Treasury Believes GDP Growing at 4.4%

But manufacturers point to still more job losses

The Finance Ministry has been revising its figures upward with regard to the economy. Senior officials there believe gross domestic product grew in 2004 by 4.4 percent, which is higher than the 4.2 percent estimated by the Central Bureau of Statistics, published only last month - and also higher than GDP growth figures for all of the previous three years. Buoyed by these growth estimates and a slew of good news on many fronts, both economic and in terms of the security situation with the Palestinians, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange climbed a healthy 2 percentage points yesterday.

The treasury's revised figures are based on updated data that the CBS released yesterday, relating to the economy in November and December 2004. According to the latest figures, the index of industrial production increased 10 percent in the period of June through November 2004 (all figures are in annual terms), after rising between 9 and 11 percent in the period from November 2003 to May 2004. Also published yesterday: Exports of goods (excluding diamonds) in the last two months of 2004 increased 12 percent, albeit a lower rise than in the preceding months.

The point is not that these increases were less than preceding months, if this is indeed the case, but that the figures for November and December are far better than the treasury originally estimated. All indicators point to a continuation of the economy's emergence from a recessionary period. Industrial output and exports are two particularly telling factors pointing to a return to sustainable growth in the economy.

According to the CBS, output of the high-tech industrial sector increased by 21 percent in October and November 2004, while the high/mixed industrial sectors (including chemicals, machinery, electrical equipment, transport goods) rose 8 percent. Traditional industry (including food, textiles, paper, leather, printing) was stable.

However, these figures do not necessarily translate to more jobs. According to the Manufacturers Association, industrial plants dismissed 9 percent more employers in the last quarter of 2004 than in the preceding quarter.

Of those companies surveyed, 23 percent had laid off workers in the period, while 18 percent had taken on new staff. In general, factory owners believed the first quarter of 2005 would see further job losses, albeit at a slower pace. Twenty percent of those surveyed expected to dismiss staff and 18 percent expected to take on new workers. The sectors most likely to reduce their payrolls were furniture, mining, quarrying, construction, metals and electricity.

The association said that the most common reason cited for the job losses in the last quarter of 2004 was the expectation by company management of a slowdown in sales, particularly in the local market.