Singapore factory output sees smaller-than-expected fall of 0.5% in March

A worker in a medical clean room environment at Univac Precision Engineering, a firm which supplies medical components and devices, at its manufacturing plant in Woodlands. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore's industrial production dipped a smaller-than-expected 0.5 per cent in March from a year ago, boosted by strong monthly figures from the volatile biomedical manufacturing cluster.

Excluding this cluster, factory output fell 5.5 per cent year-on-year, according to preliminary figures from the Economic Development Board released on Tuesday (April 26).

The median estimate from economists polled by Bloomberg was for industrial production to have fallen 2 per cent last month, following a 3.8 per cent decline in February.

February's figure was revised up from a 4.7 per cent decline reported earlier.

The biomedical manufacturing cluster's output jumped 23.1 per cent in March year-on-year. The pharmaceuticals segment grew 27.9 per cent on the back of a different mix of active pharmaceutical ingredients produced. Output of the medical technology segment also increased 9.4 per cent with higher export demand for medical devices. On a year-to-date basis, the biomedical manufacturing cluster has grown 19.4 per cent compared to the same period a year ago.

Output of the key electronics cluster rose 5.8 per cent year-on-year in March. The semiconductors segment's output grew 21.7 per cent but this was partially offset by declines in the rest of the electronic segments. In the first three months of 2016, output was up 3 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Worst hit was the transport engineering cluster whose output fell 23.1 per cent year-on-year in March. While the aerospace segment grew 10.8 per cent on the back of higher engine repair jobs, the land and marine & offshore engineering segments contracted 24.7 per cent and 35 per cent respectively. The marine & offshore engineering segment remained weak, on account of lower level of rig-building activity and weaker demand for oilfield & gasfield equipment amidst the low oil price environment. Output of the whole cluster has contracted 20.5 per cent in the first quarter, compared to the same period last year.

The chemicals cluster's output fell 4.9 per cent year-on-year in March. The other chemicals segment grew 9.8 per cent, on account of higher production of fragrances. However, this was offset by contractions in the specialities (-1.2 per cent), petroleum (-10.3 per cent) and petrochemicals (-18.4 per cent) segments, with the latter affected by plant maintenance shutdowns. In the first three months of this year, output of the chemicals cluster fell 2.7 per cent compared to the same period in 2015.

The precision engineering cluster saw output fall 7.7 per cent in March. Lower export demand for back-end semiconductor and industrial process control equipment led to a 4.6 per cent decline in the machinery & systems segment. The precision modules & components segment contracted 12.8 per cent with lower production of industrial rubber, metal precision components and wire & cable products. On a year-to-date basis, output of the precision engineering cluster declined 8.4 per cent.

The general manufacturing industries cluster's output edged up 0.9 per cent, largely due to the food, beverages & tobacco segment, which grew 10 per cent. But the miscellaneous industries and printing segments declined 4.3 per cent and 11.1 per cent respectively. This was mainly due to lower production of steel structural component and metal doors, window, grilles & gratings. On a year-to-date basis, output of this whole cluster fell 1.5 per cent compared to the same period a year ago.

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