Singapore economy escapes recession

Core inflation receded recently but will face upward pressure from higher food,services costs.

Written by Agencies | Singapore | Published: October 12, 2012 10:35 am

Singapore defied expectations by sticking to its tight monetary policy stance on Friday,warning of persistent inflation pressure as data showed a quarterly contraction in the economy but a narrow escape from recession due to a revision in the April-June period.

Core inflation receded recently but will face upward pressure from higher food and services costs. CPI-All Items inflation will remain elevated for some time,the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said in its half-yearly monetary policy statement.

MAS will therefore maintain the policy of a modest and gradual appreciation of the S$NEER (nominal effective exchange rate) policy band. There will be no change to the slope and width of the policy band,as well as the level at which it is centred,the central bank said.

The Singapore dollar,the world’s 12th most-traded currency,soared after the central bank’s surprise decision and was around S$1.2210 to the U.S. dollar compared with S$1.2279 before the data release and policy statement.

The central bank’s policy statement was issued at the same time as data showing Singapore’s gross domestic product shrank 1.5 percent in the third quarter from the second quarter on a seasonally adjusted and annualised basis.

The contraction was worse than the 1.0 percent median forecast of 16 economists polled by Reuters.

I am a bit surprised that MAS chose to maintain,given signs that global growth momentum has lost steam and many other central banks have chosen to ease,said CIMB regional economist Song Seng Wun.

The fact that we averted a technical recession and the worry about the impact of the tight labour market probably kept them from easing.

MAS said core inflation is expected to average around 2.5 percent in 2012 and 2-3 percent next year,while headline inflation is likely to come in slightly above 4.5 percent in 2012,mainly because of higher car prices.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry said the quarter-on-quarter contraction in the economy was led by a 3.9 percent decline in manufacturing and a 7.5 percent drop in construction.

Singapore narrowly escaped a technical recession,defined as two quarters of sequential decline in GDP,as second quarter data was revised to show a seasonally adjusted and annualised expansion of 0.2 percent.

The government had earlier said the economy shrank 0.7 percent quarter-on-quarter in April-June.

From a year earlier,the economy expanded 1.3 percent in the third quarter. Second quarter growth was revised to 2.3 percent from a year earlier,higher than the previously stated 2.0 percent.

Singapore manages monetary policy by letting its dollar rise or fall against the currencies of its main trading partners within an undisclosed trading band.

Seventeen of 21 forecasters polled by Reuters before the policy statement had expected MAS to loosen policy by slowing the Singapore dollar’s appreciation to support the economy while keeping check on inflation that remains high by historical standards.

Four others predicted the central bank would stand pat due to persistent price pressures as unemployment remained low despite the slowing economy.

At its April policy announcement,MAS reiterated its bias for a modest and gradual appreciation of the Singapore dollar and increased the slope of the policy band slightly,indicating it will let the currency appreciate at a faster pace to help lower inflation expectations.

The central bank also narrowed the policy band,indicating it will allow less fluctuations in the local currency.

COMMENTARY

SIM MOH SIONG,CURRENCY STRATEGIST AT BANK OF SINGAPORE

It seems like the central bank is placing a lot more emphasis on curbing upside inflation risk,judging from the policy statement.

I think there is implicit expectation here that the growth outlook may improve by later this year and beginning of early next year. So if that holds then,reading between the lines,inflation will still be the key concern.

The implicit assumption in the policy statement seems to be that the reflationary polices put in by the major central banks in the world should help stabilise global growth and therefore provide some support for Singapore’s growth outlook going forward.

On the growth outlook in Singapore,definitely there are some signs of stabilisation. The question remains on when we are likely to see a more substantial rebound. We might be on the verge of benefiting from the reflationary policies that help to stabilise growth.

FRANCES CHEUNG,SENIOR STRATEGIST AT CREDIT AGRICOLE IN HONG KONG

The MAS disappointed. The third-quarter GDP did come in as expected but interestingly the second-quarter GDP was revised upward,helping the economy avoid a technical recession.

When other central banks in the region are on the dovish side,the MAS’s decision is putting further downside risk to the Singaporean economy.

USD/SGD gapped lower and front-end SGD rates are better offered in response. Given positions had been betting on a reduction in the slope,market reaction would be amplified.

ANDY JI,ASIAN FX STRATEGIST AT COMMONWEALTH BANK OF AUSTRALIA IN SINGAPORE

While non-consensus,it was a non-negligible risk that the MAS could keep its policy stance unchanged.

First,the inflation narrative remains unchanged. Second,the slope of the SGDNEER could be flatter than the 3 percent according to a majority of analysts.

In other words,the slope is already at is long-term average and a slight reduction after increasing the slope at the last meeting also slightly could be seen as policy flip-flop. At the same time,a 50 basis point reduction would be insignificant in the whole band width of 4 percent.

WAI HO LEONG,ECONOMIST AT BARCLAYS IN SINGAPORE

Clearly there is a very strong job market and a sense that the drop in GDP in the third quarter will be one-off and will be reversed very quickly in the fourth quarter.

However this decision (to keep the policy unchanged) could spark a rush of foreign capital into Singapore dollar assets given the better-than-expected outcome.

We could see more flows into Sing dollar assets in the coming weeks and we could see more testing of the upper limit of the band.

SONG SENG WUN,ECONOMIST AT CIMB IN SINGAPORE

I am a bit surprised that MAS chose to maintain given signs that global growth momentum has lost steam and many other central banks have chosen to ease.

I suppose the fact that we averted a technical recession and the worry about the impact of the tight labour market probably kept them from easing.

That’s another thing to note,growth is slower but still likely to come in within the growth forecast,although at the lower end. Inflation risk is still a nagging concern.

MARKET REACTION

The Singapore dollar jumped after the central bank’s surprise decision to stand pat on policy. It was trading around 1.2219 to the U.S. dollar compared with 1.2279 before the announcement.

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