Singapore GDP contracts sharply, a bad sign for global economy


  • Singapore
  • Thursday, 26 Mar 2020

People walking near commercial buildings in the central business district in Singapore. Singapore's economy, a bellwether for trade-reliant Asian countries, suffered its worst contraction since the global financial crisis in the first quarter as the coronavirus pandemic escalated, official data shows on March 26. - AFP

SINGAPORE (AFP): Singapore's economy suffered its biggest contraction since the financial crisis during the first quarter as the coronavirus pandemic escalated, data showed Thursday (March 26), an ominous sign of the devastation being inflicted on the global economy.

The export-reliant financial hub -- one of the world's most open economies and which is viewed as a barometer for the health of global trade -- is now heading for a deep recession this year after shrinking 2.2 per cent on-year in January-March.

"Covid-19 is like an economic tsunami hitting Singapore's shores," said Selena Ling, head of research and strategy at the city-state's OCBC Bank.

Singapore is one of the first economies to report growth data since the virus outbreak began, and the dismal figures add to signs the world is heading for a deep, painful recession with more than three billion people now under lockdown.

Governments and central banks around the world have been unleashing unprecedented measures to battle the fallout from the pandemic, with US Senate leaders agreeing on a US$2 trillion deal for the hard-hit American economy.

Markets have been in a tailspin as the pandemic accelerates, with more than 20,000 deaths reported worldwide, and all eyes are on data to be released in the US later Thursday expected to show a surge in people applying for jobless benefits.

The Singapore economy's 2.2 per cent contraction was the worst quarterly, on-year figure since 2009 during the financial crisis, the last time the city-state was plunged into recession.

Compared with the previous quarter, GDP fell 10.6 per cent, as all sectors of the economy were battered, according to advance estimates released by the trade ministry.

The city-state, a travel hub and financial centre, is typically among the first countries to be hit during global crises because of its small and open economy, with ripples then spreading to other export-reliant Asian nations.

Singapore's latest growth data "is like the canary in the mineshaft, and warns of further economic pain to come for other Asian economies", said OCBC Bank's Ling.

The trade ministry further lowered its GDP forecast for this year, and said it expects the economy to shrink between 1.0 and 4.0 per cent.

"As the global Covid-19 situation is still evolving rapidly, there remains a significant degree of uncertainty over the severity and duration of the global outbreak, and the trajectory of the global economic recovery once the outbreak has been contained," the ministry said in a statement.

"The balance of risks, however, is tilted to the downside."

Even before the virus outbreak, Singapore's economy was already being hammered by the US-China trade war.

Singapore normally gives advance estimates before the quarter ends, but the figures do not cover the full period, meaning the revised reading -- which will be released later -- may be even worse.

Like many other places, Singapore has taken steps to contain the pandemic, including banning all foreign arrivals and closing bars and other entertainment venues.

But it has reported a relatively low number of cases -- 631 infections, with two deaths -- and has held off imposing a total lockdown so far.

The government has won praise for its response to the outbreak, although the city is now seeing a surge in imported cases as Singaporeans and residents return from other hard-hit countries. - AFP

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