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Exports fall 8.5% in Dec, largest slide in over 2 years

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Sharp fall due to drop in electronic, non-electronic shipments

Singapore's exports fell 8.5 per cent in December from a year ago - its largest slide in over two years - dragged down by a drop in electronic and non-electronic shipments.

The steep end-of-year decline for non-oil domestic exports (Nodx) followed a 2.8 per cent fall in November, and was in stark contrast to the 2 per cent growth forecast for December by a Bloomberg poll of economists.

This was its worst performance since October 2016, when it dropped 12 per cent year on year.

Analysts say the high base of year-on-year comparison, given high export numbers in December 2017, had a part to play.

The broad trend appears to be moving downwards, although it is unclear how deep the slide may be, economists added.

DBS senior economist Irvin Seah said: "What is most disconcerting is the 5.7 per cent month-on-month decline (in Nodx).

"We already had two months of month-on-month dips and if such a trend continues, this points to a dimmer outlook for overall manufacturing as well as the Singapore economy, heading into 2019".

On a month-on-month seasonally adjusted basis, Nodx dropped 5.7 per cent, following November's 4.3 per cent decline.

But Mr Seah highlighted that the "downside risk from trade tensions between the United States and China was deepest" in November and December, when falls in exports were seen.

"Many importers may have held back their orders while waiting for more clarity on the trade war," he said.

The disparity between predictions and official figures may be down to "mixed signals" from companies that analysts speak to.

"Some say they are benefiting (from the trade tensions), but others say they see an impact on their orders.

"The numbers need to be watched very closely," he said.

Singapore's electronic exports, which finally saw growth of 4.3 per cent in November, reversed course and contracted by 11.2 per cent last month. The biggest contributors to this slide were falls in shipments of personal computers, disk media products, and diodes and transistors.

Non-electronic Nodx was down 7.4 per cent, accelerating from the 5.4 per cent drop in the month before. Falls in shipments of specialised machinery, pharmaceuticals and primary chemicals contributed to the faster pace of decline.