Macro conditions are deteriorating
The final print of Singapore’s Q2 GDP was revised lower to 4.4% y/y from an advance estimate of 4.8% earlier, suggesting a q/q contraction of 0.2% as against gains of 0.2% q/q suggested by the advance estimate or the 0.8% q/q growth seen in the first quarter. The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) has also narrowed the forecast for annual 2022 growth to 3-4% from 3-5% earlier amid rising global slowdown risks.
Given Singapore is an export-driven economy, it remains prone to the volatile external environment. Meanwhile, China’s Zero-covid strategy has hampered global supply chains as well as export demand from Singapore. These risks keep the threat of a technical recession – which is defined as two or more consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth – alive. The officials have, however, ruled that out for now and suggest a mild positive growth for Q3 and Q4.
Is more monetary policy tightening on the cards?
Singapore’s inflation remains high, but with core at 4.4%, it is still below the global inflation levels. We can certainly feel the price pressures biting, especially in rents and transportation. That is likely to remain a key concern for the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), while the gloomier growth picture will only add some caution. Headwinds from external demand will be somewhat offset by a service sector growth picking up as the local and regional economies continue to broaden their reopening measures. This is boosting retail sales and tourism-led spending, while the labor market is also still tight.
What could possibly be ruled out is an off-cycle move, or possibly a re-centering of the S$NEER policy band, unless core inflation surprises significantly to the upside. Singapore’s monetary policy has entered a restrictive mode with four tightening moves since October 2021, and further steepening of the S$NEER slope cannot be ruled out.
What to consider in the markets?
Singapore’s safe-haven status makes it an important stabilizer in the portfolios, especially in the choppy global markets. Singapore equities are riding on services demand recovery and sustained export momentum. The banking stocks such as DBS (D05:xses), UOB (U11:xses) and OCBC (O39:xses) remain well positioned to benefit from the rising interest rates, even as the wealth management income takes a haircut due to the weak market sentiment. Meanwhile, REITs offer a good dividend yield, and therefore inflation protection. Travel related stocks and sectors, such as retail REITs, hospitality REITs, Singapore Airlines (C6L:xses) or SATS (S58:xses) could also benefit from a sustained reopening momentum.
Out global equity baskets have shown an outperformance from the Commodities and Defence baskets so far this year. Defence stocks could remain in focus with the increasing geopolitical tensions, and that means Singapore Technologies Engineering (S63:xses) may be worth a look. Green transformation also necessitates a look at Sembcorp Industries (U96:xses), while Singtel (Z77:xses) remains in a position to ride through the economic crisis with its rapid 5G adoption. Wilmar (F34:xses), an agribusiness firm with market cap greater than Singapore Airlines, has gained tremendous attention due to the tight edible oil markets since the Ukraine invasion, and its exposure to consumption in some of the largest emerging markets also makes it a key inflation play.
Some of the sectors to remain cautious about would be the technology or manufacturing with exposure to China. REITs with exposure to China’s property market also face further threat.
Key risk factors to watch
While the external demand outlook remains fragile and dampens the growth prospects of Singapore economy and companies, there are also risks from a global tightening wave which could result in capital outflows. Meanwhile, rising geopolitical tensions in the region could also result in cautious investor sentiment. There remains a risk of US-China trade tensions coming back, and that could be a headwind for Singapore. Lastly, a resurgence of Covid remains a key risk to watch in Singapore and Asia, as the response will likely remain stricter than Europe despite a high level of vaccination.