Pandemic knocks Singapore into recession as GDP plummets 41pc in Q2

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 37.4 per cent slump, but the pandemic took a heavy toll on the construction sector, which plunged 95.6 per cent. — Reuters pic
Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 37.4 per cent slump, but the pandemic took a heavy toll on the construction sector, which plunged 95.6 per cent. — Reuters pic

SINGAPORE, July 14 — Singapore’s trade-reliant economy plunged into recession in the second quarter with a record contraction, signalling a rough first half globally and an equally challenging outlook as the coronavirus crisis exacts a heavy toll on business and demand.

Gross domestic product (GDP) dived by a record 41.2 per cent in the three months ended March, on a quarter-on-quarter annualised basis, preliminary data from the Ministry of Trade and Industry showed today.

That was worse than economists’ expectations for a 37.4 per cent decline in the quarter when Singapore was under a lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

The first in Asia to report second-quarter GDP data, the grim numbers for the wealthy city-state — a bellwether for the global economy — underscore the sweeping worldwide impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and point to an arduous road ahead. Many major economies are already facing their steepest downturn in decades.

“If you want to read something into this, it is what is going to happen to economies that have taken a similar sort of lockdown,” said Rob Carnell, chief economist, Asia-Pacific at ING Bank.

In June, the International Monetary Fund warned of a steep contraction in global economic activity as the health crisis shut businesses, depressed consumption and paralysed trade. It forecast 2020 world output to shrink by 4.9 per cent, compared with a 3.0 per cent contraction predicted in April.

The once-in-a-century pandemic has so far infected over 13 million people worldwide and killed more than 571,000. Singapore has reported 46,283 coronavirus cases with 26 deaths as of yesterday.

“There is an element of global weakness in there as well, obviously the trade side is very important for Singapore and that has been absolutely clobbered,” Carnell said.

The sectoral impact was broadbased with the services and construction sector hardest hit.

Construction plummeted 95.6 per cent on a quarter-on-quarter basis, grinding to a near halt as the city-state quarantined tens of thousands of migrant labourers in dormitories ravaged by the virus.

“We were expecting these numbers to look quite dismal, although this is worse than what we had expected,” said Steve Cochrane, economist at Moody’s Analytics.

On a year-on year basis, GDP dived 12.6 per cent versus economists forecast for a 10.5 per cent contraction.

The manufacturing sector grew 2.5 per cent from a year ago, mainly due to a surge in output in biomedical sector, though that was still lower than the 8.2 per cent rise in the first quarter.

The GDP slump marked the second consecutive quarter of contractions for the global finance hub — having declined a revised 0.3 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter and 3.3 per cent quarter-on-quarter — meeting the definition for a technical recession.

Worst-ever slump

The Singapore dollar was down 0.2 per cent on the day versus the US dollar.

The government expects full-year GDP to contract in the range of -7 per cent to -4 per cent, the biggest downturn in its history. Citi analysts see a 8.5 per cent contraction and expect another downgrade to official forecasts next month when final GDP data is released.

The central bank eased its monetary policy in March and has introduced measures to boost bank lending, while the government has pumped in nearly S$100 billion (RM306.5 billion) worth of stimulus to blunt the impact of the pandemic.

The People’s Action Party, which extended its unbroken rule in last week’s election, has said protecting Singaporean jobs is its biggest priority.

Analysts expect the economy to start improving as more business and services reopen, but warned of a bumpy road ahead.

“We expect growth to rebound in H2 supported by a massive fiscal response,” said Oxford Economics’ Sung Eun Jung.

“But if global demand suffers another blow from a re-imposition of lockdowns...we are likely to see a more ‘W-shaped’ recovery.” — Reuters

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