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Analysts boost Singapore's 2017 growth forecast to 2.3%: MAS survey

SINGAPORE: Analysts have boosted their growth forecast for Singapore’s economy for 2017 to 2.3 per cent, up from 1.5 per cent, according to a quarterly survey released by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on Wednesday (Mar 15).

This reverses a trend of declining expectations in the industry. Economists had forecast growth of 2.5 per cent in 2017 in March last year, then 2.1 per cent, 1.8 per cent and 1.5 per cent respectively in the following quarters. The Government has forecast 1 per cent to 3 per cent growth for the year. 

The economy expanded by 2 per cent in 2016, above the forecasted 1.4 per cent. This was mostly due to a better-than-expected showing of 2.9 per cent in the fourth quarter, above the median forecast of 0.8 per cent in the last survey. 

For the first quarter of this year, survey respondents had a median expectation of 2.6 per cent growth. They also projected growth of 2.4 per cent in 2018. 

Analysts were bullish about the performance of the manufacturing sector, forecasting growth of 4.5 per cent compared to 1.1 per cent in the previous survey. Their expectations for finance and insurance, as well as wholesale and retail trade, also edged up slightly from 1.8 per cent to 2 per cent and from 1 per cent to 1.1 per cent respectively. 

However, forecasts for the construction sector were much lower than the previous survey, plunging from 2.4 per cent to 0.3 per cent. Economists also were less optimistic about the accommodation and food services sector, revising the growth forecast for 2017 from 1.7 per cent to 1.3 per cent. 

INFLATION FORECAST AT 1% FOR 2017

Inflation for the year is expected to come in at 1 per cent, unchanged from the analysts’ forecast in the previous survey. For the first quarter of this year, inflation is expected to be 0.8 per cent.

Core inflation – which excludes accommodation and car prices – is expected to be 1.5 per cent for the whole year, slightly above the 1.3 per cent predicted in the previous survey. It is also predicted to come in at 1.3 per cent for the first quarter.

For 2018, headline inflation is expected to be 1.3 per cent while MAS core inflation is forecast at 1.7 per cent.

Economists polled said they expected the unemployment rate to be 2.4 per cent at year-end, unchanged from the previous prediction in December. 

The MAS Survey of Professional Forecasters is conducted every quarter after the release of detailed economic data for the preceding three months. The median forecasts in the latest report were based on the estimates of 23 economists, MAS said.

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Budget 2017: Need for fiscal prudence, even as Govt helps workers and businesses, say MPs

SINGAPORE: The first day of the debate on Budget 2017 on Tuesday (Feb 28) saw Members of Parliament (MPs) speak on the Government’s plans to help workers and enable businesses to reposition for the future, as well as the need for financial prudence.

HELP FOR WORKERS: NOW AND FUTURE

Amid the current economic slowdown, extending a helping hand to affected workers was the top concern of some MPs.

East Coast GRC MP Jessica Tan singled out the middle-class and middle-aged as the segment that is most impacted by the ongoing economic transformation, and called for more attention to be paid to this group.

“There are real fears within our workforce that these changes will not only disrupt jobs, but displace jobs,” she said. “With an ageing population, a highly-educated workforce and PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) forming more than 50 per cent of our workforce, this group will need attention to manage the transition … We must ensure the measures are effective in enabling this segment to deepen their skills, and adapt and grow.”

But younger Singaporeans are also at risk, noted Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo. While the millennials and Generation Z are facing “opportunities unseen in a century”, the search for a job has become more trying amid three main challenges.

“Firstly, it is less about what to study or (what) skills to master but what would keep them relevant. Secondly, it is not so much about having no job, but which job will allow them to build up their career and life journey. In short, how do they go about navigating the shifting turbulence of the new job market. Thirdly, businesses are placing greater importance on work experience, rather than academic qualifications,” Mr Choo said.

To counter these challenges, the labour MP said there is a need for mutual-help platforms, the set-up of a national talent bank that includes networking features such as those available on LinkedIn, and a robust network to protect freelancers in the burgeoning gig economy.

MPs also commented on the measures in place to help Singaporeans keep up with the demands of the future workforce.

MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Sun Xueling said: “For SkillsFuture, Budget 2017 focused on on-the-job skills utilisation to ensure a better match between training and jobs. Such an outcome-based approach … is the right move for SkillsFuture. With the integration of the SkillsFuture portal with (the) Jobs Bank, the nexus between training and jobs will be even tighter.”

She suggested for reviews of training providers to be put in place so as to ensure accountability in the provision of relevant training, and for individuals to be guided by industry practitioners.

Meanwhile, Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh suggested maximising the availability and accessibility of training programmes, such as expanding the Global Innovation Alliance’s Innovators Academy to include mid-career workers who may want to explore opportunities and build up experiences in innovation.

HELPING COMPANIES DIGITISE, INNOVATE AND GO GLOBAL

Apart from discussing the adequacy of short-term relief measures for companies, MPs also spoke about the need for local enterprises to embrace digital technology, innovate and scale up to stay relevant. 

Ms Tan described the newly unveiled SMEs Go Digital Programme as a “necessary initiative”.

“Although many SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) today do see the benefits of leveraging digital technology to transform their business and address the changing business environment, many do not have the skills and resources to do so, and have not done so or do not even have the plan to do so,” she said. 

However, cyber security remains a major challenge for companies embracing digitisation, especially SMEs. As such, the programme will need to have “clear plans” on how smaller firms can build up digital resilience, the MP for East Coast GRC said.

For SMEs to embark on successful digital transformations, having the right talent pool is also crucial, noted Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Darryl David. Given that SMEs are not the first choice of employment for most local graduates, going global will boost the attractiveness of SMEs and help them attract talent, he said.

“An SME with a regional or global presence is definitely in a better position to offer attractive careers to digital talents and other professionals, as the scope and nature of the operations will offer job challenge and development opportunities.”

While the International Partnership Fund will help catalyse the internationalisation of SMEs, Mr David cautioned that “the devil is in the details of implementation”. He noted that guidelines and assessment measures must be in place to ensure the S$ 600 million in Government capital set aside for this new fund goes to SMEs that have the best potential.

With regard to the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), MP for Nee Soon GRC Henry Kwek said the roadmaps for 23 industries “must contain bold ideas” and must be rolled out before the end of the financial year.

“The ITMs are supposed to rally their respective industries. Many businesses are stuck in the trenches of disruption and are looking for direction amid the storm. Not all of them found clarity for their sector in the measures provided in this Budget,” he said.

The ITMs – a S$ 4.5 billion package unveiled in 2015’s Budget – will provide more support on research and development (R&D) for local enterprises, said MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Liang Eng Hwa. However, most of these R&D resources are currently being utilised by large firms and there will be a need to “bite-size” R&D funding support so that it benefits smaller enterprises, added Mr Liang.

IMPORTANT TO MAINTAIN FISCAL PRUDENCE

But even as Singapore doubles down on investments to help businesses and workers transform, as well as continue social spending and infrastructure developments, some MPs have voiced concerns about overspending.

MP for West Coast GRC Foo Mee Har noted that Singapore’s weakening fiscal position is a concern, after total expenditure growth outstripped growth in operating revenue for five consecutive years. She also said it is “worrying” that additional funds from Temasek’s inclusion in the Net Investment Returns (NIR) framework “appears to have been exhausted quickly”.

“Clearly, Singapore must find a sustainable fiscal footing for our future generations and we need a thorough review of both expenditure and revenue,” said Ms Foo, while proposing a limit on how much the Government can take from the Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC) to fund expenses.

While she lauded the Budget’s 2 per cent downward adjustment to the budget caps of all ministries and organs of state as a “strong signal of fiscal prudence”, Ms Foo wanted to know whether other mechanisms are in place to encourage savings across ministries.

Ms Sun echoed that view and suggested binding or matching expenditures to the country’s revenues so that any increases in expenditure are carefully considered in relation to revenue.

The MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC also raised a question about the “inherent risks” of being reliant on the NIRC – the largest source of funds for Singapore’s Budget at about 20 per cent of total revenue. She cited recent comments from Norway’s central bank governor, who warned about a potential 50 per cent loss of capital over the next 10 years for the country’s sovereign wealth fund amid rising expenditure.

While Budget 2017 announced the implementation of a carbon tax and changes to diesel duty, these are taxes “mostly to right-size behaviour”, Ms Sun said. With the rise of the sharing economy and cross-border transactions over Internet platforms, more thought should be put into updating the country’s tax policies to stay “in line with new emerging business models and maintain a level playing field”, she added. “Otherwise, the tax burden may fall unnecessarily on certain segments, individual and consumers over time.”

Nominated MP Thomas Chua, who is also the president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI), said businesses hope that “a new mindset” could be used when planning Government expenditure, with spending likely needed in areas such as social development and healthcare moving forward.

“The economic outlook is not as rosy in the days ahead, and if businesses are unable to raise their competitiveness and increase their profits, tax returns will also not rise. Similarly, the Government’s investments are inextricably linked to the economic situation. If the economy is bearish, then there would be no magical formula to turn stone into gold,” he said. 

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Targeted measures in Budget 2017 to help industries: Lawrence Wong

SINGAPORE: Budget 2017, announced on Monday (Feb 20) by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has a “very targeted approach” to helping industries, said Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong.

Speaking on the sidelines of a recording of the Singapore Budget Forum 2017 at Mediacorp on Tuesday, Mr Wong noted that the economy is still growing overall. “Last year’s growth was in fact better than 2015, and this year’s projection is that the economy will continue to grow by 1 to 3 per cent. We are not in a recession. Our economy is still growing, but we recognise that the growth is uneven and there are some sectors which are going through a down cycle. That’s why the measures are focused on these particular sectors like marine and process, offshore engineering including construction. And I believe the targeted measures will help these particular industries” he said.

Some trade associations such as the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry had expressed disappointment that the Budget did not have more near-term measures to help businesses in a challenging environment, but Mr Wong said across the board, the Government is continuing many of the short-term measures put in place to help businesses cope with rising costs. These include the Wage Credit Scheme, the Special Employment Credit – which it is enhancing – as well as the SME Working Capital Loan programme.

There were also concerns that changes to the diesel tax system and a 30 per cent hike in water prices announced in the Budget will impact the bottomline of firms, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Said Mr Wong: “We are mindful of the concerns that businesses have over costs. We have put in place broad-based measures which are continuing from before, as well as targeted measures for specific industries. And we will continue to monitor the environment and if there is a need to, we will see what more we can do to help businesses.”

Mr Wong clarified that a permanent 2 per cent cut in the budget caps of all ministries and organs of state announced in the Budget does not reflect a reduction in Government expenditure. Instead, the Government is better allocating resources to projects with higher priorities.

“What the 2 per cent cut does is, it takes resources from the cut in expenditure and it allocates them to areas of priority. So ministries that have projects that are of national importance or of priority to them, their projects will still be funded,” he said.

Catch the Singapore Budget Forum 2017 on Thursday at 8pm SG/HK on Channel NewsAsia and 9.30pm SG/HK on Channel 5.

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2017 investments likely to remain similar to last year's: EDB

SINGAPORE: Investment commitment levels in Singapore are expected to be similar to those seen in 2016 amid uncertainties in the global economic environment, the Economic Development Board (EDB) said on Thursday (Feb 2).

At its 2016 Year-in-Review press conference, EDB said it will seek to consolidate Singapore’s position as a high value manufacturing base by capturing opportunities in advanced manufacturing. It will do this by anchoring lead adopters of advanced manufacturing in Singapore, while building up an ecosystem of suppliers and enablers to develop technologies and solutions, the agency added. 

EDB will also work with other Government agencies, companies and institutes of higher learning to ensure a pipeline of talent entering the manufacturing workforce.

Technology also remains a key focus, with areas like cybersecurity, software development and data science highlighted by EDB’s managing director, Yeoh Keat Chuan.

Looking ahead, EDB expects Fixed Asset Investments for the year to come in between S$ 8 billion and S$ 10 billion. Meanwhile, Total Business Expenditure Per Annum is forecast to be between S$ 5 billion and S$ 7 billion.

Total Business Expenditure Per Annum refers to commitments by firms setting up regional headquarters, research and development labs and other facilities in Singapore. In return for tax breaks, the firms must agree to spend a certain amount of money on salaries, rent and local procurement, among other things, each year. Fixed asset investment refers to a firm’s additional investment in facilities, equipment and machinery.

Meanwhile, Expected Value-Added Per Annum – how much investments will add to the GDP when fully realised – is expected to come in between S$ 12 billion and S$ 14 billion, the same as last year’s forecast.

Highlighting uncertainties stemming from events such as elections in Europe as well as proposed policies from US President Donald Trump that could shape the operating environment, EDB’s chairman, Beh Swan Gin, said there was a need to be “watchful”. 

However, he said that the good news for Singapore was that its fundamentals remain strong.

“I think we have to approach 2017 with some caution, but we certainly do not have to be depressed about 2017.”

EXPECTATIONS MET

Key targets were also met or exceeded last year, said Mr Yeoh. For instance, Fixed Asset Investments came in at S$ 9.4 billion, which was within the earlier forecast of S$ 8 billion to S$ 10 billion. 

Additionally, the S$ 8.3 billion of Total Business Expenditure Per Annum exceeded expectations of S$ 5.5 billion to S$ 6.5 billion, partly due to large-scale shipyard projects committed.

When fully implemented, these projects are expected to create around 20,100 jobs, EDB said. 

Mr Yeoh said that Singapore companies must also do their part to speed up their growth. “The technology such as automation, robotics, digitisation, additive manufacturing – they require certain willingness to try on new things. And I feel that for a number of maybe smaller companies the challenge is setting aside the resources to do so,” he said.

For 2017, EDB is forecasting the creation of between 19,000 and 21,000 jobs over the next five years.  

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Ahead of Budget 2017, NTUC calls for support to help workers transition into new economy

SINGAPORE: The labour movement on Tuesday (Jan 17) called on the Government to provide more support to help workers transition into the new economy.

It said it is particularly concerned about people’s ability to maintain their competitiveness, given the fast-changing labour market brought about by rapid technological disruption, new requirement for skills as well as an ageing and shrinking workforce.

In its recommendations for Budget 2017, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) outlined four key areas to focus on, among them to improve the system to help the unemployed find jobs.

NTUC suggested that the Government share Jobs Bank information with its Future Jobs, Skills and Training (FJST) capability and Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), so that both parties can better match workers to jobs. The labour movement said this would also help it identify the new skills which are required and put in place relevant training programmes.

MAKE TRAINING COURSES MORE ACCESSIBLE

To ensure workers remain employable, the labour movement called on the Government to “plug existing structural gaps” in the current systems of training, citing a recent survey it conducted which showed that almost half of the respondents did not attend training or upskilling courses in the past year.

The NTUC proposed that employees be given more training leave and training allowances, as well as credit top-ups to the SkillsFuture scheme. Courses should also be made modular and “bite-sized”, it said.

To help women who want to re-enter the workforce, the labour movement suggested a “returnship programme” – similar to an internship – where these women enter a job trial for several months, before they are formally employed.

It also proposed a special employment credit for employers who hire these women.

IMPROVING PRODUCTIVITY, FAIR TERMS FOR WORKERS

More support for businesses is required as they adopt measures that are less labour-intensive, said the labour movement. “The Government can take the lead in industry transformation projects … tripartite partners will need to help all companies up their productivity game, and ensure that such gains are shared with their workers,” it said.

It added that productivity schemes can be enhanced with sector-level projects and resource-pooling among companies, with special emphasis on sectors such as F&B, retail and construction.

With changing employment models, the labour movement is also proposing a relook of laws to better protect the interests of workers on non-traditional work arrangements, such as contract workers and freelancers. It said outsourced workers, too, must be protected and suggested enhancing the law governing procurement practices for outsourced services.

“Though we may face short-term and more immediate challenges, all parties – from the Government, businesses, working people to society at large – will need to endeavour to prepare for what lies ahead,” said NTUC.

Budget 2017 will be delivered on Feb 20.

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Construction demand projected to grow in 2017: BCA

SINGAPORE: The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) projects the total value of construction contracts to be awarded in 2017 to reach between S$ 28 billion and S$ 35 billion. The numbers are higher than last year’s preliminary estimate of S$ 26.1 billion. 

BCA is anticipating an increase in public sector construction demand from S$ 15.8 billion last year to S$ 24 billion for 2017, boosted by an increase in demand for most building types and civil engineering works. 

Additionally, the public sector is expected to contribute about 70 per cent of the total construction demand. 

Meanwhile, the slowdown in the property market and continued economic uncertainties are likely to weigh on private sector construction demand, the government authority added.  

BCA projects construction demand for the private sector to stay between S$ 8 to S$ 11 billion this year. 

Total construction demand in 2016 was valued at around S$ 26 billion, slightly lower than preliminary estimates of S$ 27 billion to S$ 34 billion. This was because of the rescheduling of major public sector projects and longer preparation times, BCA said.  

Beyond 2017, BCA projects the average construction demand to be between S$ 26 billion and S$ 35 billion per annum in 2018 and 2019 and between S$ 26 billion and S$ 37 billion per annum in 2020 and 2021.

On the projected increases, BCA’s CEO John Keung said: “Although the year-to-year fluctuations in the total value of annual construction demand are influenced by the lumpy nature of major infrastructure projects, the overall on-line construction activities or construction output is expected to stay at a relatively high level.”

“Companies that are prepared to change, innovate and transform to stay at the forefront of technological innovation, process re-engineering and productivity improvements are more likely to sustain their growth and competitiveness despite the headwinds under challenging economic conditions.” he adds. 

Speaking at the BCA-REDAS Built Environment and Property Prospects Seminar, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee unveiled the formation of the Built Environment cluster sub-committee under the Council for Skills, Innovation and Productivity (CSIP). 

Mr Lee will co-chair the committee along with CapitaLand CEO Mr Lim Ming Yan. 

The committee aims to develop the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), a growth and competitiveness plan covering areas such as productivity and internationalisation, for the construction sector.  

Mr Lee said: “There will be a task force looking at measures to help companies that wish to expand overseas. We understand that not all markets are as open or predictable as ours. There are also language and labour barriers.

“The committee will look at ideas and study practical ways on how we can provide support for companies willing to expand overseas,” he added. 

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Singapore shares down on last day of trade; mixed forecast for 2017

SINGAPORE: Expectations that the European Central Bank (ECB) would extend its stimulus programme, along with record high closes on Wall Street and encouraging economic data out of China, have helped boost market sentiment in Singapore.

But Singapore’s benchmark Straits Times Index (STI) closed on a negative note on Friday (Dec 30), its last day of trade. It ended down 0.3 per cent at 2,880.76 points – but gained 0.2 per cent for the entire year.

“We’re really seeing that kind of seasonal December/January effect coming in,” said Jingyi Pan, market strategist at CFD and forex provider, IG. “The S&P has picked up by some 4.7 per cent, the market right now is riding on that kind of positive sentiment.

“Initially, there were some concerns with President-elect Donald Trump’s policies in terms of how it’s going to affect the US and China trade relations.”

Ms Pan added that the financial sector had been the main driver of the index this year: “What overwhelms the market sentiment is the Fed hike – the rise in interest rates is going to transpire through to Singapore and that’s been raising the outlook for the banking sector because people are going to expect earnings to increase from there.”

However, another market watcher said the rate hikes are far from good news for one of the drags within the index. “The property sector is a bit depressed right now,” said Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA, a Canadian-based foreign exchange company. “There are lots of condos coming back onto the market again, so this could be a supply drag, because we’re not seeing the same amount of demand for new projects.”

The observers said that the telco sector has under-performed as well, in the face of a new fourth carrier that will give the incumbents a run for their market share.

BRIGHT SPOTS AHEAD?

Looking ahead, both Ms Pan and Mr Innes said that any push in the STI could be capped at about 3,300 points.

They cited the backdrop of weak global economic growth and political uncertainty, warning that downside risks like upcoming elections in Europe as well as protectionist policies will sap risk appetite.

Said Mr Innes: “Is China’s economy going to continue showing signs of life or is it going to revert back to a slowdown? If we saw more demand coming out of China for Singapore’s exported goods, then I think that will weigh positively on a lot of the underbelly of the Singapore markets.”

Mr Innes did, however see some bright spots amidst the doom and gloom.

“Longer-term growth stocks have a relatively high dividend yield, and are still going to be attractive for the average consumer and I think the other area we have to look at is the move to privatisation,” he said. “This could be something for investors to look at – to wisely position themselves in certain areas on anticipation of this privatisation.”

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Singapore dollar to weaken further in uncertain 2017: Analysts

SINGAPORE: The Singapore dollar may have recovered some lost ground after hitting multi-year lows against the greenback last week, but this momentum is unlikely to be sustainable when the new year comes around, analysts told Channel NewsAsia.

Alongside most of the regional currencies, the Sing dollar has been on the back foot since Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the US presidential election shook the greenback out of a slump.

Compounded by the US Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates earlier this month, the local currency fell to 1.4509 versus the US dollar on Dec 22, hitting its weakest level since August 2009. The Sing dollar has since made mild gains and was last seen fluctuating between 1.4463 and 1.4497 on Tuesday (Dec 27).

However, market analysts said the greenback’s resurgence looks set to continue in 2017 on the back of expectations for a stronger economic recovery in the US and as the Fed flagged a faster-than-expected pace of rate hikes. That could deal Asian currencies a further blow.

“With further upside for the US dollar in 2017, we expect more weakening for the Sing dollar and in fact, weaker Asian currencies across the board with no exceptions,” ANZ’s senior FX strategist, Irene Cheung, said.

“The recent hike in US interest rates and the possibility of more aggressive rate hikes as indicated by the Fed will, for one, be underpinning the US dollar. Markets will also be looking out for the fiscal policies that Mr Trump has been advocating,” added Ms Cheung, referring to the President-elect’s fiscal stimulus proposals such as tax cuts that have been seen as bolstering US economic growth and inflation. “That will only be good for the US dollar.”

Apart from that, the incoming US President’s protectionist stance on trade will likely remain as a source of pressure for the Sing dollar and other currencies of export-dependent economies in Asia. Since the US elections, the Sing dollar has fallen 3.5 per cent against the greenback while the South Korean won and Malaysian ringgit slumped around 5 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.

“On what the new US administration could announce on its trade policies with Asia and in particular, China, we are a little bit wary (as) the signs don’t appear to be good,” said Mr Julian Wee, senior markets strategist for Asia at the National Australia Bank (NAB).

For one, the appointment of Peter Navarro, an economist who has urged a hardline stance on trade with China, to head a newly formed trade council is “not a good sign”, Mr Wee added. “It is shaping up to an uncertain year ahead.”

In addition to external factors, the Sing dollar’s fortunes are also hamstrung by a growth deceleration in Singapore’s economy. For the third quarter, gross domestic product (GDP) slowed to 1.1 per cent on a year-on-year basis amid headwinds such as stubbornly weak external demand, and economists have grown increasingly pessimistic about growth prospects in the year ahead.

“If you look at the open economies globally, Singapore is one of the most vulnerable in a rising trade protectionism and anti-globalisation environment. Domestically, we are still in the transition phase for the Singapore economy so I think markets are pricing these in,” said Mr Saktiandi Supaat, head of FX research at Maybank Singapore. “Both externally and domestically, things are not looking too positive.”

In light of the double whammy, Mr Saktiandi expects the Sing dollar to “proceed towards 1.45 or be slightly above 1.45” by mid-2017, before stabilising around 1.43 at the end of the year.

ANZ’s Ms Cheung has a gloomier forecast, predicting that the currency will weaken more than 3 per cent to touch 1.50 – its lowest level since April 2009 – next year.

KNOCK-ON EFFECTS OF WEAK SING DOLLAR

Amid expectations for more Sing dollar woes, what will that mean for Singapore’s economy, businesses and the country’s monetary policy settings?

While a weakening currency is theoretically seen as a tailwind for the economy as exports get a leg-up in competitiveness, the boost may not quite materialise for Singapore, according to Nomura economist Brian Tan.

Noting the presence of “bigger factors” such as sluggish external demand and falling trade intensity that are weighing on Singapore’s exports, he said that a weaker Sing dollar “will not necessarily prove to be such a huge boost for exports”.

Meanwhile, import-intensive sectors and businesses with foreign-currency borrowings will begin feeling the heat as a limp local currency makes imports more expensive and makes their debts dearer in Sing dollar terms, Mr Tan added.

As to whether the weakening currency will sway central bank action, analysts are mostly opting to sit on the fence, citing various events that take place before the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) next policy meeting in April 2017.

“There’s a possibility that the MAS could ease but we will be watching the events in early 2017, such as Donald Trump taking office. By then, we will have more clarity on what he will do for the US economy and global trade. We will also be looking at the Budget for any support to the economy on the fiscal front,” said Ms Cheung.

“So, it seems very much like an uncertain year ahead.”

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Up to S$2b of Singapore Saving Bonds on offer in 2017

SINGAPORE: Up to S$ 2 billion of Saving Bonds will be offered in 2017, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced on Thursday (Dec 1).

The first bond of 2017 will be issued on Jan 3, MAS said in a media release, adding that up to S$ 150 million will be available during the first issue. A new savings bond will be issued every month.

The 10-year average annual return from the bond is above 2 per cent, MAS said.

Those interested can apply for the first bond through DBS, POSB, OCBC or UOB automatic teller machines (ATMs) or through DBS or POSB’s Internet banking portal from 6pm on Dec 1 until 9pm on Dec 27.

Interested investors must have an Individual Central Depository (CDP) Securities account with Direct Crediting Service (DCS) activated in order to apply for a bond, MAS said.

“In 2016, we have issued S$ 276 million in Savings Bonds. The maximum issuance size is a limit and not a target. We have revised the issuance size for 2017, taking into account the subscription amounts in 2016,” an MAS spokesperson said.

MAS said it is “encouraged” by the take-up. Since the launch of the programme in September 2015, 35,000 individuals have invested S$ 987 million into 15 Savings Bonds issues.
Said the spokesperson: “Our goal is to make available to the public, a safe and flexible instrument for long-term savings. The programme has appealed to investors across a wide range of ages, and the majority of them are smaller savers. Investing in Savings Bonds also appears to be the first foray into investments for many individuals. This is in line with MAS’ objective of improving the availability and take-up of simple, low-cost investment products.” 

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Artist Zai Kuning chosen to represent Singapore at Venice Biennale 2017

SINGAPORE: Local multidisciplinary artist Zai Kuning, working together with curator and art historian June Yap, will be representing Singapore at Venice Biennale 2017.

The National Arts Council (NAC) made the announcement on Wednesday (Aug 17) at Gillman Barracks Block 9, the very space where Zai will be working on his art from September for the next six months till February 2017 in the lead up to the 57th Venice Biennale.

The prestigious international contemporary art event, which will start its run on May 13 and culminate on Nov 26 next year, remains an important platform to showcase Singapore’s visual artists on the international stage.

With Zai in the driver’s seat, Singapore’s contribution to the art event next year will highlight the Malay diaspora. Zai and Yap’s proposal, entitled Dapunta Hyang, is a culmination of more than 20 years of research by Zai on Malay culture and history in Southeast Asia – as part of a broader inquiry on identity. This includes him having spent more than a decade with and creating work on the Orang Laut (sea gypsies) — the pre-nation and pre-colonial inhabitants of both island and sea in the region. 

As the only Singaporean artist exploring our collective regional history through the pre-Islamic Srivijaya era, Zai explained how the project allows him to “delve deep into a history and heritage of Southeast Asia not commonly found in history books on the Malay peoples and culture”.

Besides the history of the Srivijaya empire, considered as the first large Southeast Asian state of “world economic stature” of its time, Dapunta Hyang also points to history of the Malay language and the establishment of Old Malay as the region’s lingua franca.

Zai Kuning, Dapunta Hyang – Transmission of Knowledge (2015) in collaboration with Mohamad Riduan. Commissioned and presented by Esplanade, Singapore at the Concourse on Jan 15 – April 19, 2015 as part of its Visual Arts programme. (Photo: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay) 

He said: “As an aesthetic project, it is not a presentation of history in material and object, or as ideology and in politics. Rather it is about a sense of fellowship and solidarity that arises from knowing who we are.

“I am keen to have audiences spend time reflecting upon the elements the work combines: of craft in the sculpture of the ship, the subject of knowledge as embodied in the waxed books, the portraits of islanders and Mak Yong, and the voice of the Mak Yong master who speaks in a language rarely heard now in Singapore and Malaysia, even Indonesia.”

Zai explained that this is not merely about a passing of information, and that the receiver’s imagination is very essential to this process.

“Dapunta Hyang is thus a prompt and a means to attend to this history and the knowledge that go back in time,” he continued. “Not just from 50 or 200 years ago, but centuries, back to the 7th century, in order to understand what and who we are, and the actions and even accidents that brought us here.”

Zai Kuning, Dapunta Hyang – Transmission of Knowledge (2014–2015). (Photo: Ota Fine Arts)

Last year, the NAC signed a 20-year lease on the Singapore pavilion to mark its long-term commitment to this Biennale. Zai and Yap’s proposal, which was selected by a Commissioning Panel comprising representatives from NAC and the arts community, will show at the Singapore Pavilion in Venice’s historic Arsenale.

For Kathy Lai, CEO of NAC and Co-Chair of the Commissioning Panel, selecting the 20-year passion project was a discernible choice. “Dapunta Hyang invites us to reflect on the region we are in, its past and how its heritage has been transmitted through the trajectories of empire, language and culture,” she said.

“Zai’s proposal stood out strongly as it spotlights forgotten stories of a people whose culture influenced what we recognise as ‘Southeast Asian’ today. The uncovering of forgotten histories will, I believe, strike a chord with the international audience at the Venice Biennale.”

As for the artist himself who has previously presented at Ota Fine Arts (2014), the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore (2014), Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay (2015), Art Basel Hong Kong (2015) and Palais de Tokyo (Paris, 2015), Dapunta Hyang will be Zai Kuning’s most complex and intricate installation to date. Audiences in Singapore will have the opportunity to preview the work in progress and interact with Zai at the studio space in Gillman Barracks, before both artist and installation leave for the Venice Biennale. Dapunta Hyang is scheduled to be freighted from Singapore to Venice in February 2017, while Zai leaves for Venice in April/ May 2017. 

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