Nov factory output up 5.3% despite biomed blues

Employees working at the wafer production line at REC Solar ASA manufacturing facility in Tuas.
Employees working at the wafer production line at REC Solar ASA manufacturing facility in Tuas.PHOTO: ST FILE

Inflation inches up 0.6%; economists expect robust growth next year, but at slower pace

Manufacturers in Singapore are ending the year on a high, with the strengthening global economy lifting demand last month.

There is likely to be more of the same robust growth next year, although economists believe the pace of expansion will slow.

Factory output expanded 5.3 per cent last month over the same month last year, according to data out yesterday.

This was a strong showing, but still came in below economists' forecasts of an 8.1 per cent increase, largely because of a production dip in the volatile biomedical sector.

If biomed manufacturing was excluded, overall factory output would have gone up 13.9 per cent.

UOB economist Francis Tan noted yesterday: "It is without doubt that another month of strong production numbers in November continues the optimism surrounding the recovery story in Singapore's manufacturing industries."

Manufacturing, which makes up a fifth of the economy, has been a standout performer this year, thanks to surging global demand for semiconductors and related gear.

While biomed struggled, most other segments continued to record strong expansion, including electronics manufacturing, which has been a key driver of growth this year.

Electronics output expanded 27.6 per cent last month over the same month a year earlier, as the semiconductors, computer peripherals and infocomms and consumer electronics segments posted strong growth.

Precision engineering, which has also benefited from the pick-up in electronics demand, grew 19.9 per cent year on year last month, according to Economic Development Board figures yesterday.

However, some manufacturers fared less well. Biomed production shrank 23.3 per cent year on year, largely due to a 31.1 per cent slide in pharmaceutical output.

Output in the transport engineering cluster fell 8.3 per cent year on year, dragged down by declines in the land transport and marine and offshore engineering segments.

UOB's Mr Tan noted that while most manufacturing segments are still doing well, some caution is warranted. "Although the growth in the manufacturing sector has become more broad-based, the growth rate in the semiconductor segment may be slower due to the high base effects of 2017," he said.

Separately, data out yesterday showed inflation remained subdued last month despite prices for several items such as healthcare, transport and education ticking up.

The consumer price index - the main measure of inflation - inched up 0.6 per cent last month from a year earlier, according to the Department of Statistics. The biggest gains in consumer prices came from transport and education, which saw 2.6 per cent increases year on year.

Private road transport inflation, in particular, rose to 4.1 per cent last month, mainly due to an increase in car prices.

Core inflation - which strips out accommodation and private road transport costs to better gauge everyday expenses - was unchanged from October at 1.5 per cent.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2017, with the headline 'Nov factory output up 5.3% despite biomed blues'. Print Edition | Subscribe