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MAS says no change to monetary policy, in line with expectations

SINGAPORE: The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) kept its exchange rate-based monetary policy unchanged at its semi-annual review on Thursday (Apr 13), in line with expectations.

In a statement, the central bank said it would maintain the rate of appreciation of the Singapore dollar nominal effective exchange rate (S$ NEER) policy band at zero per cent. The width of the policy band and the level at which it is centred will also be unchanged, it added.

“A neutral policy stance is appropriate for an extended period and should ensure medium-term price stability,” said MAS, reiterating a stance it first mentioned in its policy review last October.

Following the announcement, the Singapore dollar fluctuated between 1.3976 and 1.3956 against the US dollar.

The central bank noted that the Singapore economy will continue to expand at a “modest pace” this year while the MAS core inflation measure, which excludes accommodation and private road transport costs, will rise gradually on the back of higher global oil prices.

However, demand-driven inflationary pressures will likely be restrained, the statement added. Over the medium term, core inflation – a key policy consideration for the MAS – is expected to trend towards but average slightly below 2 per cent.

Given the “subdued outlook for growth and inflation”, its current neutral policy stance is “assessed to be appropriate”, MAS said.

MAS TO MAINTAIN NEUTRAL POLICY STANCE THIS YEAR: ANALYSTS

Analysts have largely expected the central bank, which manages the economy through the currency rather than setting interest rates, to maintain its current policy approach amid an uneven turnaround in the economy. The MAS allows the exchange rate to float within an unspecified policy band and changes the slope, width and centre of that band when it wants to adjust the pace of appreciation or depreciation of the Sing dollar.

Said Mizuho Bank’s senior economist Vishnu Varathan: “Despite a pick-up in manufacturing and exports, it has been uneven. As mentioned in its statement, it sees lingering lethargy in domestic sectors like services.”

He added: “Another reason is that global uncertainty remains high, with geopolitics being thrown into the mix now. They don’t know what will happen so they will not jump the gun for now.”

Advance estimates released by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) on Thursday showed first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 2.5 per cent year-on-year, easing from 2.9 per cent in the previous quarter, as the manufacturing sector moderated its pace of expansion.

With the MAS reiterating the view that its neutral policy stance is “appropriate for an extended period”, Maybank Kim Eng economist Chua Hak Bin thinks the central bank could stand pat yet again at its next policy review six months later, barring any surprise spikes in inflation or GDP growth.

“We were looking out for the phase ‘extended period’ to be dropped but they’ve maintained that in the statement so it seems to suggest that come October, the MAS may keep its policy stance,” said Dr Chua. The local labour market remains weak and inflation, both headline and core, remains stuck at the lower end of MAS’ forecast range, he added.

Westpac’s currency strategist Sean Callow echoed that sentiment, noting that “those hoping for a hawkish hint for October are likely to be disappointed”.

“There had been some market discussion over whether there would be any hint of a return to modest SGD appreciation from October 2017. There was not,” Mr Callow said. “Six months might seem a long time in (forex) markets but the MAS appears not to expect much to have changed by the next meeting.

Last April, the central bank unexpectedly flattened the slope of the band it uses to guide the local currency against an undisclosed trading basket, reducing the rate of appreciation to zero per cent.

The MAS maintained this stance last October and reiterated in February that the Government’s growth forecast of between 1 and 3 per cent this year falls within the “planning parameters” of its October monetary policy statement.

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Yusof Ishak Mosque opens in Woodlands

SINGAPORE: A mosque named after Singapore’s first President Yusof Ishak was officially opened on Friday (Apr 14) by his widow Noor Aishah.

The ceremony was witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister-in-Charge for Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim.

The Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands will serve not only the needs of the Muslim community, but will also reach out to non-Muslims in a bid to foster multiculturalism – a value the former head of state stood firm on while he was in office.

Back in 2014 – the same year when plans for the mosque were first unveiled by Mr Lee in his National Day Rally speech – Dr Yaacob urged the mosque to hold as many programmes as possible to bring non-Muslims closer, instead of just serving the socio-religious needs of the Muslim community.

For instance, non-Muslims will be able to use some of the mosque’s new facilities, such as the multi-purpose hall and the conference room. There are also features that are signs of inclusiveness, including lifts and ramps for older worshippers, a dedicated praying area for women and more spaces for families to pray.

Members of Parliament Ong Ye Kung, Khaw Boon Wan and Masagos Zulkifli, along with several members from the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCCs), representatives from nearby schools, and Mr Yusof’s family members and friends from Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei were also at the opening ceremony.

Naming the mosque after the former head of state pays tribute to his contributions and is in line with the nation’s efforts to honour its pioneers, said the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS).

The prayer space of the mosque was consecrated by Singapore’s Mufti Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram. It will be able to accommodate 4,500 people and will help ease the crowd situation at An-Nur Mosque, which was previously the only mosque serving the Woodlands and Admiralty areas. The new mosque will also help meet the increasing demand for prayer spaces. 

What’s unique about this mosque is its look – it breaks away from the grand domes and instead, has the feel of a Malay house. The design of the mosque drew inspiration from Mr Yusof’s official and private residences, and blends traditional mosque characteristics with the heritage of the “Malay world”, the Nusantara.

The colours used on the stained glass windows in the mosque represent Islamic and Malay art heritage. (Photo: MUIS)

The Yusof Ishak Mosque, which cost S$ 18 million to build, is one of 71 mosques in Singapore and the 26th to be funded by the Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund, which all working Muslims in the country contribute to.  

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5.6-magnitude quake hits Philippines

MANILA: A 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck the centre of Mindanao island in the Philippines on Wednesday (Apr 12), the US Geological Survey said.

The quake, initially reported as a 6.0-magnitude, struck at 5:21am on Wednesday (2121 GMT on Tuesday). It was very shallow, at a depth of six kilometres, which would have amplified its effect. Its epicentre was 75.5 kilometres northeast of Cotabato on the large southern island of Mindanao.

A 5.6-magnitude quake is considered moderate and is capable of causing considerable damage.

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NETS buys 2 OCBC subsidiaries for S$38m

SINGAPORE: Payment provider NETS on Tuesday (Apr 11) signed an agreement with Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) subsidiaries – Banking Computer Services (BCS) and BCS Information Systems (BCSIS) – for S$ 38 million. 

Upon completion of the acquisition, BCS and BCSIS will become wholly owned subsidiaries of NETS and will continue to operate as independent entities, according to NETS’ press release. 

The company’s strategic acquisition will enable it to deliver payment innovations that are simple, swift, secure and accessible to its customers. “The assimilation of both companies will enable a more pervasive digital payment platform which will facilitate wider adoption and utilisation of electronic payments,” it said.

BCS manages and operates the clearing and payment infrastructure for the Singapore Clearing House Association (SCHA), including managing an electronic service that allows immediate transfer of Singapore dollar funds between accounts of the participating banks in Singapore. It was set up in 1976 and currently operates core services like FAST (Fast And Secure Transfers), IBG (Inter-bank GIRO) and CTS (Cheque Truncation System).

BCSIS designs and develops clearing and payment technology solutions for the financial services industry. It also provides bureau services that include cheque processing, lockbox services, document digitisation and imaging, as well as business continuity services.

The transaction is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2017, NETS said. 

“The coming together of BCS and NETS is timely and fully aligned with Singapore’s electronic payments roadmap,” said Monetary Authority of Singapore’s managing director, Ravi Menon.

“The creation of a single operator for FAST, Interbank GIRO, and NETS EFTPOS will strengthen synergies across these key retail payment systems, encourage more innovative and inter-operable payments solutions, and spur the adoption of e-payments by consumers, businesses, and the Government,” he said.  

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Josephine Teo, Governor of Heilongjiang affirm warm Singapore-China ties

SINGAPORE: Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Josephine Teo is leading a Singapore business delegation on a three-day working visit to Harbin, China, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) announced on Tuesday (Apr 11). 

Mrs Teo, who is also Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and for Transport, called on Mr Lu Hao, the Governor of Heilongjiang Provincial People’s Government, on Tuesday. They affirmed the warm bilateral relations between both countries and discussed developments in Singapore as well as Heilongjiang. 

Mr Lu also welcomed the signing of four commercial agreements between Singapore companies and their Chinese partners in the areas of logistics, hospitality, education and human resource training, MFA said.

Mrs Teo and Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Harbin Municipal Committee Chen Haibo, as well as Singapore’s Ambassador to China Stanley Loh and Vice Mayor of the Harbin Municipal Government Shi Jiaxing co-witnessed the signing of these commercial agreements. 

Mrs Teo and Mr Lu agreed to continue exploring opportunities to deepen cooperation and exchanges, MFA said. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the Executive Vice Governor of Heilongjiang Provincial People’s Government Li Haitao hosted the delegation to lunch. 

Mrs Teo also met with and was hosted to dinner by Secretary Chen, MFA added. 

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Marvel to discipline Indonesian X-Men Gold artist for hidden political, religious references

Marvel Comics is planning to take disciplinary action against an Indonesian artist who sneaked several controversial references into his artwork for the first issue of X-Men Gold, according to reports citing a statement by the comics giant. 

X-Men Gold #1, which was published on Wednesday (Apr 5), was illustrated by Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf. 

His artwork allegedly contained several hidden religious references and sparked an outcry by comic book fans on social media.

In one scene, Jewish mutant Kitty Pryde is seen standing in front of a crowd of humans. Her head is adjacent to a sign saying “Jewelry”, which some took to be a reference to her heritage.

In the same panel, there is a building with the numbers “212” on it – a reference to a mass rally by Indonesian Muslims on Dec 2 last year against Jakarta’s Christian Chinese governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. Ahok is on trial for blasphemy over accusations that he insulted the Islamic holy book, the Quran. 

Another scene in the issue shows Colossus wearing a t-shirt with “QS 5:51” on it, a reference to a verse in the Quran used by some in Indonesia to support their view that non-Muslims should not lead the government.

Ardian shared artwork for the panel on his Facebook page on Thursday. By Sunday evening, the post had drawn almost 200 comments. 

Many criticised him for the alleged political messages. “The X-Men message at its core is integration, not division,” Facebook user Zauri Severino Junior wrote. 

“It’s shameful to see (an) Indonesian artist make a fool of himself worldwide just because of his impaired religious views and racism,” another commenter, Nuri Agustiani Setiawan, wrote. 

In a statement published by ComicBook on Saturday, Marvel said the artwork “was inserted without knowledge behind its reported meanings”.

“These implied references do not reflect the views of the writer, editors or anyone else at Marvel and are in direct opposition of the inclusiveness of Marvel Comics and what the X-Men have stood for since their creation,” the statement said.

Marvel added that disciplinary action would be taken against Syaf, but did not give further details.

It added that the artwork would be removed from subsequent printings, digital versions, and trade paperbacks.

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UK firm Ingeus to help unemployed professionals get back to work

SINGAPORE: A UK recruitment firm will be one of two private-sector employment agencies working with the Singapore Government to help unemployed professionals get back to work, Workforce Singapore (WSG) announced on Thursday (Apr 6). 

Ingeus commenced operations on Monday at the Lifelong Learning Institute at Paya Lebar, while another overseas provider will start operations at the end of the second quarter of this year, WSG said in a media release.

Under a two-year pilot, both providers will localise their know-how and assistance models to help local unemployed professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) get back into the workforce, the statutory board added. 

The Government’s move to work with the private-sector employment agencies was announced by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say in Parliament last month. 

The partnership is part of the Government’s plans to help more jobseekers who are what Mr Lim described as “missed match” cases. “They are ready for the jobs, the jobs are suitable for them, but they are yet to find each other,” he had said.

On Thursday, WSG said the two designated “career matching providers” were selected based on their focus, track record and capabilities in matching active jobseekers to jobs. They will help eligible jobseekers with customised career advice and coaching sessions, it added.

“Jobseekers will gain access to industry knowledge and insights and receive coaching in resume preparation, managing of interviews and profiling themselves to prospective employers to highlight their strengths,” it added in the news release. 

Only unemployed PMET jobseekers who have been actively searching for jobs for at least three months or have been made redundant may be assigned to the career matching providers after approaching the WSG Career Centres or the National Trades Union Congress’ (NTUC) Employability and Employment Institute (e2i) centres for Career Matching Services. 

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Eurasians small group, but made many contributions: PM Lee

SINGAPORE: Eurasians may be the smallest group in Singapore, but they have made many contributions, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a festival to celebrate Eurasian culture and tradition on Sunday (Apr 9).

Among the many Eurasians who have distinguished themselves and made significant contributions to the society were first Law Minister E W Barker, former heads of Civil Service Stanley Stewart and George Bogaars, and Singapore’s second President Dr Benjamin Sheares, said PM Lee.

He also cited others like former Ambassador to Indonesia Barry Desker, the first woman Supreme Court Justice Judith Prakash, jazz pianist Jeremy Monteiro and Olympic champion Joseph Schooling.

In recognising their achievements, PM Lee said he felt “lucky” to have known all of them personally.

“I am very happy to see Eurasians doing well in many professions, all over society, establishing and making a name for themselves,” he said, adding that he had “no doubt” that Eurasians will make many contributions to Singapore.

Children decorating Easter eggs at the Eurasian festival on Sunday (Apr 9).

The Eurasian Festival organised by the Eurasian Association (EA) together with the People’s Association was held at Our Tampines Hub. The event featured highlights like Easter egg decoration, live band performances and story telling. 

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Japan to extend unilateral sanctions against North Korea

TOKYO: The Japanese government has decided to extend unilateral sanctions against North Korea by two years, Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko said on Friday.

Tokyo will continue its prohibition of all trade between Japan and North Korea and ban on all North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports, Kyodo News reported earlier.

North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, the latest it has test-fired in recent months.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

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3D technologies set to up aerospace companies' competitive edge

SINGAPORE: 3D or additive manufacturing technologies are set to enable aerospace companies to become more competitive, according to industry experts at the NAMIC Aerospace Summit on Thursday (Apr 6).

According to GE Aviation vice president for Industrialisation Dr Sanjay Correa, 3D printing will complement the growth of the aerospace industry by helping to lower manufacturing costs and allowing greater flexibility in design.

“You can design with much greater freedom than before,” he said. “So ideally, the additive manufactured part is actually not simply reproducing a conventionally designed part. Typically, you can take weight out, you can have better performance, better life, because you simplify – say 20 parts joined by bolts or braces – and it’s just one continuously printed part. These are some of the advantages, in addition to speed, that make additive printing important for us.”

Agreeing, National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) chief executive Ho Chaw Sing said costs and environmental concerns are key drivers for the development of 3D printing industry.

“From 2016 to 2022, the global 3D printing market is expected to grow at a CAGR of close to 30 per cent and will hit something close to US$ 30 billion,” said Dr Ho at the summit which saw 200 participants from more than 30 companies.

However, he also acknowledged that there are some challenges that the industry needs to overcome, with the industry still in its nascent stages. “One of the few challenges that right now remains to be solved, besides the cost part of it, is the speed. It’s a big question mark. The materials play a key enabler to broaden the application using 3D printing.”

The application of 3D printing is also different across players in the industry, said Mr Sia Kheng Yok, chief executive of Association of Aerospace Industries Singapore (AAIS).

“As a whole, the adoption of additive manufacturing in aerospace is still fairly nascent,” he said. “We know one of the industry leaders, for example, is GE Aviation, which has implemented some additive manufactured parts in its engines. But others are still exploring what the potential is, in terms of economics, in terms of improvements to the quality of products and so on.”

Managing director of Embraer Asia Pacific Ricardo Pesce said the aerospace industry in Singapore contributes almost 3 per cent of Singapore’s total manufacturing output.

Mr Pesce, who is also a member of the AAIS management committee, added that the industry in Singapore has grown at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 8 per cent over the last two decades, with Singapore emerging as a key hub for maintenance, repairs and overhaul in the Asia-Pacific.

“The long-term growth prospects for the aerospace industry are very positive, spurred by growing demand for air travel,” he said. “The consensus view is that the Asia-Pacific region will continue to be the key driver of future growth and for the foreseeable future.”

As the aerospace industry continues to play a key part in driving high-quality and sustainable economic growth in Singapore through innovation and the adoption of technologies like additive manufacturing, the Government will continue to help support such efforts, the Economic Development Board (EDB) said.

“EDB will continue to support aerospace companies in their collaborations with research institutes and industry partners in the adoption of additive manufacturing,” said Tan Kong Hwee, director of transport engineering at EDB.

The Government has also been focusing on the development of the 3D printing industry, with the setting up of NAMIC, which is spearheaded by the Nanyang Technological University, together with Government agency SPRING Singapore and the National Research Foundation.

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