Singapore expected to hold up despite gloomy global outlook

Singapore expected to hold up despite gloomy global outlook

 

SINGAPORE: According to economists, the Singapore economy is seen meeting the government’s growth targets for the full year, despite a gloomy global outlook.

 

But they have warned that higher oil prices will drag down growth for the next two quarters.

 

Oil prices have been on the upsurge and are now holding above US$140 a barrel. The uptick is expected to continue, with crude futures pushing past the US$150 threshold within the next few months.

 

David Cohen, Director of Asian Economic Forecasting, Action Economics, said: “Singapore’s economic growth should manage something a little over 5 per cent which would be slightly above the mid-point of the government’s official projection from 4 to 6 per cent. That would be respectable by any standards even if it’s slowing from last year’s 7.7 per cent growth.”

 

A recent survey by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) shows that private sector economists are expecting full-year GDP to come in at 5.5 per cent as oil-related sectors continue to boom.

 

Moreover, domestic demand is expected to provide some support to the service industry including retail, hotels, restaurants and construction services. Some are also hopeful of a rebound in the biomedical sector.

 

Robert Prior-Wandesforde, Senior Asian Economist at HSBC, said: “Pharmaceuticals which was growing for a month or two at a hundred per cent is now contracting by 50 per cent. That’s really swinging this economy around and I think that is why the second quarter could see a negative.

 

“(But) I would expect that to bounce back and I think that would be the key reason why the third quarter would be positive. I think Singapore will do okay… I’m still looking for quite an ambitious and quite a positive 6 per cent growth number for 2008.”

 

But the outlook for the manufacturing sector, specifically electronics, is uncertain as inflation is at its highest in 26 years.

 

“I think inflation will start to come down in the second half of this year in Singapore but perhaps not as quickly as the central bank would like. Therefore, I expect the Monetary Authority of Singapore to keep the exchange rate strong here, towards the top of the band as a means of keeping downward pressure on inflation,” Mr Prior-Wandesforde added.

 

Inflation is now at 7.5 per cent, but that is expected to ease in the second half of the year. Nonetheless, to rein in rising costs, economists expect the MAS to keep to its strong Sing dollar policy.

 

Source: Channel NewsAsia

Fund managers see a sluggish second half: poll

Fund managers see a sluggish second half: poll

But they still see opportunities in commodities and infrastructure

 

 

FUND managers’ sentiment on the economy and the equities market has taken a turn for the worse over the course of six months.

 

 

They now expect economic growth to be sluggish at least for the second half of this year and possibly next year, a poll of 15 fund managers by OCBC Bank’s wealth management unit shows.

 

Most of these fund managers reckon the US sub-prime crisis has not completely blown over and that its economic impact will be felt in the coming months.

 

In the survey, Aberdeen Asset Management said the economic effects of the credit crisis have yet to be fully felt, and it believes the US economic slowdown is firmly entrenched because of the housing and credit problems.

 

‘House prices in the US are likely to fall further, and we may see more writedowns from financial institutions on mortgage-backed securities that use owner-occupied homes as collateral,’ Aberdeen said in the poll.

 

Prudential Asset Management (Singapore) noted that while the sub-prime crisis has seen its worst, problems still lurk with other forms of securitised debts such as those related to credit cards.

 

Some fund managers are also concerned about the impact that inflation will have on economic growth and corporate margins, the poll shows. They cited inflation, cost pressures and the volatility in commodity markets as key risks to investments over the next 12 months.

 

Future growth will hinge largely on measures taken by central banks to tackle higher inflation, said DBS Asset Management. ‘The harder the line taken in terms of raising interest rates to combat the situation, the worse the final outcome for growth becomes.’

 

According to Schroder Investment Management, ‘the risk of earnings disappointments and downgrades are real’. Lion Global Investors said ‘downward revisions to earnings are likely to continue’.

 

In the light of these concerns, fund managers who were mostly positive on equities six months ago have turned more cautious. Allianz Global Investors, for instance, favours short-term money market instruments and cash.

 

But fund managers still see investment opportunities arising in selected areas, including commodities, precious metals and infrastructure.

 

In the poll, DWS Investments said it favours investments in soft and hard commodities, including gold and precious metals which it reckons will do well in an inflationary environment.

 

Barclays Capital is cautiously bullish about sectors like energy and basic resources which have positive industry fundamentals. It also finds the valuation of US and European equities inexpensive.

 

Lion Global Investors, however, said it favours equities over bonds in the longer term as the valuations of equities are relatively more attractive.

 

Source: Business Times

Fund managers expect sluggish growth this year

Fund managers expect sluggish growth this year

 

CONCERNS over inflation and a possible continuing fallout from the United States sub-prime crisis have made fund managers in Singapore pessimistic about economic growth this year.

A poll of 15 fund managers by OCBC Bank’s wealth management unit exposed fears that the slowdown could even stretch into next year.

 

OCBC said in a statement yesterday that its recent Fund Poll showed fund managers as being guarded about the economic outlook.

 

They were also expecting growth to be sluggish, at least for the rest of the year – and possibly next year.

 

Among the major concerns expressed by fund management firms such as Aberdeen Asset Management and Henderson Global Investors was the possibility that the full impact of the US sub-prime crisis had yet to be felt.

 

Henderson said the risk of a ‘serious seizure’ to the global financial system might have passed, but the full impact of the crisis on economic activity had yet to be felt.

 

‘Banks in the US and Europe have tightened credit conditions aggressively, and the lower credit availability will hold back economic activity,’ the survey quoted Henderson as saying.

 

Aberdeen echoed this sentiment. It pointed to continued housing and credit problems as a likely reason why the US economic slowdown was so firmly entrenched.

 

‘House prices in the US are likely to fall further, and we may see more write-

 

downs from financial institutions on mortgage-backed securities that use owner-occupied homes as collateral,’ it said.

 

The US sub-prime fallout aside, the other major concern raised in the survey was the spectre of global inflation.

 

DBS Asset Management said: ‘A key determinant of future growth will revolve around the approach that major central banks will take to tackle the higher inflation rates.

 

‘The harder the line taken in terms of raising interest rates to combat the situation, the worse the final outcome for growth becomes.’

 

Despite the gloomy outlook, the fund managers polled believed that selective investment opportunities still existed.

 

Lion Global Investors said: ‘We like investment themes in Asian infrastructure and large cap, high-quality companies in Asia with a greater domestic focus, as we believe that the region’s relative structural fundamental strengths remain intact.’

 

Other attractive investment sectors included commodities, both hard and soft, which would do well in inflationary environments, as well as energy and basic resources that had positive industry fundamentals, according to the survey.

 

Source: Straits Times

S’pore now has 77,000 millionaires

S’pore now has 77,000 millionaires 

Figure represents a rise of 15 per cent; each individual has over US$1m in net assets

 

SINGAPORE‘S millionaires club last year swelled by about 10,000 people, or 15.3 per cent, to 77,000, or 1.7 per cent of the population here.

The Republic lags far behind more populous countries, such as the United States, which has over three million millionaires, but Singapore still boasts one of the world’s top 10 fastest-growing millionaires clubs.

 

The latest surge in the number of millionaires here – defined as those with more than US$1 million (S$1.3 million) in net assets – puts Singapore joint seventh globally in terms of growth in numbers of such wealthy individuals, said a new report.

 

Assets counted exclude a person’s main residence.

 

The annual World Wealth Report, released by Merrill Lynch and research firm Capgemini, found last year’s growth was lower than the 21.2 per cent boom in 2006.

 

However, Singapore’s growth was still higher than the global growth of 6 per cent to 10.1 million last year, the report said. The total wealth of these well-heeled Singapore residents grew by 17 per cent to US$379 billion.

 

‘The average wealth of a Singapore high net-worth individual was US$4.9 million at the end of last year,’ said Mr Kong Eng Huat, South Asia market managing director with Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management.

 

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Mr Kong said: ‘This is a strong performance compared to the global average of US$4.04 million per individual last year, the first time the average has exceeded US$4 million.’

 

The Asia-Pacific region as a whole also beat the global performance, turning in millionaire population growth of 8.7 per cent to 2.8 million and a 12.5 per cent rise in combined wealth of the region’s wealthy to US$9.5 trillion.

 

Asian countries also dominated the list of markets with the fastest- growing millionaire populations. India topped the list, with China in second spot and South Korea and Indonesia in fourth and fifth.

 

In absolute numbers, the US is top of the league with an estimated 3.03 million millionaires. But growth was a mere 3.7 per cent over 2006.

 

Mr Kong said: ‘In the Asia-Pacific region, wealth is being created at an unprecedented rate. We are in the midst of a multi-year growth trajectory in terms of the number of high net-worth individuals in this part of the world, and also their combined wealth.’

 

Mr Raj Sriram, head of private banking at RBS Coutts Singapore, said it had seen continued growth among its clients’ funds. ‘At the macro level, wealth creation in Asia shows no signs of slowing.’

 

He added that the growing number of wealthy individuals in Asia, and Singapore in particular, was one of the reasons why the private bank had moved its international headquarters from Switzerland to Singapore two years ago. ‘Last year, we grew our business by more than 50 per cent and, going forward, we expect a healthy growth in the medium term.’

 

Dr Jannie Tay, executive vice-chairman of The Hour Glass watch chain, said her clientele largely comprised wealthy individuals. The chain’s business has grown in tandem with the growth in number of such individuals. Dr Tay said annual growth had been 15 to 20 per cent in the last five years.

 

Source: Straits Times

S’pore economy holding up despite global downturn

S’pore economy holding up despite global downturn 

Minister highlights growth figures and trends that point to better days ahead

 

NEW DELHI – SINGAPORE’S economy is healthy despite slowing global output, the worst inflation in two decades and a strong local currency that has made its goods more expensive abroad.

That is the word from Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, who is on a four-day visit to New Delhi and Mumbai.

 

He told The Straits Times: ‘Overall, we are taking the current downturn in our stride. Despite the global downturn, Singapore is doing reasonably well.’

 

Exports dropped 10.5 per cent last month from a year earlier, the extent of the plunge catching most people off-guard. Pharmaceutical shipments declined 48.5 per cent, while the critical electronics exports fell 8.5 per cent, led by a 12.6 per cent decline in semiconductor shipments.

 

Some economists have cited the rising Singapore dollar, blaming it for eroding export competitiveness. The currency traded yesterday at 1.3684 to the greenback, an increase of 5.1 per cent since the year began.

 

But Mr Lim pointed out that while Singapore’s exports may have become dearer, the stronger Singdollar has helped companies buy many of their components at cheaper prices abroad.

 

‘Overall feedback from companies is that they are still managing with the stronger currency,’ he said.

 

‘The fact that the economy is still growing at between 5 and 5.5 per cent shows we have not over-calibrated the Singapore dollar.’

 

Mr Lim also took heart from several trends that pointed to better days ahead.

 

For example, Singapore’s electronics sector has been put through major restructuring.

 

Disk drives, once its mainstay, have been replaced by the wafer fabrication industry, which is attracting new investments by the day.

 

Precision engineering firms that served disk-drive factories have now turned their attention to other industries such as medical technology, aviation and high-end electronics.

 

Petrochemicals also continued to draw fresh investments.

 

‘Most of the hard changes are behind us and we look forward to reaping the benefits,’ Mr Lim said. ‘We should not take last month’s export numbers as an indicator of a long-term trend.’

 

Similarly, he was also optimistic that Singapore would be able to bring inflation under control by the end of the year.

 

Inflation hit 7.5 per cent last month, the highest in more than two decades, because of higher food, housing and transportation costs.

 

Mr Lim noted that Singapore had made the hard adjustments in time.

 

While some countries had tried to stanch the impact of higher prices of imported food and fuel through unrealistic subsidies, Singapore tended not to follow that path.

 

‘There are some transitional effects that will tail off by the end of the year, such as the effect of the higher goods and services tax we introduced last year,’ he said.

 

‘With some of these domestic factors removed, we will still feel the impact of external factors, but their magnitude will come down.’

 

velloor@sph.com.sg

 

 

 

——————————————————————————–

 

 

COPING WELL

 

‘The fact that the economy is still growing at between 5 and 5.5 per cent shows we have not over-calibrated the Singapore dollar.’

 

MR LIM, on the stronger Singdollar

 

Source: Straits Times

Are stocks and properties an inflation hedge?

Are stocks and properties an inflation hedge?

 

THE Manpower Ministry’s labour market report for the first quarter reveals that employees in manufacturing, transport and administrative jobs saw their real wages shrink, compared with the same period last year. Their pay increases did not quite match the 6.6 per cent inflation rate. On average, real earnings grew 3.6 per cent compared to the same three-month period last year. However, with annual inflation forecast at 6 per cent this year, a labour economist says it is a matter of time before real earnings dip for workers in other sectors.

 

This, of course, is not good news for working adults who, in addition to having to meet their current financial obligations, also have to save and plan for their children’s education as well as their own retirement. With neither pay rises nor bank deposit rates adequate to cover inflation, and with the financial and property markets still fraught with uncertainties, there would appear to be few safe investment options.

 

In normal circumstances, most people would want to maximise returns. However, in the current climate, many may want to change their risk preferences. Instead of maximising returns, the preferred objective may be to minimise risk.

 

Even so, it is worth remembering that over the long term, equities and properties are the best hedge against inflation. Between 1975 and 2007, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in Singapore rose 187 per cent. The Straits Times Index (as calculated by Thomson Financial Datastream) climbed 1,159 per cent, while the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s property price index increased 1,334 per cent. Over the same 32-year period, Singapore’s gross domestic product expanded 914 per cent.

 

However, the key phrase to note here is ‘over the long term’.

 

Of course, in the case of equities and properties, which are prone to big swings in prices, the returns one gets will depend a lot on one’s entry level. Investors entering at the wrong point in the cycle would be in for a rough ride. Out of the 28 rolling five-year holding periods in the last 32 years, the STI’s returns lagged the CPI in eight of those periods. Property prices rose less than general prices in 10 periods. But if the holding period is increased to 10 years, stocks failed to keep up with inflation in only three out of the 23 rolling ten-year periods between 1975 and 2007. For property, it was four. But for holding periods of 15 years and above, both properties and equities comfortably beat inflation for all the holding periods. Moreover, returns on properties exceeded those on equities.

 

So for any investor who takes the long view – that is, 15 years or more – current market conditions should not be a deterrent to meeting long-term financial goals.

 

Source: Business Times

Strong Q1, will growth keep up?

Strong Q1, will growth keep up? 

Record jobs created, resilient GDP ahead – but inflation, labour costs a concern

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IT WAS, in the words of one analyst, an “extraordinary” first quarter for the job market in Singapore. And looking ahead, economic growth forecasts by private-sector economists — though adjusted downwards — have turned out better than expected.

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Even with a slowdown predicted for the months ahead, a record 73,200 jobs were created in the first quarter of the year, according to the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) Labour Market report released yesterday.

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Meanwhile, the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS)latest survey of forecasters showed that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could increase 5.5 per cent this year, marginally down from the median forecast growth of5.6 per cent in the previous quarterly survey in March.

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Such resilient figures are thanks to surprisingly bullish growth of 6.7 per cent in the first three months, say analysts. This “stronger than expected” showing, said DBS economist Irvin Seah, “shows that things are holding up pretty well, that’s why you don’t see further downgrades.”

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It was also not surprising to see robust employment growth in the first quarter, said Institute of Policy Studies adjunct senior research fellow Manu Bhaskaran.

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But would such figures remain as high for the rest of the year? “I see businesses becoming much more cautious about expansion and about raising costs as we go further into 2008 and 2009,” said Mr Bhaskaran. “So, I suspect the tight labour market might ease a bit.”

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Also, job market figures tend to be a lagging economic indicator, said Deutsche Private Wealth Management Asian strategist Chua Hak Bin: “First-quarter job growth probably reflected the intentions of firms late last year, as hiring plans take some time to execute. Firms probably turned more cautious early this year with the US slowdown and global credit crunch. This may show up more visibly in the second and third quarter, with job growth likely falling off.”

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Recent employment surveys conducted with employers reflect this: Manpower Singapore’s report last week stated that employment growth would continue, but at a slower pace.

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The overall unemployment rate rose to 2 per cent from 1.7 percent last December – a figure Mr Bhaskaran expects to see climb as companies restructure to become more competitive.

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As for the economy, Forecast Singapore economist Vishnu Varathan projected slower growth, with some “buffering effect” from the construction and financial services sector.

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“The economy is expected to grow at a fairly resilient 5.5 per cent because we expect to see good investments in Singapore petrochemical plants. And you also have certain sectors of financial services still commited to spending in Singapore. Investments will be part of the story,” he said.

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But a moderation in the manufacturing sector, the most vulnerable to a global slowdown, would hurt GDP growth, said Mr Seah. The stronger Sing dollar has also made exports more expensive.

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The bigger worry, said economists, is inflation. The MAS survey reported this is likely to rise 6 per cent this year, at the top end of the Government’s forecast of 5 to 6 per cent.

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Noting Singapore’s reliance on imports, Mr Varathan will be looking more closely at inflation numbers in neighbouring countries and fuel price hikes. “When there had been specific supply shortages in certain regions, we have always skirted inflation or supply pressure by diversifying the sources of our imports. But now, given that is a global trend and there are fuel hikes in the region, and that most of our food supply comes from the region, we can’t run away from higher prices,” he said.

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While the Government expects inflation to ease in the second half, after the impact of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) wears off, economists warn this could be offset by imported inflation. Fortis Bank senior strategist Joseph Tan said: “It’s not going to come down as much as what we previously hoped.”

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The spike in nominal wage growth could also potentially feed into domestic inflation, as “higher wage expectations push prices up further”, said Standard Chartered Bank economist Alvin Liew.

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Overall unit labour cost (ULC) rose for the eighth consecutive quarter, rising by 8.8 per cent compared to last quarter’s rise of 6 per cent, while labour productivity dipped further by 2.8 per cent.

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This, however, did not worry all analysts.

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“It is not surprising that ULC should rise in a period of high economic growth and tight labour market as we have experienced,” said Mr Bhaskaran. “The key is the trend over a cycle, so we should not focus just on a few quarters.”

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UOB economist Ng Shing Yi said the ULC might improve year-end, when companies stop recruiting at such a feverish pace.

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But HSBC economist Robert Prior-Wandesforde warned that higher labour costs created additional pressures. “The implication is that firms either need to raise prices or take a hit on their profit margins … It certainly doesn’t bode that well for underlying inflation pressures in the country.”

 

Source: Today Newspaper