Saturday, April 14, 2012

(BN) Panama’s 10% Economic Growth Leaves Companies Struggling to Retain Workers

Bloomberg News, sent from my iPhone.

Panama's 10% Economic Growth Leaves Firms Scrambling for Workers

April 14 (Bloomberg) -- Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, attending a summit this weekend with Barack Obama, has a problem that his U.S. counterpart could only dream of -- companies stealing employees from each other as economic growth reaches 10 percent for a second straight year.

"You can't hire a lot of workers in a lot of positions because there simply aren't the workers," Martinelli said in an interview yesterday at a regional summit in Cartagena, Colombia. "Wages have risen, firms are stealing workers from each other."

While President Obama is struggling to create jobs during an election year, Panama's unemployment rate hovers at 4.4 percent and may drop further as the economy grows 10 percent in 2012, Martinelli said. A free trade pact with the U.S. should be in force by October as officials make the last changes to implement the accord, he said.

Panama's economy was fastest growing in Latin America last year, expanding 10.6 percent, according to the National Statistics Institute, boosted by the $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal and other infrastructure projects. Firms are scrambling to find skilled labor, provoking "a high degree of uncertainty" on consumer prices, the International Monetary Fund said in an April 10 report.

'Can't Do Much'

Panama, which uses the U.S. dollar, has no central bank and "can't do much" to counter inflation, Martinelli said yesterday. Consumer prices rose 6.3 percent in March from a year earlier, according to the statistics institute.

The country ranked second after Brazil in the region for business hiring intentions during the last quarter of 2011 and was fifth worldwide, according to a survey by Manpower Inc.

In the U.S., employers added 120,000 jobs in March, half as many as the month before, Labor Department figures showed last week. The unemployment rate fell to 8.2 percent, a three-year low, as more Americans left the labor force.

Panama's government increased the minimum wage by 17 percent in January after about 6,000 workers on the Panama Canal expansion walked off the job, demanding higher wages and back pay. The expansion project, due to be completed in 2014, may be finished in early 2015, Martinelli said.

"We are sure that, if there is a delay, it would be of one or two months, and not more," Martinelli said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Matthew Bristow in Bogota at Eric Sabo in Panama City at .

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at .

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