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Singapore non-oil exports down 8.5% in December, confounding rebound expectations

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Singapore's exports ended 2018 on a weak note with non-oil domestic exports (NODX) falling for the second straight month in December, according to Enterprise Singapore figures on Thursday.

SINGAPORE'S exports ended 2018 on a weak note with non-oil domestic exports (NODX) falling for the second straight month in December, dashing economists' expectations of a 2 per cent rebound, according to Enterprise Singapore figures on Thursday.

NODX was down 8.5 per cent year on year in December from a high base a year ago, after a 2.8 per cent decline in November, in the first consecutive fall since February and March, 2018. The contraction came on the back of declines in both electronics and non-electronics exports.

Domestic exports of electronic products were down 11.2 per cent year on year in December, after 4.3 per cent growth the previous month. Contributing the most to this decline were contractions in exports of personal computers (-20.5 per cent), disk media products (-28.5 per cent), and diodes and transistors (-34.4 per cent).

Domestic exports of non-electronic products declined 7.4 per cent, continuing the previous month's 5.4 per cent fall. This was due most to falls in exports of specialised machinery (-32.5 per cent), pharmaceuticals (-26.8 per cent) and primary chemicals (-28 per cent).

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On a month-on-month seasonally adjusted basis, NODX was down 5.7 per cent in December, deepening from November's 4.3 per cent decline, due also to falls in both electronic and non-electronic NODX.

ING's chief economist and head of research for Asia-Pacific Robert Carnell noted that it was hard to pin the decline down to any single geopolitical event such as the trade war between the US and China. In December, those two markets were the only two of Singapore's top 10 markets that did not see NODX fall year on year. The largest contributors to the overall NODX decrease were the European Union 28 (-28.7 per cent), South Korea (-39.1 per cent) and Malaysia (-15.5 per cent).

Mr Carnell added that December's weak showing "almost certainly will result in a downward revision" of the fourth quarter's GDP (gross domestic product) growth figures, which flash estimates earlier in January had pegged at 2.2 per cent, taking full-year GDP growth to 3.3 per cent.