War on washing machines may have early casualty in Singapore

Visitors looks over an "activewash" Samsung washing machine with a built-in sink during the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG)- US President Donald Trump's attack on washing machine imports may end up putting the Singapore dollar through the spin-cycle.

Economic growth in Singapore has closely followed year-on-year changes in global trade volumes for almost 20 years, as the nation handles the second highest amount of containers in the world.

Any escalation of US protectionism, with Mr Trump seen advocating his "America First" policies at Davos, could have an adverse reaction on investor expectations for Singapore's growth, monetary policy and the local dollar.

"Singapore would be more adversely affected than other economies should the US step up protectionist policies," said Hirofumi Suzuki, an economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.

"A drop in world trade volumes could damp speculation of monetary policy tightening and weigh on the Singapore dollar."

Mr Trump comes to the World Economic Forum with a rap sheet in the eyes of proponents of global trade. In his first year in office, he has withdrawn the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal and the Paris Agreement on climate change. He has threatened to renege on the Iran nuclear deal, a free-trade agreement with South Korea, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).

The Singapore dollar is particularly exposed to investor expectations of future growth trends as the country's central bank uses the currency as a monetary policy tool instead of interest rates. The local currency has risen about 1.6 per cent against the US dollar so far this year.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore is expected to shift to a 0.5 per cent appreciation in the nominal effective exchange rate in April from the current zero appreciation, according to a research note from United Overseas Bank Ltd. on Tuesday (Jan 23).

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