Singapore's economic growth disappoints in fourth quarter

Buildings along the Singapore River are featured in this picture.
Bryan van der Beek | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Buildings along the Singapore River are featured in this picture.

Singapore's economic growth disappointed in the fourth quarter, as manufacturing contracted and tourism slumped.

Gross domestic product (GDP) grew 1.5 percent from a year earlier in the quarter, compared with expectations for 2.0 percent growth, according to a Reuters poll. GDP grew 1.6 percent on-quarter, compared with 3.0 percent forecast in the poll.

"This is Singapore's new normal," said Song Seng Wun, head of research at CIMB. "Unless we see a very strong turnaround in the external demand picture or a remarkable leap in overall productivity, gone will be the days of five-to-eight percent growth."

Song attributed the slower growth in part to overall lower global economic growth, with both the IMF and the World Bank repeatedly cutting their forecasts last year.

"Being a small open economy that depends on external demand to drive growth, any slip in the overall global demand picture will transmit very quickly into Singapore's growth," Song said.

Manufacturing in the quarter contracted 5.8 percent from the previous quarter and 2.0 percent on-year. The services segment grew 3.8 percent on-quarter and 2.6 percent on-year.

But Song also noted that domestic factors contributed to the GDP miss, noting total visitor arrivals slipped 3.3 percent in the first 10 months of the year.

"We haven't seen this kind of slippage since the 2008-09 recession," Song said. He noted arrivals from China fell 73 percent, likely on a combination of factors, including China's anti-corruption campaign, political instability in Thailand and lingering negative sentiment from the two Malaysian Airlines disasters.

Another contributor to slower GDP growth may have come from the property sector. A separate data set showed private residential home prices in the city-state fell for a fifth straight quarter, shedding 0.7 percent on-year and 1.0 percent on-quarter in the October-December period.

"Property market curbs including macroprudential credit restraints as well as foreign labor restrictions have also chipped away at growth," Mizuho said in a note Friday, citing a decline in construction growth in the GDP data.

Looking ahead, CIMB's Song does see some positives for the city-state, including celebrations for its 50th anniversary of independence this year, the SEA (Southeast Asian) games and a handful of other sporting events that may boost the hospitality and tourism picture.

But OCBC was less upbeat, forecasting 2015 GDP growth at around 2-3 percent.

"The 2015 growth outlook is neutral for now, given that the anticipated U.S. uptick [is] balanced with sluggish growth from the Eurozone, China and Japan," Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank, said in a note Friday.