Why It Matters

Nodx figures add to uncertainty

Quay cranes servicing a container ship berthed at the PSA Singapore Terminals Pasir Panjang.
Quay cranes servicing a container ship berthed at the PSA Singapore Terminals Pasir Panjang.PHOTO: ST FILE

Last week brought some dark clouds over the economic horizon with the Government narrowing its growth forecast for the year and a devaluation of the yuan sending regional currencies and financial markets into a tailspin.

Now, even more uncertainty has been thrown into the mix, with Singapore's non-oil domestic exports (Nodx) slumping last month.

Trade agency IE Singapore said on Monday that Nodx shrank 0.8 per cent from the same month a year ago, as a drop in non-electronic shipments outweighed a rise in electronic exports.

While some economists said it was an encouraging sign that exports are not falling off a cliff, others said the figures were worse than expected. What they can all agree on, however, is that July's Nodx performance is yet another sign that Singapore's economic growth will remain muted for the rest of the year.

This will not come as news to many. Just last week, the Ministry of Trade and Industry narrowed its growth forecast for the Singapore economy. It is now expected to grow between 2 per cent and 2.5 per cent this year, revised from an earlier forecast of 2 per cent to 4 per cent.

A silver lining in the Nodx numbers was the improvement in electronic shipments last month. But even then, experts noted that the sector may not find the momentum to keep growing exports.

If the yuan continues to weaken, it could hit the competitiveness of Singapore's exports. A tepid economic outlook in China will also hurt demand for Singapore's goods.

In fact, only three of Singapore's top 10 Nodx markets grew last month, signalling depressed consumption across major markets such as the United States, Europe, Japan and Indonesia.

Amid such a gloomy climate, some economists are already predicting that worse news may be yet to come. One sign to watch out for is whether the Monetary Authority of Singapore will move to ease monetary policy at its next meeting in October. While unlikely, this could mean that economic conditions are starting to affect the job market, they say.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2015, with the headline 'Nodx figures add to uncertainty'. Print Edition | Subscribe