Singapore economy to contract 0.6% in Q1 amid coronavirus outbreak: Reuters poll

Singapore economy to contract 0.6% in Q1 amid coronavirus outbreak: Reuters poll

A tourist wearing a protective face mask takes photos at the Merlion Park in Singapore
A tourist wearing a protective face mask takes photos at the Merlion Park in Singapore, January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Feline Lim

SINGAPORE: Singapore is among the major Asian economies expected to slow down significantly, halt or shrink in the current quarter as the effects of the coronavirus outbreak spread outside China, a Reuters poll found.

Singapore, a major trade partner with China, is expected to contract 0.6 per cent in the present quarter, a first since the 2009 recession after the global financial crisis, according to forecasts from economists collected between Feb 19 and 25.

Explore our interactive: All the COVID-19 cases in Singapore and the clusters and links between them

Many Asian economies, which were just limping back to growth from the spillover effects of the 18-month long US-China trade dispute, have been again dealt a blow by the outbreak, which has shut down businesses and cities.

With the contagion interrupting global supply chains that most countries depend on for trade and commerce, economic activity is likely to slow, but at varying degrees.

"The impact of the coronavirus on economies in Asia is potentially huge, as tourism in the region takes a beating. From deserted hotels to empty airports, the impact of this little scrap of protein and lipid on economies in the region is potentially enormous," said Robert Carnell, chief economist and head of research for Asia-Pacific at ING in Singapore.

"If this doesn't sound sufficiently scary, bear in mind that tourism is just one of the channels through which the coronavirus can weaken the GDP growth of Asian countries grappling with this epidemic."

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The poll showed that Australia, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand are also expected to put in their worst performance in years in the first quarter. Only Indonesia was expected to remain relatively unscathed.

That comes on the heels of a similar Reuters poll published a little over a week ago, which found the Chinese economy will grow at its slowest pace in the current quarter since the financial crisis, with a worst-case scenario showing it at 3.5 per cent, nearly half of the 6 per cent reported in the fourth quarter of 2019.

"The base case is rapidly shifting from 'Bad', meaning only China is impacted, to 'Ugly', where both emerging Asia and developed economies see soaring infection rates and deaths," said Michael Every, head of financial markets research for Asia-Pacific at Rabobank in Hong Kong.

"Its effects will likely resemble the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 more than the SARS outbreak in 2003," he said, referring to the economic impact.

That fear in financial markets was clear on Monday, when world stocks took a nosedive to a two-year low as a surge in virus infections outside mainland China fuelled fears of a global pandemic.

READ: US stocks suffer second straight rout on coronavirus fears

Proximity to the region's economic powerhouse and trade relations mean any impact from a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy is likely to be felt across the region.

While a bounce back in the next quarter is expected for most major Asian economies polled, growth for this year is likely to be lower than predicted just last month, suggesting some activity would be permanently lost.

More than three-quarters of economists, 57 of 77, who answered an additional question also expect growth across these other Asian economies to pick up in the second quarter.

While South Korea was the hardest hit by the virus outside of China, its impact on the economy so far seems modest, according to forecasters who expect it to grow 2.1 per cent in the first quarter, down only 0.4 percentage points from a January Reuters poll.

Thailand's and Taiwan's economies are forecast to expand at a paltry 0.2 per cent and 1.3 per cent in the current quarter, the lowest in nearly half a decade.

Australia's economy, a proxy for Chinese economic growth, is forecast to grind to a halt in the current quarter, ending the country's near three-decade growth streak which started in 1991.

Explore: Real-time interactive map of all the confirmed cases reported around the world

"This (the virus outbreak) can be hurtful to growth in several countries beyond just the negative spillovers from China. A sharp rise in infections reported by several countries raises concerns of a deeper hit to these countries and also global growth," said Johanna Chua, emerging markets Asia economist at Citi in Hong Kong.

But if the grim outlook doesn't improve, under a worst-case scenario, economists expect growth in all countries polled to drop further by 0.5 percentage points to one full percentage point.

Singapore is forecast to be the worst affected from the fallout, with growth dropping by more than 1 percentage point for 2020. The least impact would be on Indonesia, which is expected to grow 4.7 per cent this year.

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Source: Reuters