Singapore exports hit double-digit slump in March; government cites high base effect

SINGAPORE’S export growth returned to the negative zone in March, partly on the previous year’s high base, according to government agency Enterprise Singapore (ESG) on Wednesday.

Non-oil domestic exports were down by 11.7 per cent year on year, far worse than the median decline of 2.2 per cent predicted in a Bloomberg poll of private economists.

This was against the 4.8 per cent export growth notched in February, which was revised mildly downwards from a preliminary figure of 4.9 per cent.

DBS senior economist Irvin Seah had said in a report just the previous day that there should be “some positive ‘payback’ in industrial production and export numbers in the coming months”, as manufacturing sentiment metrics in the region seemed to point to inventory restocking.

But the payback appears to not have been delivered, as exports of both electronic and non-electronic products fell in March.

Electronic shipments kept contracting, after an 8.2 per cent drop in February. Save for November 2018, electronic export growth was negative year on year throughout 2018.

The latest data shows that the sector’s exports shrank by 26.7 per cent year on year in March, dragged down by disc media, as well as personal computers and integrated circuits.

Meanwhile, non-electronic exports dropped by 7 per cent, compared with the 9.4 per cent increase notched in February - no thanks to double-digit contractions in pharmaceutical, specialised machinery and petrochemical shipments.

Exports from the volatile pharmaceutical cluster were down by 36.5 per cent year on year, with specialised machinery lower by 24.4 per cent and petrochemicals shrinking by 15.1 per cent.

Overall, non-oil domestic exports were down by 14.3 per cent on a monthly, seasonally adjusted basis, against a 16 per cent expansion the month before.

Exports to almost all of Singapore’s top 10 markets were down in March, except for the United States. The fall was especially marked in Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

To top things off, exports to emerging markets also slid - to the tune of 21.9 per cent - with the decline led by markets in Latin America and the Caribbean.