Singdollar set to slide past S$1.45 against the US dollar as MAS resumes easing, say analysts

Singapore dollar notes and coins. Sing dollar is set to slide past S$1.45 against the US dollar.
Singapore dollar notes and coins. Sing dollar is set to slide past S$1.45 against the US dollar. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - The Singapore dollar is likely to slide to levels seen in the aftermath of the global financial crisis as the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) resumes easing policy in April. So says an analyst who has correctly predicted the last three central bank decisions.

MAS, which uses the currency as a tool to manage the economy rather than interest rates, is set to lower the centre of the band within which it steers the local dollar as Singapore's export-driven economy feels more pain from China's slowdown in 2017, according to Mr Vaninder Singh, an economist at NatWest Markets, part of Royal Bank of Scotland Group .

The currency is set to weaken past S$1.45 against the greenback within the next six months, Mr Singh said, a level last seen in August 2009.

A property downturn in China, Singapore's biggest trading partner, will hurt its prospects, said Mr Singh. That is at a time when growth is already under pressure amid a slowdown in global trade, with lower energy prices hurting the oil and gas services industry. MAS stayed put in October, having eased at the first of this year's two scheduled meetings in April and twice in 2015.

"We're looking for a further slowdown in Singapore's growth," Mr Singh said. "There are a couple of headwinds that are coming from China."

The Singapore dollar fetched S$1.4424 versus its US counterpart on Friday (Dec 16). It had sunk to S$1.4481 on Thursday, after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates and forecast a steeper path for borrowing costs in 2017.

While Mr Singh's prediction is in line with the median estimate for the currency by end-June in a Bloomberg survey of analysts, options traders are more pessimistic as the currency heads for a record fourth annual decline.

MAS guides the Singapore dollar against a basket of currencies and adjusts the pace of appreciation or depreciation by changing the slope, width and centre of a band. It refrains from disclosing more details.

The premium traders pay for six-month options to sell the local dollar, compared with those to buy, widened to 1.26 percentage points, from a two-year low of 0.96 percentage point reached in November.

While the government in November cut the top end of its 2016 growth forecast to 1.5 per cent from 2 per cent, it said the economy will probably avoid a recession. MAS said in October that inflation had "troughed", and stuck to the neutral stance of zero appreciation for the currency.

"There is this very interesting interplay between frustrating slower growth and stabilising inflation," said Mr Koon How Heng, a senior foreign-exchange strategist at Credit Suisse Group's private banking and wealth management unit in Singapore. "It's not that straightforward that the MAS may ease outright."

The Sing dollar will probably slump to S$1.48 at the end of next year on the prospect of higher US interest rates and a weaker Chinese yuan, Mr Heng said.

Australia & New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) too expects Singapore's central bank to adjust the centre of its policy band next year, said Mr Khoon Goh, its head of Asia research in Singapore. Investors who are betting on a decline in the currency can take profit at S$1.50, he said.

Mr Jason Wang, who has been advising his clients to buy the greenback in the past four years, is also bearish. The Singapore dollar will likely slide towards S$1.50 in the next six months, said the chief executive officer of Stamford Management Pte, a family office that oversees more than S$200 million for Asia's rich.

"Given the main pillars of growth within the Singapore economy are somewhat lacklustre, the MAS should remain as accommodative for as long as possible," Mr Wang said.