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    Nikkei Markets

    Singapore central bank survey trims growth forecast to 2.5%

    Private sector economists also lower city-state's inflation outlook

    Last month, Singapore’s Economic Development Board  said factory output fell for the first time in over a year in January, hurt by double-digit declines in electronics and precision engineering.   ? AP

    SINGAPORE (Nikkei Markets) -- Private-sector economists lowered their growth forecasts for Singapore yet again, but they also flagged the potential for positive surprises amid growing hopes the trade war between the U.S. and China could come to an end.

    The Monetary Authority of Singapore's quarterly survey of professional forecasters released Wednesday pegged gross domestic product growth at 2.5% for this year, down from previous survey's 2.6% and the median estimate of 2.7% in the September survey.

    Singapore's economy ended last year on a downbeat note growing by just 1.9% year on year in the final three months, the slowest pace since the third quarter of 2016 and well below the government's own advance estimate of 2.2%.

    However, unlike in the past when many economists seemed more concerned about downside risks from trade tensions and rising global interest rates, the latest MAS survey highlighted potential bright spots that could propel growth beyond expectations.

    "The majority of respondents noted that an easing of trade tensions between China and the U.S. could contribute towards a stronger-than-expected growth outturn for Singapore," MAS said.

    "Stronger growth in China resulting from fiscal and monetary stimulus also emerged as a likely upside," the central bank added.

    In terms of downside risks, 84% of the 23 forecasters cited increased protectionism, down from 100% in the previous survey, while 32% cited higher interest rates, down from 41% in December.

    Singapore's official forecast is for an expansion of 1.5-3.5% for 2019, although various government agencies have warned the final growth figure is likely to come in slightly below the mid-point of range.

    Indeed, recent Singapore economic data point to an economy that is slowing rapidly. Last month, the Economic Development Board said factory output fell for the first time in over a year in January, hurt by double-digit declines in electronics and precision engineering.

    The headline Nikkei Singapore Purchasing Managers' Index, meanwhile, fell for a third month in succession during February, dropping below the key 50-point level that indicates a deterioration in the business environment.

    As for inflation, MAS' latest survey showed economists now expect a headline reading of 1.1% in 2019, down from 1.3% in the previous survey. Core inflation, which excludes accommodation and private road transport, will likely come in at 1.7%, lower than the earlier forecast of 1.8%.

    The central bank's forecast is for headline inflation of 0.5-1.5% and core inflation of 1.5-2.5%.

    Kit Wei Zheng, an economist at Citi, noted that MAS has become less confident about growth and could lower its inflation forecast, judging by comments contained in the central bank's recent quarterly report on developments in the Singapore economy.

    The change in the outlook could be made in April when MAS unveils its half-yearly monetary policy statement, he said in a note this week.

    --Kevin Lim

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