Higher US$ a double-edged sword for S'pore exporters

The appreciating US currency translates into better earnings for exporters in Singdollar terms, but also makes their products relatively more expensive.
The appreciating US currency translates into better earnings for exporters in Singdollar terms, but also makes their products relatively more expensive.PHOTO: REUTERS

The greenback is about to get even stronger, which means holidays to the United States and online shopping at US-based websites will become pricier.

The trend is bad news for most Singapore consumers but for exporters - many of whom price their products in US dollars - it is a double-edged sword.

The appreciating US currency translates into better earnings for exporters in Singdollar terms, but also makes their products relatively more expensive on the global market.

The greenback has been strengthening against the Singdollar and other regional currencies over the past year in anticipation of the US Federal Reserve's first interest rate hike in almost a decade.

A US dollar could buy about $1.41 yesterday, from about $1.37 at the start of this year. Analysts say the US dollar will continue strengthening, as the Fed is likely to raise interest rates further next year.

Mr Heng Koon How, senior currency strategist at Credit Suisse Private Banking Asia-Pacific, said a US dollar will buy S$1.45 by the end of next year. Tepid regional economic conditions and the weak Chinese yuan will weigh on the Singdollar, though it is unlikely to sink significantly given its status as a "safe haven" currency in Asia, he added.

Mr Charles Koh, chief executive of Ideal Electric Singapore, said all the company's sales are done in US dollars. The company, which designs and manufactures high-end LED light fittings, exports most of its products to Europe and Japan.

"In the short term, we gain a bit from the stronger US dollar because our costs are in Singapore dollars," said Mr Koh.

"But it is a double-edged sword - we might end up selling less since the cost has gone up for our customers." Some are already asking for lower prices when new contracts are signed next year, he said.

"We are going to have to do some cost-cutting, and also go to our suppliers to ask for better prices."

Racer Technology founder Willy Koh, however, does not expect sales at his firm to be hit significantly. The precision engineering firm manufactures medical devices.

Customers are unlikely to cut back on purchases of medical products even if prices go up, he noted.

"We are not selling disposable products, we are in medical devices, that means the high end."

About half the company's sales are made in US dollars.

Mr Johnson Chen, managing director of Superworld Electronics, said the US dollar's strength is benefiting the firm as sales are made mostly in US dollars, while its offices and factories are in Singapore, China and Taiwan.

Some consumers remain undeterred by pricier US goods.

Ms Kylie Lim, 30, who works in an accounting firm, said she will continue shopping on US websites.

"They have good discounts, especially at this time of the year."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2015, with the headline 'Higher US$ a double-edged sword for S'pore exporters'. Print Edition | Subscribe