Companies in Singapore remain optimistic about profit growth

The Singapore Central Business District (CBD) skyline in the evening on Jan 27, 2014, showing the skyscrapers which house offices and banks. Chief financial officers (CFOs) in Singapore are more optimistic about profits than revenue this year, b
The Singapore Central Business District (CBD) skyline in the evening on Jan 27, 2014, showing the skyscrapers which house offices and banks. Chief financial officers (CFOs) in Singapore are more optimistic about profits than revenue this year, based on a new survey. ST FILE PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Chief financial officers (CFOs) in Singapore are more optimistic about profits than revenue this year, based on a new survey.

Although only 61.3 per cent of the 33 CFOs here polled by Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) expect higher revenues this year, 67.7 per cent believe profits will increase.

This negative "margin gap" - the difference between the proportion of CFOs expecting revenue growth and those expecting profit growth - is only seen in Singapore and Malaysia out of the 12 countries in BAML's 2014 CFO Outlook Asia survey.

BAML's Southeast Asia head of corporate banking Gregory Seow said this could be a result of Singapore and Malaysia being more experienced in handling cross-currency volatility.

He added that the strong Singapore dollar policy has resulted in well-managed import prices, leading to optimistic profit growth. Lower import prices help to keep the costs of imported raw materials down.

The survey was conducted in the first two months of this year. Of the 33 Singapore CFOs who responded, two-thirds are from companies with annual revenues of at least US$1 billion (S$1.25 billion).

Companies in Singapore also showed more optimism about mergers and acquisitions compared to 2013. Some 45 per cent of companies indicated plans to carry out mergers and acquisitions this year, compared with only 38 per cent last year.

The top destination for Singapore-based companies looking to expand is India and South Asia, followed by Southeast Asia and Greater China.

Overall, CFOs in all 12 countries are showing more interest in expanding to emerging South-east Asia, which includes countries like Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar.

"Investors anticipate a fast growth environment (in emerging Southeast Asia), and coupled with government privatising assets to raise funds. This really creates more growth through private ownership," Mr Seow said.