S’pore GDP beats forecasts on strong trade rebound

SINGAPORE • Singapore’s economy posted faster growth in the second-quarter (2Q) than previously estimated by the government as a recovery in global trade helped to buoy manufacturing.

Its gross domestic product (GDP) rose a seasonally  adjusted and annualised (SAAR) 2.2% in 2Q from the previous three months, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said last Friday, revising its earlier estimate of 0.4%. Median estimate of six economists in a Bloomberg survey was for growth of 0.5%.

Compared to the same pe- riod last year, its GDP rose 2.9% in 2Q, higher than the 2.5% median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. The ministry narrowed growth forecast range for 2017 to 2%-3% from 1%-3%.

As one of Asia’s most trade-dependent countries, Singapore has benefitted from a recovery in global trade since late last year, led by strong  Chinese demand for electronics and other manufactured goods. The economy is likely  to grow 2.5% in 2017, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last Tuesday, a projection reiterated by the Ministry of Trade and Industry last Friday.

While export-led industries are expanding strongly, there are mounting risks. Consumer- focused industries such as retail remain weak in the face of job cuts and rising debt. There are also doubts over whether China can sustain its growth as the government tries to curb a credit bubble.

The Trade Ministry cited three main risks to the global economy — trade protectionist threats, faster than expected interest-rate increases in the  US and a pullback in credit demand in China — but said the potential for these to have a significant impact on growth has eased compared to three months ago.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the nation’s central bank, has kept its policy stance unchanged for more than a year amid subdued price pressures and weak growth. The MAS uses the exchange rate as its main tool and is scheduled to make  its next policy decision in October.

“As long as regional trade and economic momentum remains steady and if the labour market continues to  stabilise, it should bode quite well for private consumption and consumption of services,” said Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. “It tells you how far  the pendulum has swung from last year to now, people were worried about (Donald) Trump, Brexit, the French elections, but the threats seem to have tapered off a bit.”

“I don’t think China can maintain the 6.9% they saw  in 2Q, so they probably will  be slowing down but not sharply,” said Francis Tan, an economist at United Overseas Bank Ltd. “They’re controlling credit tightening very well right now. If they tighten further, things could become a big mess especially since this is a critical year with the leadership handing over.”

The services industry, which accounts for about two-thirds of the economy, grew an annualised 3.3% in 2Q from the  previous three months. The finance and insurance sector rebounded with a SAAR 3.9% gain from the previous quarter, when it slumped 19%.

Manufacturing rose an annualised 2.9%; the ministry said the sector will continue  to provide support to the Singapore economy in the second- half, backed by strong performance in the electronics and precision engineering clusters. — Bloomberg