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Singapore factory output reverses into negative territory in March

Singapore factory output went back into negative territory in March, dashing hopes of a recovery for the lacklustre manufacturing sector.

SINGAPORE factory output went back into negative territory in March, dashing hopes of a recovery for the lacklustre manufacturing sector.

Industrial production sank 4.8 per cent in March from a year ago, coming in below economist expectations of a 4.6 per cent decline. This was also a reversal from a 2.6 per cent output growth in February, which was revised up from an earlier estimate of 0.7 per cent.

With the volatile biomedical manufacturing cluster stripped out, factory output fell 8.7 per cent.

Among the various manufacturing clusters, biomedical manufacturing showed that it still had legs as output went up by 13.7 per cent in March. This was buoyed by pharmaceuticals, which rose 16.5 per cent, while medical technology output went up 7 per cent with sustained export demand.

The next best performing cluster was general manufacturing, which increased 5.8 per cent on the back of the food, beverages & tobacco segment, which expanded 12.1 per cent on account of higher production of infant milk and dairy products.

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Transport engineering saw a modest rise in output of 1.8 per cent, as the aerospace segment grew 15.4 per cent, on account of more repair and maintenance jobs from commercial airlines. But this was dragged down by the land transport and marine & offshore engineering segments, which declined 6.5 per cent and 10.2 per cent respectively, with the latter recording lower levels of offshore projects and shipbuilding & repairing activities.

The positive performance in the above three clusters were still not enough to make up for the decline seen in electronics, precision engineering and chemicals.

The weighty electronics cluster saw the biggest drop in output of 15.3 per cent, with its semiconductors, data storage and computer peripherals segments clocking double-digit declines.

Precision engineering output fell by 13.3 per cent, dragged down by the precision modules & components segment which contracted 22.8 per cent, on account of lower production of optical and wire & cable products. The machinery & systems segment also declined 6.9 per cent with lower output in industrial process control and semiconductor-related equipment.

Chemicals also saw a drop in output of 2.7 per cent, with the specialities, petrochemicals and petroleum refining segments contracting 3.8 per cent, 4.8 per cent and 24.4 per cent respectively, largely due to maintenance shutdowns in some plants.

On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, manufacturing output decreased 2.6 per cent in March. Excluding biomedical manufacturing, output fell 8.5 per cent.

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