Singapore exports rise by 7.7% in August as electronics recover from year-ago low base

SINGAPORE exports kept up their growth momentum in August, with both electronics and non-electronics shipments rising on a low base effect.

Non-oil domestic exports (NODX) expanded by 7.7 per cent year on year, picking up from 5.9 per cent in July, according to trade data released on Thursday.

The preliminary figure from government agency Enterprise Singapore (ESG) beat the 3.3 per cent expansion forecast by private-sector analysts in a Bloomberg poll.

In Singapore's linchpin electronics cluster, exports expanded by 5.7 per cent year on year, building on the previous month's 2.8 per cent increase.

The lion's share of the increase in electronics shipments was fuelled by growth in integrated circuits, up by 7.1 per cent on year. ESG noted that this change came on a steep decline in the year before, during a global down-cycle in the electronics industry.

Otherwise, non-electronics NODX drove the headline growth with an increase of 8.3 per cent, up from 6.9 per cent in the month before.

Exports of non-monetary gold were higher by 55.1 per cent, which ESG said came "amid media reports of increased demand for physical gold as a safe-haven asset".

Meanwhile, specialised machinery grew by 25.7 per cent and food preparations grew by 18.9 per cent - changes that were attributed by ESG to a low base in the year-ago period.

“Non-oil domestic export growth unexpectedly picked up, only partly due to strong shipments of non-monetary gold,” Barclays economist Brian Tan said.

“While a notable slowdown in pharmaceuticals exports offset a pick-up in electronics demand as we had anticipated, shipments of non-monetary gold surged past our expectations.”

Still, Nomura analysts Euben Paracuelles and Charnon Boonnuch added: “The positive surprise to our forecast was the decline in petrochemical exports, as it was more modest than we expected, easing to -16.4 per cent from -27.3 per cent and likely helped by higher crude oil prices.”

On a seasonally adjusted, monthly basis, NODX expanded by 10.5 per cent to S$15.6 billion in August, after growing by 1.2 per cent in the month before.

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Overall, exports to Singapore's top markets were expansionary, led by trade with China, the European Union, and the United States.

That was despite declines in exports to four of the top 10 destinations: Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand.

Maybank Kim Eng economists Chua Hak Bin and Lee Ju Ye wrote in a note that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on manufacturing supply chains and trade flows “has been much less severe” than the disruption to people flows.

“Singapore’s NODX has risen by 5.9 per cent year to date, in contrast (with) the plunge seen during the Global Financial Crisis (-11 per cent in 2009) and tech recession (-14 per cent in 2001),” they remarked. “The resilience in exports bodes well for Singapore, given its role as a regional trading and transport hub.”

Singapore's official forecasters last month projected full-year NODX to grow by 3 to 5 per cent year on year in 2020.