Singapore's factory output staged a small recovery last month after shrinking a revised 4.3 per cent in March, thanks to growth in the volatile biomedical manufacturing cluster and a fightback in semiconductors.
Manufacturing output inched up 0.1 per cent last month compared with the same period last year, according to figures released by the Economic Development Board yesterday.
This defied the expectations of analysts polled by Bloomberg, who predicted a fall of 3.5 per cent. However, output was down 2.1 per cent when biomedical manufacturing was excluded.
United Overseas Bank economist Barnabas Gan said it remains to be seen if the recovery can be sustained, even though its print of 0.1 per cent year on year is markedly higher than the first quarter's print of negative 0.3 per cent.
"We recognise that Singapore had seen a relatively strong manufacturing production environment, especially during the period of May to July 2018, led by a robust semiconductor and biomedical production pace then.
"Moreover, the maturing of the global electronic cycle is still ongoing, coupled with the rather volatile biomedical production, which injects further doubt as to whether overall industrial production could remain in positive territories in the coming months."
Biomedical manufacturing recorded the highest growth, with last month's output rising by 11.2 per cent on a year-on-year basis. The pharmaceuticals segment expanded 10.9 per cent with the higher production of biological products. Medical technology output rose 12 per cent with sustained export demand.
The electronics cluster saw output dip 0.6 per cent, compared with the 15.1 per cent contraction in March. This was thanks to semiconductors, which eked out 0.3 per cent year-on-year growth, compared with a 16.2 per cent drop in the previous month.
The chemicals industry also saw higher output, with an increase of 1.9 per cent last month. The other chemicals segment grew 9.3 per cent due to a higher production of fragrances, but the petrochemicals segment contracted 2.8 per cent. Petroleum refining throughput was down 4.3 per cent due to maintenance shutdowns in some plants.
The transport engineering cluster saw output drop 1.1 per cent. Within the industry, the aerospace segment grew 16.3 per cent on the back of more repair and maintenance jobs from commercial airlines.
In contrast, the land transport segment declined 12.8 per cent, and the marine and offshore engineering segment dropped 18.7 per cent.
Overall, the transport engineering cluster still grew 4.1 per cent in the first four months of the year, compared with the same period last year.
General manufacturing also saw output contracting by 1.1 per cent. The food, beverages and tobacco segment grew 5.2 per cent, on account of higher production of infant milk and dairy products.
Output also fell for the precision engineering sector, declining 10.4 per cent compared with a year ago.
Overall, the precision engineering cluster fell 12.5 per cent year on year in the period from January to April.