Singapore factory output rebounds in March with 16.5% rise; circuit breaker hit not yet felt

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s factory output staged a surprising recovery in March, according to data released by the Economic Development Board (EDB) on Friday (April 24).

But EDB cautioned that manufacturing output in March had not been significantly impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, and a more pronounced impact is likely to be seen from April onwards due in part to the implementation of the circuit breaker measures.

For March, manufacturing activity increased 16.5 per cent over the same month last year – thanks to a surge in pharmaceutical output and a low base in 2019 – after slipping a revised 0.7 per cent in February.

Excluding  biomedical manufacturing, however, factory output was unchanged.

On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, manufacturing output increased 21.7 per cent. This was a reversal of the 22.1 per cent plunge in February over the month before.

Biomedical manufacturing output expanded 91.4 per cent in March compared with the same period last year. Pharmaceuticals output  jumped 126.6 per cent, on the back of higher production of active pharmaceutical ingredients and biological products. The medical technology segment rose 6.3 per cent with higher export demand for medical devices.

The next big boost came from precision engineering output which grew by 21.2 per cent in March. The cluster’s growth was largely attributed to the machinery and systems segment which grew 28.7 per cent, on account of higher production of semiconductor equipment.

Overall, the precision engineering cluster grew 20.6 per cent in the period from January to March compared with the same period a year ago.

Transport engineering also saw output increase, by 7.6 per cent year-on-year in March. The land transport segment grew 15.2 per cent and aerospace segment 11.9 per cent, with the latter registering higher levels of repair and maintenance activities from commercial airlines. But the marine and offshore engineering segment fell 0.7 per cent due to lower level of work done in offshore projects.

Overall, the transport engineering cluster grew 3.2 per cent in the first three months of 2020 compared with the same period last year.

The chemicals cluster also rose in output, by 0.8 per cent in March, with the petroleum refining throughput increasing 30.9 per cent on the back of maintenance shutdowns a year ago. The specialties segment grew 8.8 per cent with higher production of industrial gases and additives, while the other chemicals segment rose 5.9 per cent on account of higher output of fragrances.

But the petrochemicals segment contracted 7.2 per cent. In the first three months of this year, output of the chemicals cluster fell 0.1 per cent compared with the same period in 2019.

Unlike the other clusters, general manufacturing output fell 7.9 per cent in March 2020, with all segments recording output declines, including he miscellaneous industries and printing, as well as food, beverage and tobacco segments.

Electronics output also declined, by 9.2 per cent, and all segments within the cluster recorded decline. Overall, output of the electronics cluster fell 10.5 per cent in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2019.

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