rocketed

Actually, three charts altogether:


Issue 1: Global fish landings have stagnated since the 1990s. Effectively, demand is increasingly being met through aquaculture.


Issue 2: Per capita consumption has risen drastically, to over 20kg per person, tripling over the past 65 years. Roughly 85% of fish supply is now used for food, up from half in the 1970s. It’s not just population growth that is stressing fish supplies.


Issue 3: Only 10% of global fish stocks are underutilised. The ratio of fishing stocks that are being exploited at biologically unsustainable rates has been increasing, and is more than double what it was 40 years ago.

Technical Notes:

“The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016,” Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), 2016

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Chart of the Week: Manufacturing Sales

Manufacturing sales versus trend forecast (RM millions):



Technical Notes:

Data from various issues of Monthly Manufacturing Statistics from the Department of Statistics Malaysia

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Return of Inflation?

A couple of things here:

  1. Malaysian inflation will zoom this year. No, really, for real!
  2. Uh, no, not really.

What’s with the two seemingly contradictory statements?

This is what we have up to January 2017 (log annual and monthly changes):


Monday, March 13, 2017

Threat or Help? Unskilled Immigrant Workers

The World Bank’s Malaysia Hub has a new brief on the effect of immigrant workers on productivity (excerpt):

Threat or Help? The Effects of Unskilled Immigrant Workers on National Productivity Growth
Sharmila Devadas

While unskilled immigrant workers have relatively low formal human capital, theory suggests that they can still contribute to productivity improvements by helping to increase efficiency and upgrading the skills of the native labor force. Empirical studies indicate that positive productivity effects do occur. This body of evidence does not provide a compelling argument for the closing of national borders to unskilled foreigners on economic grounds.

TL;DR version: The available evidence doesn’t support any negative impact on productivity, with some countries showing a positive impact. Note that this doesn’t necessarily preclude the possibility that reducing unskilled foreign workers will increase productivity, but it does make it unlikely.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Effective Exchange Rate Indexes: February 2017 Update

The NEER and REER page has been updated, as has the Google Docs version.


Despite relative stability against the USD in February, the MYR continued to decline on a multilateral basis. The NEER fell -0.53% mom, while the REER fell-0.91%. More moderate drops were seen in the sub-indices.

On a bilateral basis, MYR is now on a nine-month losing streak against the AUD (-2.27%), though the biggest drop was against the KRW (-3.01%). Gains were recorded against the PHP (+0.79%), HKD (+0.37%) and USD (+0.32%). What’s interesting is that, despite the continued decline, the picture appears to be balancing out a little – gains were recorded against 6 currencies (out of a total of 14 in the indexes), versus 4 last month, and just 1 in December and November.



  1. Indexes have been updated to February 2017
  2. CPI deflators and forecasts have been updated for January 2016/December 2017
  3. Trade weights have been updated for the 4Q16