THE COUNTRY’S balance of payments (BoP) sustained a surplus for the third straight month — though the smallest amount in that period — turning around from a year-ago deficit, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported on Friday.

Data released by the central bank on Friday showed the BoP position — which summarizes the country’s economic transactions with the rest of the world for a given period — at a $38-million surplus in September, compared to July’s $248 million and August’s $493 million and the year-ago $2.696-billion deficit.

In a statement, the central bank attributed September’s BoP surplus to inflows from the “national government’s (NG) net foreign currency deposits and BSP’s income from its investments abroad” that “were offset… by outflows representing payments made by the NG on its foreign exchange obligations during the month in review.”

September’s figure brought the year-to-date BoP balance to a $5.567-billion surplus, similarly turning around from the $5.136-billion deficit logged in 2018’s comparable nine months.

“The surplus may be attributed partly to remittance inflows from overseas Filipinos and net inflows of foreign direct investments (FDI),” the BSP said.

The central bank said the latest BoP position also reflects the final gross international reserve (GIR) level of $85.58 billion as of September 2019. “At this level, the GIR represents a more than ample liquidity buffer and is equivalent to 7.4 months’ worth of imports of goods and payments of services and primary income,” the central bank said, adding that it is also equivalent to 5.4 times the country’s short-term foreign debt falling due in up to 12 months and 3.9 times based on “residual maturity”, or outstanding short-term foreign debt plus principal payments on medium- and long-term loans of the private and public sectors falling due within a year.

In a note sent to reporters, Security Bank Corp. Chief Economist Mr. Robert Dan J. Roces explained that “[t]he sustained surplus resulted from the increase in GIR for the same month, with the GIR build-up tapering to just 0.2% MoM growth, giving a lower BoP surplus reading.”

“We think the BoP will continue to see positive fundamental inflows from higher net receipts from increased remittances in the holiday season. However, there is a downside risk from lower FDI due to the global slowdown,” Mr. Roces said, referring to foreign direct investments.

“We also think that the late pick-up in infrastructure spending should increase import demand for capital goods and raise the trade-in-goods deficit by the end of the year,” he added, explaining that, for now, “[t]he surplus position is positive for the peso amid the volatility brought by geopolitical concerns.”

For, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. Michael L. Ricafort, September’s smaller surplus reflects “easing of the country’s trade deficit amid the recent biggest year-on-year decline in the country’s imports data” and a smaller foreign portfolio net outflow.

Meanwhile, UnionBank of the Philippines, Inc. Chief Economist Ruben Carlo O. Asuncion pointed out that the “BoP month-on-month reflects more of government’s payment activities for the month.”

“However, BoP position on a cumulative basis from January to September 2019 does describe a more optimistic growth prospects for the third quarter. It shows a stable external position with a healthy GIR level at this point,” he said in an e-mail. — Luz Wendy T. Noble