AT the start of the year, there was still a glimmer of hope that trade and exports would pick up somewhat in 2016, but after looking at the numbers for the first three months, economic planners at Singapore's trade promotion agency have changed their minds.
Officials at International Enterprise (IE) Singapore now see the performance of both Singapore's trade and non-oil domestic exports (NODX) for this year to be worse than they had expected.
This year's key NODX is tipped to fall by 3.0 to 5.0 per cent from a year ago; the earlier forecast had been for between 0 and 2 per cent growth.
The projection for total merchandise trade has been adjusted from between minus 0.1 and plus 1.0 per cent to an outright 6.0 to 8.0 per cent drop.
But total trade is not expected to decline as much as last year, when it plunged 9.5 per cent; NODX dipped 0.1 per cent in 2015.
Explaining the revisions in its forecasts, IE Singapore said on Wednesday that the global economic outlook has weakened since early this year; the International Monetary Fund has downgraded its global growth projection for the year from 3.4 to 3.2 per cent in its latest report.
IE Singapore said: "Growth momentum in the US economy has slowed in recent months, while the Chinese economy is projected to ease further in 2016. Moreover, persistently low oil prices are expected to continue to dampen oil trade in nominal terms."
Except for Hong Kong and Japan, NODX shipments to the rest of Singapore's top 10 markets shrank in the first quarter, with China, Taiwan and the EU the biggest contributors to the decline. Exports to China, Singapore's biggest NODX market, tumbled 14.6 per cent after a 12.3 per cent drop in the previous quarter.
The NODX as a whole sank 9.0 per cent between January and March, extending the 3.5 per cent fall in the previous quarter. This came from lower shipments of both electronic and non-electronic NODX, said the latest figures from IE Singapore.
Domestic exports electronic goods, which accounted for 30.3 per cent of first-quarter NODX, fell 3.4 per cent after a 1.0 per cent dip in the October-to-December 2015 period.
Over the same period, domestic non-electronic shipments, which were 69.7 per cent of total NODX, fell 11.3 per cent, against a 4.6 per cent drop previously.
Total merchandise trade went down 9.7 per cent in the first quarter, compared to a 7.7 per cent decline in the final quarter of last year. IE Singapore blamed the drop on lower oil and non-oil trade.
Oil trade tumbled 36.2 per cent, after a 35.3 per cent fall. Non-oil trade slipped 3.2 per cent, from a 0.7 per cent increase in the previous quarter.
Non-oil shipments, made up of the NODX and non-oil re-exports (NORX), shrank 6.6 per cent in the January-to-March quarter, compared to a 0.3 per cent rise between October and December. The NORX went down 5.0 per cent after a 2.8 per cent gain.
IE Singapore said China, Vietnam and Hong Kong were the largest contributors to the NORX's decline.
Oil domestic exports continued to plunge in the first quarter of the year, extending their decline from 29.9 per cent in the previous quarter to 33.8 per cent. But shipments were up 1.0 per cent in volume terms, following an 8.0 per cent increase.
Oil re-exports fell 41.3 per cent, worsening from a 27.7 per cent drop in the previous quarter. They slipped 5.3 per cent in volume terms, against a 19.4 per cent growth in the fourth quarter of 2015.
IE Singapore's figures also showed that total services trade dipped 0.1 per cent year-on-year in the first three months of the year, after a 0.3 per cent fall in the previous quarter.
Services trade totalled S$96 billion, down from S$99.1 billion.
Both total services exports and imports slipped 0.1 per cent in the first quarter.
"The fall in services exports can be attributed to the contraction in financial (minus 5.5 per cent), insurance (minus 12.4 per cent) and transport (minus 0.5 per cent).