Non-oil exports see 5th month of growth

They climb 16.5% year on year as both electronic, non-electronic shipments surge

Containers at Tanjong Pagar Terminal of PSA International. PHOTO: ST FILE

The export recovery continued to gain steam last month, beating economists' predictions.

Non-oil domestic exports (Nodx) climbed for a fifth straight month, up 16.5 per cent in March from the same period a year ago.

Last month's Nodx was 1.1 per cent lower than February's, but this still beat economists' forecast of a much sharper 6.4 per cent fall.

Last week's preliminary gross domestic product (GDP) numbers hinted as much, as Singapore's economy grew 2.5 per cent in the first quarter, led by export-dependent sectors.

Both electronic and non-electronic Nodx put in a strong showing in March.

Electronic exports rose 5.2 per cent last month from the same period a year earlier, while non- electronic shipments jumped 20.8 per cent.

Petrochemical exports surged 42.8 per cent year on year, while pharmaceuticals rebounded 17.7 per cent, after contracting 4.4 per cent in February from the same period a year earlier.

"Exports to all the top 10 Nodx markets also rose again in March, led by China, Taiwan and Hong Kong," noted OCBC Bank's head of treasury research and strategy, Ms Selena Ling. She said this suggested that the growth momentum in the Greater China economies had picked up.

Taking into account the March data, first-quarter Nodx is up 15.4 per cent overall, which puts Singapore in a good position for the rest of the year, she added.

"Even if you assume a significant slowdown in the next three quarters, we could still see Nodx up around 2 per cent for the full year, although of course we do have to see what happens in the rest of the year."

ANZ economist Ng Weiwen was also upbeat, saying: "The trade recession is behind us."

China's GDP figures, also out yesterday, showed the world's second-largest economy growing at a strong clip in the first quarter, he noted.

"The data also gels with the idea that the Chinese economy is returning to investment-driven growth, which lends support to regional exports. In fact, across Asia as a whole, exports to China have surged a fair bit in recent months, surpassing exports to the United States."

With recent economic statistics suggesting a degree of stabilisation in Chinese growth, Mr Ng believes Singapore - and other regional exporters - will enjoy firm exports too.

He said: "We won't see the kind of massive growth numbers, of 20 per cent and above, that we did in decades past, but we will see Nodx rising at more 'mature' growth rates."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2017, with the headline Non-oil exports see 5th month of growth. Subscribe