MAS sees 2019 growth moderating towards more sustainable pace

MAS MANAGING DIRECTOR RAVI MENON.
MAS MANAGING DIRECTOR RAVI MENON.

It's not a bad outcome; no need to stimulate economy: Ravi Menon

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) expects this year's economic growth to come in at 2.5 per cent or "a touch lower", bringing it closer to its potential.

"This is not a bad outcome," said MAS managing director Ravi Menon. "It will bring the level of GDP (gross domestic product) closer to its potential. There is no need to stimulate the economy."

He explained at the Citibank Asia Pacific Investors Conference yesterday that the Singapore economy is "moderating towards a more sustainable pace" in line with the global economy.

The economy did well last year by growing 3.2 per cent but Mr Menon expects external demand to be softer this year, "reflecting slower global GDP growth and the maturing of the global tech cycle".

"Manufacturing and trade-related sectors will feel most of the external drag," he said.

He added that the financial service sector is "likely to continue to outpace the overall economy on the back of ongoing digital transformation", but growth will be slower than last year's as credit demand in the region weakens.

"If there is a sharper slowdown, Singapore's healthy macroeconomic position gives it the resilience to absorb the shock," Mr Menon said. The Republic also has the policy space to mitigate the impact, he added.

BETTER TO WAIT AND SEE

Central banks from the (United States Federal Reserve to the European Central Bank to the Bank of England) are exercising more patience and flexibility... There is room to take a pause and watch how the data pans out.

'' MAS MANAGING DIRECTOR RAVI MENON, in response to a question on whether he expects central banks in the region to loosen monetary policy.

"Central banks from the (United States Federal Reserve to the European Central Bank to the Bank of England) are exercising more patience and flexibility," he said in response to a question on whether he expects central banks in the region to loosen monetary policy. "There is room to take a pause and watch how the data pans out."

The US central bank's recent decision to adopt a wait-and-see approach regarding future policy changes is the "most significant expression of this new mood", he said.

"It has helped to allay investor anxiety over the future pace of rate hikes and its impact on growth in both the US and global economies."

The move also resulted in "a significant easing of financial conditions globally and helped lift sentiments in the near term", he said, pointing out that the easing will provide Asia with "some relief and policy space".

"Still, central banks have to assess the balance of risks carefully," he warned, explaining that "a premature loosening of monetary policy could risk undoing recent gains in restoring currency stability".

Mr Menon's comments come as the MAS prepares to announce its monetary policy stance in April after recent disappointing economic data. The central bank manages policy through changes to the exchange rate rather than interest rates.

Singapore reported its slowest year-on-year economic growth in the fourth quarter, its biggest fall in exports and the largest drop in factory output in more than two years.

"What we will do (for the next monetary policy decision) depends on the growth and inflation outlook then," he said, adding that the monetary policy remains appropriate.

The MAS allowed the Singdollar to rise slightly faster for the first time in six years last April, and tightened monetary policy again in October as the economy continued to expand steadily then.

A stronger Singdollar that corresponds to a tighter monetary policy counters inflation by making imports cheaper, while a weaker Singdollar can help lift economic growth by making exports cheaper abroad.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2019, with the headline 'MAS sees 2019 growth moderating towards more sustainable pace'. Print Edition | Subscribe