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Singapore factory output posts 9.3% shock drop in November

When biomedical manufacturing was excluded from the data, industrial production fell by 9 per cent.

SINGAPORE'S factory output in November saw a plunge steeper than private-sector economists had feared, according to preliminary numbers out on Thursday.

Industrial production fell by 9.3 per cent year on year, reversing the growth spike in the month before, even amid year-end hopes that the manufacturing sector was bottoming out. Watchers polled by Bloomberg were expecting a much milder decline of 0.8 per cent.

The volatile biomedical manufacturing cluster careened into the red, losing 10.3 per cent year on year after expanding by 24.1 per cent in the month prior.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) attributed the decrease to “a different mix of active pharmaceutical ingredients and biological products” and lower export demand for medical devices.

When biomedical manufacturing was excluded from the data, industrial production fell by 9 per cent. Still, the contraction was led by electronics, which swung back into negative territory on worsening performances in the key semiconductor segment and in computer peripherals.

The cluster has been battered on structural issues such as a high base and a cooling global cycle, as well as the fallout from the trade and tech war between the US and China.

Electronics output was down by 20.9 per cent in November, even though October growth ticked up by a hair’s breadth, from 0.4 per cent to 0.9 per cent, amid a milder semiconductor dip.

Semiconductors lost 25.7 per cent in November, compared with 0.2 per cent the month before, while computer peripherals shed 31.8 per cent, reversing the earlier growth of 3.7 per cent.

Otherwise, smaller electronics segments - data storage, infocomms and consumer electronics, and other electronic modules and components - improved.

The chemicals cluster’s output fell by 10 per cent, slightly deeper than the previous month’s 9.4 per cent drop, on a broad-based decline that was not helped by maintenance shutdowns in petrochemical plants, where production plunged by 17.8 per cent year on year.

General manufacturing also retreated into a 1.5 per cent contraction, after growing by 3.8 per cent in October, as shrinking output for food, beverages and tobacco, and printing, shredded the gains made by clothes and construction-related goods in the miscellaneous industries segment.

Just two clusters were in the black year on year, although both marked gains against October.

The pace of precision engineering growth picked up from 3.6 per cent to 9.7 per cent, as front-end semiconductor and mechanical engineering drove machinery and systems out, and the precision modules and components segment churned out more parts such as dies, moulds and optical parts.

For its part, transport engineering moved from a 4.9 per cent contraction to a 2.1 per cent expansion, as repair and maintenance work from commercial airlines drove the aerospace segment, despite continued negativity in the land and marine and offshore industries.

On a seasonally-adjusted monthly basis, manufacturing output dropped by 9.4 per cent in November, or 8.4 per cent when the biomedical cluster was left out.

Meanwhile, the EDB, which compiles the monthly statistics, revised October’s growth downwards, from 4 per cent to 3.6 per cent, as transport engineering and general manufacturing did more poorly than initially thought, which eroded improved statistics elsewhere.

Overall, Singapore factory production in the 11 months was down by 1.6 per cent on the year before, or a decline of 4.1 per cent with biomedical manufacturing excluded.