Recession in US, Europe could shake Asia, S’pore

Region still relies heavily on world’s biggest markets, say economists

A RECESSION in the United States and Europe would badly hurt Asian economies, including Singapore’s, which still rely heavily on these two export markets for growth, according to economists.

Indeed, analysts at Lehman Brothers believe economic growth in Singapore could slump to as low as 2.5 per cent this year, if the worst-case scenario of a recession occurs. The official forecast is for growth of 4.5 per cent to 6.5 per cent.

Economists said yesterday that while the region’s economies have managed to stand on their own feet in recent years, their fortunes are still closely tied to external conditions.

Most economists are maintaining forecasts for a more benign slowdown, but they concede that risks of a severe downturn are on the rise.

‘We are probably only one shock away from the US economy tipping into a recession,’ said Lehman chief global economist Paul Sheard. ‘One thing that we will be thinking about the next week or so: Are we seeing that one shock now hitting the US economy in the form of this equity market meltdown that is unfolding this week?’

Global share prices have crashed since the start of the year and are accelerating their declines amid rising fears that a US recession may send the world economy into a tailspin.

Earlier theories that Asia’s booming economies are plotting their own destinies and escaping this plight are dissipating fast.

‘We don’t really buy the decoupling idea in its strong form,’ said Dr Sheard, adding that it is very unlikely that demand from Asia and other emerging markets can offset a slowdown in the US and Europe.

Singapore is especially vulnerable, given its small and open economy, said Mr Robert Subbaraman, who heads Lehman’s economic research for Asia, excluding Japan.

He believes overall Asian growth this year could fall by 4.5 percentage points from last year’s 8.7 per cent, if the rest of the world goes into recession. Singapore’s growth could come down to between 2.5 per cent and 3 per cent, he said.

For the moment, Mr Subbaraman is still hoping that aggressive US interest rate cuts will avert a recession to support a 5.3 per cent growth in Singapore and a 7.6 per cent expansion in the region.

This scenario, however, brings risks of an overheating economy, as foreign capital inflows drive up inflation to form possible asset bubbles in the region, he warned.

United Overseas Bank economist Ho Woei Chen said a US recession would hit Singapore’s export sector very hard.

‘Although exports to China have increased, enddemand is largely still in the US,’ he said.

Citigroup economist Chua Hak Bin said a 1-percentage-point reduction in US growth would cut Singapore growth by 1.7 percentage points.

He said a contraction in the US and Europe could lower Singapore growth from his current forecast of 5.6 per cent to between 3 per cent and 4 per cent. ‘Ultimately, manufacturing will be hit, as well as trade-related services such as wholesale and transport.’

Barclays economist Leong Wai Ho, though, is much more sanguine.

He tips Singapore growth at 6.5 per cent this year, purely on the strength of the domestic economy.

‘We already expect exports to contribute very little to growth,’ he said, pointing out that last year’s strong growth came amid a weak export performance.

Instead, private consumption, fuelled by record tourist arrivals and investments in the construction sector, should provide a buffer.

Projects, like the integrated resorts, are highly unlikely to be disrupted, while the record new manufacturing investments that Singapore won last year will provide support, Mr Leong said.

‘We have never entered a US recession from such a strong position. We are going into this with good quality, broad-based growth.’

 

Source: The Straits Times 23 Jan 08

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