Singapore GDP Posts Biggest Fall on Record

SINGAPORE — Singapore plunged deeper into recession in the fourth quarter as gross domestic product marked its biggest quarterly decline on record, said the government, which lowered its projection for 2009.

The darker outlook for the small, trade-dependent economy — considered to be a bellwether for the rest of the region — likely means the government will step up spending to offset a slowdown in manufacturing and a rapid cooling in the construction and services sectors. It may also pressure the central bank to ease monetary policy to support growth.

Singapore’s economy contracted at a seasonally adjusted, annualized pace of 12.5% in the quarter, accelerating from a 5.4% decline in the third quarter, according to the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s estimate. It was the biggest contraction since the government began publishing seasonally adjusted data in 1976.

“The global economic crisis has worsened since November, with sharp declines in global demand, trade and investments,” the ministry said.

The government cut its forecast for 2009, projecting a range of between a contraction of 2% and growth of 1%, against its estimate in November of a range of a contraction of 1% and growth of 2%.

Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng is more pessimistic. He forecasts GDP will contract 2.8% this year. That would make the current downturn worse than the slump in 1998, when the economy shrank 1.4% as it was buffeted by the Asian financial crisis, and worse than the 2001 recession following the collapse of U.S. technology stocks, when GDP shrank 2.4%. “If we are correct, 2009 will mark the most severe recession in Singapore’s history,” he said.

Inflationary pressures are likely to moderate “more substantially,” he added, predicting Singapore could see a brief period of deflation in 2009.

Singapore’s economy, especially the electronics sector, relies heavily on overseas demand, which has imploded in the wake of the global credit crisis. The manufacturing and financial sectors have been hardest hit, while the tourism-services sector is also seeing signs of cooling.

JANUARY 2, 2009, 8:38 P.M. ET

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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