Singapore December Exports Fall, GDP Likely Revised Down

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Singapore's non-oil domestic exports fell more than expected in December, showing manufacturing remains in the doldrums and suggesting GDP for the fourth quarter of last year could be revised downwards.

Non-oil domestic exports (NODX) fell 16.3 percent to S$13.19 billion in December from a year earlier, much worse than the median forecast of a 7.5 percent drop in a Reuters poll of economists. The drop was partly due to a high year-ago base when shipments were boosted by a surge in rig deliveries.

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The decline was led by electronics, which plunged 19.1 percent last month from a year ago, accelerating from the 16.5 percent decline in November. Exports of rigs and pharmaceuticals also fell, but these tend to be unpredictable because of their lumpy nature.

"NODX growth for the full year was around 0.5 percent, well outside the government's recently lowered forecast of 2-3 percent," said CIMB regional economist Song Seng Wun.

"The poor showing suggests downside risks to fourth quarter GDP as the drag from manufacturing will be higher," he added

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Wealthy Singapore, whose trade is three times GDP, has been hurt by flagging demand in Europe and North America hitting its key electronics exports especially hard.

Government measures to slow the import of low-cost foreign workers, amid a backlash from Singaporeans concerned about stagnant wages and overcrowded buses and trains, have also affected growth as companies struggle to find staff with unemployment running at 1.9 percent.

Advanced estimates from the Ministry of Trade and Industry earlier this month showed Singapore's GDP expanded by an annualised 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter from the third quarter after seasonal adjustments, following a 6.3 percent contraction in July-September.

The growth is likely to be revised downwards given the weak exports data for December, although it could be partially offset by the stock and property markets' strong performance towards the end of the year.

The advance estimates relies primarily on data from the first 10 weeks of the quarter and are prone to revisions when more detailed data is available.

For 2013, the government has forecast growth of 1-3 percent, in line with last year's growth of 1.2 percent.