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Singapore cuts growth forecast to 4% to 6%

Concern over a US recession leads to revision; inflation estimate is raised to 4.5%-5.5%

SINGAPORE has lowered its economic growth forecast for the year but also tipped that consumer prices are expected to rise faster than previously thought.

Concern over a possible United States recession led the Government to trim its growth forecast from an earlier estimate of 4.5 to 6.5 per cent to between 4 and 6 per cent. Last year, the economy expanded by 7.7 per cent.

Its inflation estimate has gone the other way with prices now tipped to rise on average between 4.5 and 5.5 per cent, up from a three-month-old forecast of between 3.5 and 4.5 per cent.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) released the revised figures yesterday and raised its concerns about the US economy.

‘Compared to three months ago, there is broad consensus now that the US economy is entering a slowdown,’ said the ministry.

‘The key uncertainty is over the length and severity of this slowdown, which will in turn influence how the rest of the world and key industries are affected.’

The MTI’s new forecast shaves 0.5 percentage point off the estimate made three months ago and reflects the recent welter of bad news from the US.

MTI Second Permanent Secretary Ravi Menon told a news conference that the earlier forecast had already factored in a US slowdown.

But ‘since then, the downside risks have increased somewhat… The US is really experiencing a significant slowdown in growth.’

Economists were not surprised at the revision, given the deteriorating global outlook. Many had slashed their Singapore estimates in light of surprisingly weak data out of the US in recent weeks.

The MTI said current conditions suggest that the US will probably enter a mild recession in the first half but recover as the year goes on.

‘Strong fundamentals, coupled with fiscal and monetary stimulus, will help to support recovery in the second half,’ it said.

In this scenario, the local economy should grow in the upper half of the forecast range, said the MTI. But if the US has a more severe recession, growth here will be nearer the lower end of the range.

Electronics exporters and the trading and logistics firms that serve the industry will take the biggest hit, said the MTI, while financial services will be more vulnerable to weaker market sentiment.

The slower growth comes after four years of robust expansion and is still within the economy’s underlying potential growth rate, said Mr Menon.

Singapore should also escape a technical recession, defined as two straight declines in quarter-on-quarter growth. ‘Most of the simulations we have done do not show that outcome,’ said Mr Menon.

Action Economics economist David Cohen said, ‘4 to 6 per cent is realistic. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.’

On the inflation front, prices are set to rise even faster than the record-breaking pace of recent months, due largely to surging oil and food costs.

Mr Menon said inflation will peak by the middle of the year before moderating.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said its policy of allowing a slightly faster appreciation of the Sing dollar remains appropriate.

Economists said the Government may announce today a more generous Budget to help low-income earners cope with escalating living costs.

This would allow the MAS to focus more on the slowing economy when it reviews its policy stance in April.

 

Source: The Straits Times 15 Feb 08

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