Singapore uncertainty index up on US-China trade tensions

Rising US-China trade tensions are raising alarm bells in export-reliant Singapore, with an index measuring economic uncertainty climbing to a five-month high in March.

The Economic Policy Uncertainty (EPU) Index for Singapore rose to 155 last month from 126 in February, showing that tariff threats are starting to make their mark.

Yet there is still reason for calm.

The index is at a relatively low level, given last year's easing in policy and political uncertainty in Brazil, South Korea, France and Britain, according to University of Chicago economist Steven Davis, one of the creators of the index.

"Those developments improve the climate for investment, employment and growth," he said.

"Concerns about US trade policy and the possibility of a major trade war between the US and China cut in the opposite direction."

  • 155

    The Economic Policy Uncertainty Index for Singapore last month, up from 126 in February.

The pickup last month is also a far way off the 141-point jump to 283 in November 2016 amid United States President Donald Trump's surprise election victory.

The uncertainty gauges, which were created by Dr Davis, Northwestern University's Dr Scott Baker and Stanford University's Dr Nick Bloom, have been replicated for economies across the world.

Given that Singapore is a small, open economy and thus very reliant on trade, the local version of the index tracks combinations of words such as "uncertainty", "economy" and "regulation" in newspaper articles in 19 of the city-state's major trading partners. It is trade-weighted, so the US and China have the biggest impact due to their volumes of trade with Singapore.

The Baker-Bloom-Davis Index has been credited with predictive power on an economy's investment, consumption and overall growth outlook, including in a January study by the International Monetary Fund.

With trade frictions continuing to simmer, the outlook for Singapore is mixed. "Trade policy tensions between the US and China have worsened since the beginning of April," Dr Davis said.

"Unless these tensions subside very rapidly, it is likely that the Singaporean EPU index will rise again in April."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2018, with the headline 'S'pore uncertainty index up on US-China trade tensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe