OPINION-Looking ahead

Without surprise, gambling revenue in November did not match the figure recorded in October – November is usually a quieter month than October. To the tune of 6.7 billion patacas, the amount achieved is still quite an improvement if compared with most of the other months of this year. Cumulative revenue is now just a tad below one-fifth of what it was last year. 

With one month to go in this strangest of all years, the annual sector’s revenues will likely stand slightly above one-fifth of what was reached in 2019. As a rule, December is a good month, with higher numbers of visitors during the festive season. It would be disappointing if that figure did not go up. But to do much better, say, to go up a notch to approach the one-fourth of last year’s revenue, December would have to post values at least three times as big as the average for the previous couple of months. That would be on par with last year’s results, something that nobody expects. 

Under the current policy approaches, the recovery of the tourism sector, in general, will be slow – and prone to reversals that we all hope will not happen. Economic recovery will get on with a sputtering main engine. That gives prominence to the second conceivable ‘engine,’ at least in the short term, the public purse. However, for all the statements on the matter, the signals are at best mixed. 

Overall, the public budget will decrease. That alone will have a tightening effect, not an expansionary one. Further, as salary costs will be preserved, and there is a commitment to increase investment, the cutbacks will occur mainly in the acquisition of goods and services or income transfers of one sort or the other. With private consumption and investment already squeezed, such cuts will likely further hold them back. 

The promise to increase investment seems, therefore, insufficient to warrant much optimism. Historically, the administration has a record of seriously under-executing its investment plans. Smaller public works may favor a few local companies, but they are, by definition, small. Non-local companies will fetch bigger ones, and both materials and workforce will come mostly from outside. The expansionary effect is likely to be diluted, mainly felt away from these shores. 

On the positive side, the next year can hardly be worse than this one, albeit it is likely to be still a painful one.