Singapore PMI reaches nine-month high

Operating conditions for local firms picked up slightly last month as output and new orders rose, according to a new survey.

The Nikkei Singapore Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) reached a nine-month high last month as new export business went up at the fastest rate in more than two years.

However, overall demand remained relatively subdued and firms continued to cut staff numbers last month, the survey of private sector companies showed.

The Nikkei PMI posted a reading of 52.2 last month, up from 50.2 in October. Readings above 50 signal an improvement in business conditions on the previous month.

The latest rise, though small, was the strongest seen since February.

Although new work volumes increased slightly over the month, companies continued to shed staff last month.

The rate of job cuts was only modest, however, and generally associated with the non-replacement of voluntary leavers, said Markit, the financial information services provider which compiled the survey.

Unlike a PMI survey released earlier this week that covers only manufacturing firms, the Nikkei measure is based on data compiled from monthly questionnaires to executives in about 400 private sector firms. They are selected to represent the structure of the economy.

Markit economist Annabel Fiddes said the data suggests that companies "remain relatively cautious towards future growth prospects as client demand as a whole remains relatively subdued".

In a media conference call earlier this week, Markit chief economist Chris Williamson noted that while global trade has picked up from the low levels of previous years, the general malaise across Asia persists.

This is translating into weak hiring intentions across the region, he added.

Slowing growth in China remains a major concern; Mr Williamson expects its economy to expand about 6.5 per cent next year.

Over the past 25 years, China's economy has averaged nearly 10 per cent in annual growth.

But this rate has slowed markedly in recent years amid the Chinese government's efforts to rebalance its huge economy away from investment towards consumption.

Mr Williamson also noted that exports from Asia will be affected by the longer-term trend of re-shoring, which refers to developed countries taking production back home.

"Many companies say they're pulling back on their expansion into Asia, as technology now allows them to produce faster closer to home... This will be a key long-term dampener on Asian exports over the next 10 to 15 years," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore PMI reaches nine-month high'. Print Edition | Subscribe