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Singapore's Economy Grows at Its Fastest Pace in More Than a Year

Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images
  • Singapore's economy grew by 1.3% in the first quarter of 2021 compared with a year ago, the ministry of trade and industry said.
  • That's the highest growth rate in Singapore since the fourth quarter of 2019 and an improvement from official advance estimates of a 0.2% expansion.
  • But the government warned of "heightened uncertainties" arising from the Covid-19 pandemic in the months ahead while maintaining its 2021 growth forecast at 4% to 6%.

SINGAPORE — Singapore's economy grew at its fastest pace in more than a year in the first quarter of 2021, helped by a stronger-than-expected manufacturing sector, official data showed Tuesday.

But the government warned of "heightened uncertainties" arising from the Covid-19 pandemic in the months ahead while maintaining its growth forecast for Singapore at 4% to 6% for 2021.

The Southeast Asian economy expanded by 1.3% in the quarter ended March compared with a year ago, the ministry of trade and industry said in an economic update.

That's the highest growth rate in Singapore since the fourth quarter of 2019 and an improvement from official advance estimates of a 0.2% expansion. The latest GDP print also exceeded the 0.9% year-on-year growth projected by analysts in a Reuters poll.

On a quarter-on-quarter basis, the Singapore economy grew 3.1% — faster than the government's earlier estimates of 2%.

Here's how the different sectors performed in the first three months of 2021:

  • Manufacturing expanded by 10.7% from a year ago, lifted by stronger output in the electronics, precision engineering and chemicals clusters.
  • Construction contracted by 22.7% year on year, weighed down by declines in both public and private sector projects.
  • Services-producing industries shrank a slight 0.5% from a year ago — improving from the 4.7% contraction in the previous quarter.

Singapore has been battling a rise in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, which led the government to impose stricter measures for about a month starting May 15. A planned air travel bubble with Hong Kong was also postponed.

The trade and industry ministry said the tightening of domestic restrictions and border controls is a "setback" to certain segments of the economy.

Song Seng Wun, an economist at Malaysian bank CIMB Private Banking, said Singapore's economic trajectory depends to a large extent on what happens with the Covid-19 outbreaks around the region and the global economic recovery.

That's because Singapore has a "pretty small" domestic market, while exports account for up to three times the size of the economy, Song told CNBC's "Street Signs Asia" after the latest GDP data release. Singapore's exports-to-GDP ratio of over 170% is one of the highest globally, World Bank data showed.

"Global demand for Singapore's key exports remain fairly strong so the export-oriented industries, goods in particular, (are) certainly lifting Singapore's growth," said Song.

Overall, Singapore economy should still recover this year "in tandem with the global economic rebound and further progress in the domestic vaccination programme," said the trade and industry ministry. It added that it will review its economic forecast in August.

As of Monday, the country has reported more than 61,800 Covid cases and 32 deaths since the start of 2020, data by the health ministry showed. Close to 2 million people in Singapore — or around one-third of population — have received at least one dose of the coronavirus virus as of May 17, official data showed.

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