Typhoon's impact in the Philippines could reach $14 billion, according to early estimates.
While Typhoon Haiyan undoubtedly killed many thousands of people, the storm's path may have spared the Philippines from an even worse economic catastrophe.
The storm took an estimated $14 billion toll on its economy, according to Kinetic Analysis, a Silver Spring, Md., risk-assessment firm. But the storm's path meant it imposed only minor damage in and around the capital of Manila — home to about 12% of the nation's people and a third of its annual economic output of about $250 billion.
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The Philippines' economy has been growing at an annual rate exceeding 7% this year, after growing 6.8% in 2012. By Asian standards, that is pretty good — it's growing faster than India, if slower than China.
It is reasonably well diversified, as business-process outsourcing centers and call centers spring up to complement electronics-assembly factories and agriculture. Incomes are still low, though they are higher than in India or Vietnam, while trailing nations including China and Thailand.
"Things have been looking up for the Philippines,'' said Rachel van Elkan, mission chief for the Philippine at the International Monetary Fund. "In our assessment they continue to do so.''
The Leyte province, where much of the worst damage was sustained, is largely agricultural. That's one reason estimates cited by Moody's Analytics say as much as half of the nation's sugar-cane fields and a third of its rice-growing land may have been wiped out.
Cebu, a hard-hit province of 3.8 million people, is a center for outsourcing operations, with U.S. companies including United Healthcare having offices there. It's also a major tourism and shipbuilding center.
But Manila is the center of the national economy, at once both the largest manufacturing center and the most-popular home for outsourcing firms, van Elkan said.
A moderate national debt will work in the favor of Philippine recovery, van Elkan said. With an investment-grade bond rating and a debt to GDP ratio of 40% — compared with about 72% for the U.S, according to Fitch Ratings — the nation will be able to finance its reconstruction after international aid pours in to address the humanitarian crisis, she said.
Another factor that may speed recovery is that so many Filipinos have relatives abroad who send money back home. About 10% of the economy comes from so-called "remittances," the World Bank estimates, letting the country run a trade surplus.
But the nation is still poor, with lower per-capita incomes than about two out of three countries worldwide. Unemployment tops 7%, and 40% of Philippine workers are active in the so-called informal economy, according to the CIA World Factbook.
U.S. Agency for International Development spokeswoman Natasha Jackson said it was too early for definitive statements about the level of economic damage.
The Philippines are no stranger to costly storms. In an average year, weather is responsible for $5 billion in property damage in the Philippines, according to the USAID.