SINGAPORE - Singapore's exports in October contracted sharply as sales to major markets fell, raising the risk of a recession in the trade-dependent economy amid heightened uncertainty around global trade in the wake of Donald Trump's US election victory.
The affluent city-state's economy has been on the ropes in the last two years as exports fell away amid slow world growth, and Trump's upset had added another layer of doubt on trade given his protectionist policy stance.
Non-oil domestic exports (NODX) skidded 12.0 per cent last month from a year earlier, the trade agency International Enterprise Singapore said in a statement on Thursday, far worse than the median forecast of a 3.5 per cent decline in a Reuters poll. "What this number highlights to us is that the cyclical slowdown is also much bigger than what we have been predicting,"said Vaninder Singh, an economist for RBS in Singapore.
Singh said the exports data raised the risk of a recession and added to the chance of further monetary policy easing.
The central bank in October held policy steady despite a surprisingly sharp economic contraction in the third quarter.
But the growing risks of a recession has even raised the prospects of an off-cycle easing, ahead of the Monetary Authority of Singapore's next policy review scheduled in April, some analysts said. "If the weak NODX continues, if you see in the IP numbers it also mirrors what you see in the NODX data, I would say that an easing will probably come sooner rather than in the scheduled April meeting." said Michael Wan an economist for Credit Suisse, referring to industrial production.
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Exports to the European Union contracted 28.6 per cent from a year earlier as sales of pharmaceuticals, non-electric engines & motors, as well as personal computers tumbled.
Shipments to China and the United States extended their slide though the pace of declines eased.
US President-elect Trump, who campaigned on a protectionist policy stance, is seen as a further risk to Singapore, analysts said. "The Q4 growth could be negative if we see materialisation of Trump's protectionism. That would significantly disrupt Asian supply chain," said Weiwen Ng, an economist for ANZ in Singapore.
Fiscal stimulus measures could come earlier than monetary policy steps, NG said. The government is expected to announce the next year budget in the first quarter.
Singapore's domestic borrowing costs have already been rising pressured by the recent global bonds rout, so further easing by MAS could add to upside pressure.
Since the MAS manages monetary policy by adjusting the exchange rate rather than interest rates, a weaker Singapore dollar could spur capital outflows and dry up local liquidity.
The three-month Singapore interbank offered rate , a benchmark used to set interest rates on mortgages, rose to 0.91 per cent, the highest since July. "Any easing in exchange rates could tighten financial condition, which is not what they want," Ng said.