Singapore factory output falls 3.2% in November, worse than expected, as electronics slumps

The 3.2 per cent drop in November extended the declines in October when manufacturing output contracted by 0.9 per cent. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s manufacturing output shrank at a faster rate in November, down 3.2 per cent from a year earlier, with more gloom ahead for the electronics sector, analysts said. The month’s contraction was worse than the 1.1 per cent drop economists had forecast in a Bloomberg poll.

It extended the decline in October, when manufacturing output contracted by a revised 0.9 per cent, snapping a year of growth.

Excluding volatile biomedical manufacturing, output fell 4.8 per cent year on year, according to data released by the Economic Development Board on Friday.

The decline was led by electronics output, which shrank a further 12.4 per cent from a year earlier on the back of softening demand.

Electronics accounts for 40 per cent of Singapore’s export-driven manufacturing sector and thus is key to economic growth.

Singapore’s semiconductor output – which accounts for 80 per cent of electronic manufacturing – weighed on output, falling 14 per cent, reversing a 1.2 per cent gain in October.

Singapore supplies 11 per cent of the world’s semiconductors and 20 per cent of chipmaking equipment.

Oxford Economics’ senior Asia economist Alex Holmes said chips tend to follow a business cycle of a few years between upturns and downturns, and “we are definitely at the start of or well under way into a downturn in the chip industry”.

Mr Holmes added that for advanced chips, it takes a lot of time and investment to build a fabrication plant. The excess capacity is coming online even as the industry grapples with falling global demand, he said, adding that this therefore weighs on the prices of advanced chips.

Output for other electronic modules and components tumbled 21.6 per cent, while the infocomms and consumer electronics segment declined 12.1 per cent

Only computer peripherals and data storage within the electronics industry reversed declines to expand 9.3 per cent.

Pharmaceuticals, which declined 29.3 per cent in October, reversed course to grow 14.1 per cent, owing to a different mix of active ingredients produced.

As a whole, the notoriously volatile biomedical manufacturing sector saw output increase by 6.9 per cent in November, after a slump of 16.4 per cent in October.

Transport engineering was a bright spot as output grew 18.8 per cent in November, following on from 6.9 per cent growth in October.

The aerospace segment soared 26.2 per cent as there were more maintenance, repair and overhaul jobs from commercial airlines as global air traffic picked up.

The marine and offshore engineering segment reversed the 1.8 per cent decline in October to grow 16.6 per cent in November, as there was more work done on offshore conversion projects as well as increased production of oil and gas field equipment.

In other sector clusters, precision engineering recorded a 4.2 per cent increase in output in November.

The machinery and systems segment expanded 10 per cent, owing to higher output of semiconductor foundry equipment.

The precision modules and components segment declined 7.6 per cent, weighed down by lower production of optical products, electronic connectors and bonding wire.

Chemical output, however, fell 11.3 per cent in November, as the output of the segments for other chemicals and specialities declined.

The other-chemicals segment fell owing to lower production of fragrances, while the specialities segment dropped on the back of lower production of mineral oil additives and industrial gases.

Within chemicals, the petroleum segment grew 7.8 per cent because of higher demand for jet fuel as global air travel resumed, while output in the petrochemicals segment fell 17.5 per cent because of weak market demand and shutdowns of plants for maintenance.

On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, manufacturing output decreased 1.2 per cent in November.

Excluding biomedical manufacturing, output decreased 6 per cent.

Ms Selena Ling, OCBC Bank’s chief economist, said the drag from the global electronics industry is likely to sustain past winter.

OCBC expects manufacturing growth to contract in the first quarter of 2023 and even into the second quarter before stabilising in the second half of the year.  

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