Easy Peasy Economic Indicators When You Need One

By Zam Yahaya

Generally, when we look for economic indicators, we always refer to the statistics of economic activity and performance of a particular sector, employment rate, consumer spending, property price and the most common is the performance of companies in the stock market.

But those information are often too late for most of us to make decisions in our business or our life. When those figures are published by the economists, it is mainly useful for large corporations or the government of the day to take reactive action in adjusting their policies.

Do you know that there various economic indicators around you that you can use to anticipate the outcome or the performance of the economy without depending too much on analysts and economists who most of the time provide you with “historical” figures?

Here are my stories…

In 2010 when I was in my final semester of completing my Masters In Islamic Finance I took up a teaching job in Kuantan. Since it’s only a 1-1/2 year contract and a three-day job in a week, I did not bring my family there, but rented a room instead at a small town called Balok.

Balok was originally a fishing village but the booming fabrication industry of Gebeng turned it into a small town. More like a cowboy town actually, due to a high number of foreign workers there. But the beauty of its beaches and the fishing village remains, until the bauxite mining activities peaked and turned the town into a red town polluted by the red earth the lorries spill all over the town. When it reached the stage of not conducive for living, I moved back to KL, despite being offered an extension of my contract.

Balok is also close to the Kuantan Port and to Terengganu, being about 15 km from Cherating. The people there mainly speak Malay with a thick combination of Terengganu and Pahang accents and I found it very difficult to understand them. If they mention a word, I can understand, but when they string a few words into a sentence, most of the time I could not figure what they were trying to say. Even non-Malays speak the same strange “Malay language”.

So during my free time besides fishing, I love to cycle around Balok and communicated with the locals. I talked to the fishermen, to the food operators along the beach, to anglers and I even spoke to lorry drivers moving goods in and out of Kuantan port. Not only did I discover a lot of things about their life, I also improved my Bahasa Terengganu after a while.

In one of my conversations with one of the lorry drivers, I asked him how much they were earning these days. To my surprise someone named Din told me that sometimes they make close to RM 5,000 a month. But that depends on how many trips one is willing to take. A few months earlier, he was only earning about RM2,000 a month. But lately, there were more trips where he got to transport goods in or out of the Kuantan port. He said his income improved as he got more trips. He asked me what I do for a living and said I teach economics. He then told me don’t understand why the newspaper were still saying the economy was still slow while his economy and the town’s economy are doing well.

Understandably, the country was recovering from the global economic meltdown that hit the world and Malaysia was not spared. But we were among a few nations that came out of it quite early. Thanks to the pro-active economic transformation programme adopted by our PM6 then, we had achieved a straight eight years of steady economic growth until 2018.

Booming Economic Report

A couple of months later, the economists and analysts started to publish a booming economic report and our trades were improving through leaps and bounds. I quickly recalled my conversation with Din. Actually, when I was having the conversation with that lorry driver, our economy had already picked up fast.

When trades are high, it means more imports and exports because consumptions are higher due to more economic activities. And of course import and export means more goods to be transported in and out of the port. And who will be better and the first to know when there is a high turnover at the port? Lorry drivers!

So guys, if you want a first hand economic indicator, don’t just look at the stock market or what the economist has to say. Most of the time, they are not sure themselves and depends on obsolete reports. Look around you, talk to the second-hand car dealers or the advertising agencies for example. These are the early indicators of whether the economy is doing well or not.

One of the things I don’t understand then was why the price of food in Kuantan was as high as in Kuala Lumpur or even Johore Baru? The price of ikan kembung there then was RM18 per kilo compared to only RM12 in KL despite Balok being a fishermen’s village and Kuantan is near the sea. Lunch in Kuantan or even in Balok town can be as expensive as having lunch in Bangsar or Taman Tun Dr Ismail in KL. Due to that, after a few months, I decided to cook myself and learnt to cook simple dishes such as Chicken Curry, Masak Lemak & Singgang.

But when I persistently dug for more info from the fishermen at Balok, I discovered why the price of fish was high in Kuantan. That will be another story for another day because the issue is quite complex, but suffice to say that there were trades concluded in the middle of the sea before those fish even arrive at the jetty! – New Malaysia Herald

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