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1978: A freer market and a historic blast

Currency controls, Spyros disaster, Singapore Finance hog headlines.


SINGAPORE today prides itself on being one of the most open markets in the world where money, goods and services can flow freely. But that was not always the case. In 1978, currency controls existed that put limits on how much foreign currency an individual could buy every day. The system was a 40- year-old remnant of British rule, and its age was showing at a time when Singapore was trying to grow as a financial centre.

With the Singapore central bank having accumulated sufficient reserves to feel confident about managing a freer currency market and the desire to compete against the likes of currency control-free Hong Kong, the decision to scrap Singapore's currency controls was readily made.

It was a decision that was warmly welcomed by businesses and investors alike. The banks were now free to provide global financing without limit, and investors could deal in US dollars just as easily as they did sterling pounds. Singapore's financial markets were about to begin a new era.

Sobering news came one Thursday afternoon when an explosion aboard the the Greek tanker Spyros at Jurong Shipyard killed what would turn out to be 76 people. The Spyros blast remains Singapore's deadliest industrial accident.

A commission created by the government eventually found lapses in safety practices on the Spyros, and the nation embarked on a campaign to improve workplace safety.

Mergers and acquisitions continued to provide excitement in the equity markets. One of the most-watched battles was the fight for Singapore Finance between Hong Leong Finance and United Overseas Bank.

Although Hong Leong got a slap on the wrist, it eventually won the prize and staked its claim as one of the largest finance companies at that time.

The Business Times has been there to report and analyse the most significant news since 1976. Every week, this feature will showcase excerpts from the biggest stories for each year that the paper has been in operation. The full text of all the stories can be found online at