Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Govt raises GDP forecast

Economy now expected to contract by 4% to 6%, but outlook for rest of year remains subdued, MTI cautions

SINGAPORE roared out of recession with growth of 20.4 per cent in the second quarter over the previous quarter, marking the first expansion in a year and prompting the Government to raise its 2009 growth forecast.The flash estimates, which are based mainly on April and May numbers, showed growth in the construction sector and a sharp improvement in manufacturing, thanks to the drugs cluster.

'The Singapore economy is back, and back with a vengeance,' said HSBC economist Robert Prior-Wandesforde, who expects other regional economies to produce similar rallies.

The Government also revised its 2009 growth forecast upwards after three downgrades.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) now expects the economy to contract by 4 to 6 per cent instead of the 6 to 9 per cent decline predicted in April, thanks to the 'less severe contraction' in the first half of the year.

However, it is sticking to its outlook for the rest of the year - a weak recovery that will be at risk from more bad news.

The flash estimates were clearly the headline grabber yesterday.

They showed that the economy surged 20.4 per cent compared with the first quarter - a far better figure than the experts had tipped and the first positive quarter after four consecutive quarters of contraction.

However, the economy was still down 3.7 per cent compared with the same period last year, its third straight year-on-year period of slump but again better then market expectations.

The brighter figures also mean Singapore is the first Asian economy out of a technical recession, defined as at least two consecutive quarters of contraction.

Yesterday's avalanche of numbers also sparked more optimism of a second quarter recovery across Asia, as Singapore is the first key economy in the region to report second quarter growth numbers.

A key figure was that the economy shrank by 12.7 per cent in the first quarter compared with the last three months of last year. That is less than the 14.6 per cent decline estimated in May and the 19.7 per cent dive tipped in April.

In the second quarter, manufacturing fell 1.5 per cent from a year ago compared with a 24.3 per cent slump in the first quarter. The better performance was due to a surge in the volatile biomedical manufacturing sector and an improvement in electronics from inventory restocking.

Construction grew 18.3 per cent in the second quarter while services declined 5.1 per cent.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore underlined the positive trend, with figures showing that while port terminals handled 17 per cent fewer containers last month from a year ago, traffic was steady from May.

But the MTI cautioned that its outlook for the rest of the year is subdued, due to 'continued weaknesses in the global economy'. It noted: 'At this juncture, there is no evidence yet of a decisive improvement in final demand.'

Although several economists have upgraded growth forecasts due to the second quarter data, many warn that the local economy is still not out of the woods.

CIMB-GK economist Song Seng Wun said: 'The bulk of the improvement came from the spike in drug output and exports. Whether the cluster can sustain its strength in the second half is questionable. Outside of biomedical, we are only seeing modest improvements in the demand for Singapore's exports.'

He calculated that if the biomedical cluster were taken out, the overall quarter-on-quarter growth estimate for the second quarter would be 5 per cent instead of 20.4 per cent.

OCBC economist Selena Ling noted: 'The recovery process remains fraught with risks... there's little clarity as regards a clear turnaround in final demand from the developed economies.'

UOB economist Chow Penn Nee said: 'The re-stocking process benefiting the manufacturing sector might not be final demand from key export countries like the US and Europe is still weak.'

Source: Straits Times, 15 July 2009

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