Insights to key investment themes for Singapore 2021

August 17, 2021 by Oohar | Views:

Overview of Regional (APAC) Development Trajectory

The global economy is in the midst of a severe crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has negatively affected global economic growth beyond anything experienced in nearly a century. On a good note, the global economy is currently on the road of recovery after a sharp retrenchment in the second quarter of 2020, as nationwide lockdowns are lifted and being replaced with lenient safety protocol measures.

Despite of being the pandemic outbreak midpoint, Asia-Pacific region is starting to regain its momentum as larger part of its member countries recorded low number of COVID-19 cases. Global growth has been revised up since the June 2020 World Economic Outlook (WEO) Update to −4.4 percent in 2020, because of better-than-expected second quarter outturns in some major countries where activity began to improve sooner than expected after lockdowns were scaled back. In 2021 global growth is projected at 5.2 percent, a little lower than projected earlier, consistent with the expectation that social distancing persists into 2021 and fades thereafter.

Truly, Asia-Pacific region is facing a historic and dramatic development. The region is starting to recover tentatively, but at multiple speeds. Based on a report made by Asia Development Bank, if APAC continues to follow its recent trajectory, by 2050, its per capita income could increase sixfold in purchasing power parity to reach Europe’s levels today. By nearly expanding its share of global gross domestic product (GDP) to 52 percent by 2050, Asia would regain the dominant economic position it held some 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution.

Additionally, this development would make 3 billion additional Asians affluent by current standards. This projection heavily relies on APAC region’s response to the pandemic. The outlook is based on several factors such as infection rates and containment measures, the scope and effectiveness of the policy response, reliance on contact tracing activities, and on external demand. In parts of Asia where virus transmission rates are low, mobility and activity could normalize faster than elsewhere.

For the past 30 years, APAC region has been emerging as the figurehead of consumption and its integration into global flows of trade, capital, talent, and innovation. The economic outlook for Asia and the Pacific remains strong, and the region continues to be the most dynamic of the global economy. Long-term growth prospects for the Asia and Pacific region are impacted by demographics, slowing productivity growth, and the rise of the digital economy.  In 2000, Asia accounted for just under one-third of global GDP (in PPP terms), and it is on track to top 50 percent by 2050. By that point, it is expected to account for 40 percent of the world’s total consumption. Economic activity is beginning to revive, starting with China. After hitting a trough in February 2020, China’s growth received a boost from infrastructure, real estate investment, and a surge in exports, mainly of medical and protective equipment, as well as work-from-home-related electronics. This is being followed by a gradual recovery in private non housing investment and consumption. The economic contraction in the rest of Asia appears to have bottomed out in the second quarter of 2020. The decline of manufacturing and services in the second quarter was particularly sharp in the rest of Asia excluding China, given the continued rise in virus cases and extended lockdowns.

Countries recovering faster from the pandemic are those that introduced effective containment measures early and timed their exit from containment well. Comprehensive testing and contact tracing infrastructure were key in the early stages and exit phase of the pandemic, including in countries that did not implement mandatory restrictions. While Asia is beginning to emerge from its worst-ever recession, regional growth has been further downgraded to −2.2 percent in 2020, but with high hopes in 2021, as it will be upgraded to 6.9. Advanced Economies (AEs) including Singapore, New Zealand and Hongkong cumulatively fell to -6.0 and below. Such countries are expected to drop by less than previous projected, indicating a faster pickup in recovery and development due to stringent preventive measures against virus transmission.

The region remains the most dynamic in the world, but new approaches are needed to better share the benefits of growth, improve well-being, and achieve sustainable development goals. One important challenge is population aging, as many economies in the region face the risk of “growing old before they grow rich,” and the adverse effect of aging on growth and fiscal positions could be substantial. The second challenge is slowing productivity growth. Finally, the global economy is becoming increasingly digitalized, and while some recent advances could be truly transformative, they also bring challenges, including those related to the future of work. Asia is embracing the digital revolution, albeit with significant heterogeneity across the region. Over the medium term, however, downside risks dominate, including from a tightening of global financial conditions, a shift toward protectionist policies, and an increase in geopolitical tensions. Nevertheless, uncertainty remains on how the COVID-19 situation will evolve globally in the year ahead as it will depend on the progress of vaccine development, production, and distribution.

For 2021, the economy is strongly anticipated to return to growth amid enhanced development outlook for key external economies, as well as further easing of global travel restrictions. With output gaps closing in much of the region, continued fiscal support is less needed, and most economies in Asia should turn to strengthening buffers, increasing resilience, and ensuring sustainability. Some economies should also focus on improving revenue mobilization to create space for infrastructure and social spending and help support structural reforms. The strong economic outlook makes this an opportune moment to pursue such reforms. Tailored measures are needed to boost productivity and investment, narrow gender gaps in labor force participation, deal with the demographic transition, address climate change, and support those affected by shifts in technology and trade. And finally, to reap the full benefits of the digital revolution, Asia will need a comprehensive and integrated policy response covering information and communication technology, infrastructure, trade, labor markets, and education.


Asia-Pacific Region (APAC) Real GDP (Year-over-year percent change)

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook Database


“The recovery of the Singapore economy … will depend to a large extent on how the global economy performs and whether Singapore is able to continue to keep the domestic COVID-19 situation under control.” – Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry

The development trajectory of Singapore depends critically on its ability to manage the virus outbreak. While past crises such as the 1997 Asian financial crisis and 2007-09 global financial crisis causes hefty shock to the economy, the current recession is being triggered by the pandemic.  According to Strait Times, Singapore has the lowest coronavirus case fatality count globally, with just 27 deaths among the more than 57,000 people who have been infected with Covid-19 in the South-east Asian island. Singapore’s economic contraction eased to 5.8 per cent year-on-year in the third quarter after a 13.3 per cent decline in the previous three months. The government sees the economy shrinking 6 to 6.5 per cent this year before rebounding to 4 to 6 per cent growth in 2021. Singapore’s economy contracted much less than initially estimated in the third quarter due to gradual easing of COVID-19 lockdown measures and authorities expect the city-state to bounce back to growth next year from its worst recession.

The country’s government balance was positive at 1% of GDP in 2020 but is expected to fall to 0.5% and 0.3% in 2020 and 2021. Singapore’s gross debt remained high at 114.1% of GDP in 2019 and is projected to increase slightly to 114.6% in 2020 and 115.1% in 2021. While public debt is high, financial assets held by the country more than compensate for it.  As for the previous year, inflation is under the 2% target fixed by the central bank. For 2019, the IMF forecasted 0.6%. The inflation rate is expected to decrease to -0.2% in 2020 and grow at 0.5% in 2021 (due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic). Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the average change of prices paid by consumers for a marker basket of consumer goods and services, recorded that Singapore hits 0 per cent year-on-year in September. This record is remarkable as it is the first non-negative inflationary recording since March 2020, after five months of negative inflation readings. This suggests that the Singapore economy is gradually recovering and that disinflationary pressures are ebbing.

The bounce back was largely motivated by the manufacturing sector. According to the Department of Statistics Singapore, on its most recent industrial production data, Singapore beat the odds by recording 24.2 percent year-on-year surge in September, led by pharmaceuticals, which grew 113.6 percent from last year, followed by electronics and textiles. This year has the best manufacturing and biomedical annual performance since December 2011 and April 2020 respectively as majority of people are prioritizing their health because of the virus outbreak and consuming good while staying at home. Given the current increase of COVID19 cases, demands for pharmaceutical products remains high. This momentum could be sustained once the development of vaccine finishes. Electronics also continues to benefit from the semiconductor upturn, with work-from-home arrangements driving demand for cloud computing and data centers.

Main Indicators 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
GDP (billions USD) 373.20 372.07 337.45 362.52 379.07
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % change) 3.4 0.7 (-) 6.0 5.0 2.6
GDP per Capita (USD) 66 65 58 62 64
General Government Balance (in % of GDP) 0.7 1.2 (-) 13.1 (-) 1.7 (-) 0.5
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP) 110.4 130.0 131.20 132.40 133.50
Inflation Rate (%) 0.4 0.6 (-) 0.4 0.3 1.1
Unemployment Rate (% of the labor force) 2.1 2.3 3.0 2.6 2.3
Current Account (billions USD) 64.11 63.14 50.54 52.70 54.43
Current Account (in % of GDP) 17.2 17.0 15.0 14.5 14.4

Singapore Growth Indicators (2018-2020)

Source: Singapore Statistics Database, IMF – World Economic Outlook Database, October 2020

Challenges are still present. Singapore faces economic struggles such as slower exports due to Chinese economic lockdown, US-China trade war, lagging construction sector and a tight monetary policy. Although per capita wealth in Singapore is amongst the highest in the region, unemployment has appeared due to structural economic changes (outsourcing of low-skilled work). Singapore’s annual average unemployment rate reached 2.3% in 2019 and is expected to maintain at this rate in 2020 (2.5%) and in 2021 (2.4%), despite the negative economic impact of the COVID-19. Social challenges include rising income inequality and social discontent caused by overpopulation, high competition for employment and housing, lack of skilled labor, an ageing population, and distrust towards immigration.

As the Singapore economy prepares to transit to Phase 3 – which Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said could last for a year or more – and more economic activities resume to normalcy, GDP growth and inflation numbers are likely to revert to positive territory in 2021. However, economic activity in these sectors is not likely to return to pre-Covid-19 levels even by end-2021. The construction sector is likely to recover from a low base this year, although construction activity will continue to be dampened by the implementation of safe management measures. Mr. Edward Robinson, the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s deputy managing director, hinted at no change in the central bank’s policy stance of a zero per cent appreciation of the trade-weighted Singapore dollar. The monetary authority of Singapore already takes into account the possible alternative scenarios and outcomes for the projections going forward and the next policy meeting and decision are on the works.

For 2021, the economy is projected to return to growth amid improved growth outlook for key external economies, as well as a further easing of global travel restrictions. Trade-related services sectors such as wholesale trade is expected to benefit from the pick-up in external demand. At the same time, the manufacturing sector may to continue to expand, with growth in the electronics and precision engineering clusters boosted by robust semiconductor demand from the 5G market. Likewise, growth in the information and communications, and finance and insurance sectors are expected to remain healthy. Aviation- and tourism-related sectors such as air transport and accommodation are projected to see a gradual recovery in air passenger volumes and visitor arrivals. Improved visitor arrivals and consumer sentiment will in turn benefit consumer-facing sectors like retail and food services.

Key Growing Sectors and Industries in Singapore

Singapore is one of the world’s most prosperous nations, with a business-friendly regulatory environment and low unemployment rate. Despite an active parliamentary opposition, it has been ruled by one party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), for many decades. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has led the government since 2004 and will oversee a PAP leadership transition before the next parliamentary election, which is slated for 2021. Although certain civil liberties remain restricted, the PAP has championed economic liberalization and international trade. Services dominate the economy, but Singapore is also a major manufacturer of electronics and chemicals and operates one of the world’s largest ports. Principal exports include integrated circuits, refined petroleum, and computers.

Additionally, Singapore’s economic freedom score is 89.4, making it the world’s freest economy in the 2020 Index. Its overall score is unchanged from 2019, with a small improvement in the business freedom score offset by a small decline in the government integrity score. Singapore is ranked 1st among 42 countries in the Asia–Pacific region, and its overall score is well above the regional and world averages. Singapore has ranked among the freest economies in the world over the life of the Index but gains the top spot this year for the first time. Its sustained extraordinary performance has resulted in one of the world’s highest per capita incomes and solid rates of GDP growth. Singapore is the only country in the world that is considered economically free in every Index category. Ongoing restrictions on civil liberties, while not directly affecting the country’s score, may have an indirect impact on economic freedom and remain a concern. Singapore’s economic achievement is based on sound macroeconomic policies aimed at maintaining a conducive environment for long-term investment.

Singapore is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most business-friendly countries. In 2019, the government introduced measures to decrease the ratio of foreign workers to local employees, threatening labor supply in the services sector. The government funds generous housing, transport, and health care subsidy programs and influences other prices through regulation and state-linked enterprises. Foreign and domestic businesses are treated equally under the law, and nearly all sectors of the economy are open to 100 percent foreign ownership. The sophisticated financial sector is robust, and the number of foreign banks in the market has steadily increased.

Singapore’s economy is highly industrialized. The industrial sector represents 24.5% of GDP and employs 15.2% of the population. Electronics and petrochemicals dominate the industry, which also includes biomedical sciences, logistics, and transport engineering. Also, the economy relies on electrical machinery, petrochemicals, trade, finance, and business services. The agricultural sector is almost non-existent except for cultivation of orchids, vegetables, and fish for aquariums. Its contribution to GDP (0%) and employment (0.5%) is negligible, although the country’s 2019 intends to increase food resilience by developing a new aquaculture center.

The services sector contributes 70.4% of GDP and employs 84.1% of the active population. It is dominated by trade, business services, transportation, communications, and financial services. As a regional commercial hub, the Port of Singapore is one of the most important in the world. It ranks second in total volume of container transshipment traffic after Hong Kong. The 2019 Singapore Budget aims to reduce the foreign worker quota by tightening the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC) or proportion of foreign workers employed by firms. The sector has slowed down and its growth rate in 2019 was 1.2%. The growth in transport and storage services, health and social services sectors did not compensate the decline in the recreation and personal services, and the education services.

Breakdown of Economic Activity by Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment by Sector (in % of Total Employment) 0.7 15.2 84.1
Value Added (in % of GDP) 0 24.5 70.4
Value Added (Annual % Change) 5.1 -0.7 1.3

Source: World Bank – Latest available data.

According to International Monetary Fund – World Economic Outlook Database 2019, Singapore ranks top fifteen and sixteen top importers and exporters of the world, respectively. Main exports include electrical machinery and equipment, petroleum oil and biochemical resources, transportation, and financial services. Imports, on the other hand, were led by integrated circuits, refined petroleum, electrical machinery/equipment, business services, transportation, and license fees.

390.3 Bn USD of Products Exported in 2019
Electronic integrated circuits and micro assemblies 19.70%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous… 11.80%
Turbojets, turbo-propellers, and other gas… 3.70%
Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought… 3.00%
Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line… 2.90%
Automatic data processing machines and units… 1.90%
Diodes, transistors, and similar semiconductor… 1.90%
Parts of aircraft and spacecraft of heading 8801… 1.70%
Beauty or make-up preparations and preparations… 1.60%
Polymers of ethylene, in primary forms 1.40%


359.0 Bn USD of Products Imported in 2019
Electronic integrated circuits and micro assemblies 16.90%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous… 12.80%
Petroleum oils and oils obtained from bituminous… 6.70%
Turbojets, turbo-propellers and other gas… 5.40%
Electrical apparatus for line telephony or line… 3.20%
Gold, incl. gold plated with platinum, unwrought… 2.80%
Parts of aircraft and spacecraft of heading 8801… 2.20%
Automatic data processing machines and units… 2.00%
Parts and accessories (other than covers, carrying… 1.60%

Source: Comtrade, 2020, sum of the percentages may be smaller/greater than 100%.

Main export destinations include China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, United States, and Indonesia while most imports arrived from China, United States, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and South Korea.  The greatest risk to Singapore trade was the U.S. exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January 2017; however, a formal signing ceremony excluding the U.S. was held in March 2018. Trade and exports also fell in 2018 due to global trade tension, weakening demand for electronics. However, in December 2019, exports showed a recovery thanks to a surge in pharmaceutical shipments. In the recent report of International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization, records show that there is a decline in oil trade – 39.5 per cent year on year – amid lower oil prices and weaker demand than a year ago. Non-oil trade, on the other hand, bounced back in the third quarter, recording a 0.8 per cent year-on-year growth. Meanwhile, total services trade declined by 18.5 per cent in the third quarter, improving slightly from the 22.4 per cent contraction recorded in the previous period. It reached $111.9 billion for the three-month period, with exports dipping 17.8 per cent while imports were down 19.2 per cent.

According to the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Singapore, there continues to be downside risks such as US-China trade tensions and uncertainty over the Covid-19 situation globally in 2020 and 2021, which may impact the recovery trajectory of Singapore’s key trade partners and in turn weigh on demand and global trade. However, WTO highlighted that it expects global trade to rebound to 7.2 per cent in 2021 ad higher expected oil prices in 2021 may provide some support to Singapore’s oil trade and total trade for the year as a result.

With the newly signed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade pact, the world’s largest trade agreement, Singapore is on the right way to international trade growth and recovery. The agreement will eliminate tariffs for about 92 per cent of good traded among the members, which are the 10 ASEAN members plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. Furthermore, RCEP allows businesses to source for inputs from any of the other 14 members, without restrictions.

Singapore Imports and Exports by Country in 2019

Singapore Imports by Country Value Singapore Exports by Country Value
China $49.03B China $51.62B
United States $43.94B Hong Kong $44.38B
Malaysia $41.69B Malaysia $41.15B
Japan $19.37B United States $34.40B
Indonesia $15.61B Indonesia $27.36B
South Korea $13.70B Japan $17.63B
France $12.17B Thailand $15.35B
United Arab Emirates $11.52B South Korea $15.21B
Germany $9.91B Vietnam $12.96B
United Kingdom $8.85B India $11.44B
Saudi Arabia $8.40B Australia $11.30B
Thailand $7.66B Netherlands $8.59B
Philippines $7.10B Philippines $8.53B
Switzerland $6.69B Germany $5.84B
India $6.37B United Kingdom $4.67B
Australia $6.26B Belgium $4.47B
Qatar $5.37B France $4.41B
Russia $4.72B Panama $4.18B
Italy $4.15B United Arab Emirates $4.06B
Iraq $3.94B Myanmar $3.15B
Vietnam $3.65B Bangladesh $3.05B
Hong Kong $3.49B Marshall Islands $2.88B

Source: United Nations ComTrade, 2020

Singapore Services Imported and Exported in 2019

161.5 bn USD of services imported in 2019 145.8 bn USD of services exported in 2019
Other business services 31.28% Transportation 29.39%
Transportation 27.05% Other business services 27.49%
Travel 14.76% Travel 12.99%
Royalties and license fees 11.46% Financial services 11.28%
Computer and information services 6.93% Computer, information services 6.99%
Insurance services 3.96% Royalties and license fees 5.07%
Financial services 2.59% Insurance services 4.03%
Communications services 1.13% Communications services 1.29%
Cultural and recreational services 0.38% Construction services 0.71%
Construction services 0.31% Cultural and recreational services 0.57%
Government services 0.14% Government services 0.19%

Source: United Nations Statistics Division, 2020

Growing Sectors in Singapore

Main Investing Countries 2018, in % Main Invested Sectors 2018, in %
United States 16.6 Financial and Insurance Services 53.4
Cayman Islands 12.3 Wholesale & Retail Trade 15.7
British Virgin Islands 7.4 Manufacturing 12.8
The Netherlands 7 Professional & Technical Services 10.1
Japan 6.6 Real estate 2.6
Luxembourg 6 Information and communications 2.1
United Kingdom 5.5 Transport and storage 1.9
Bermuda 4.4
Switzerland 3.5
Hong Kong 3.5

Source: Statistics Singapore – Latest available data.

  1. Machinery, Advanced Manufacturing – Singapore is a globally competitive manufacturing hub supported by its strategic location offering easy accessibility to regional and international markets, as well as a pro-business environment and highly skilled workforce. The government works closely with the industry to capture opportunities from new business models, creating and enabling infrastructure and propelling talent development. Sectors electrical machinery and equipment, aerospace, and transportation materials.
  2. Oil industry – Singapore has become one of the most important shipping centers in Asia and is often listed as one of the world’s top three oil trading and refining hubs with a total crude oil refining capacity of 1.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d). In addition, Singapore is the market leader for high-end floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSOs) conversions and jack-up rigs, as well as the regional HQ for most of the key players in the industry. Singapore has established itself as one of the top three global oil trading and global refining hubs.  The country has a strategic location at the crossroads of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, sound financial system, excellent infrastructure, transparent legal system, and a skilled workforce. Singapore has a total crude oil refining capacity of 1.5 million barrels per day (bbl/d).  Its three main refineries are ExxonMobil’s 605,000-bbl/d refinery at Pulau Ayer Chawan, Royal Dutch/Shell’s 500,000-bbl/d refinery on Pulau Bukom and the Singapore Refining Company’s 290,000-bbl/d refinery on Pulau Merlimau.
  3. Aerospace & Logistics – As a leading logistics and supply chain hub, Singapore has robust aviation and maritime capabilities. Lauded as the “Aerospace City of the Future”, Singapore boasts one of Asia’s largest and most diverse eco-systems with over 130 aerospace players. Concurrently, with a strategically positioned global hub seaport connected to 600 ports in over 120 countries, Singapore is the ideal Asian gateway for global leaders in shipping finance, ship broking, risk management and marine insurance. Singapore is the busiest port in the world in terms of shipping tonnage, with more than 130,000 vessel calls annually. It is also a global leader in supply chain management and logistics. According to the latest ranking report of World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index, Singapore has been placed as 7th top performer globally.
  4. Pharmaceutical and Applied Science – Singapore has become Asia’s fastest-growing bio-cluster base, as strategic partnerships between research institutes, corporate laboratories and public hospitals yield new medicines and therapies for regional and global markets. Approximately US$1.1billion2 is spent on biomedical research and development (R&D) annually, so it comes as no surprise that seven of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies – namely Merck, Sanofi, Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson and Abbott – as well as all of the top 10 medical technology providers have located their regional headquarters in Singapore. With precision and reliability being key in the development of medical technology and supplies, Singapore’s strict standards of regulatory requirements and intellectual property (IP) protection ensure it is well-regarded as a trusted base for manufacturers of complex and high quality medical instruments and devices for global markets.
  5. Financial Services – Singapore consistently ranks amongst the top financial centers in Asia and around the world and is an important venue for financiers, according to the Global Financial Centers Index (GFCI) 2018 rankings1. Singapore has established a thriving financial center of international repute, offering unparalleled access to Asian markets and beyond. Its well-established business infrastructure, stable political and economic environment, robust regulatory and corporate governance framework, and liquid and vibrant capital market, continue to attract the world’s leading financial institutions to establish a regional presence in Singapore.

 Top 20 Key Industries in Singapore

Rank Industry/Sector 2016-2017






Exported Value*
1 Electrical machinery and equipment and parts thereof; sound recorders and reproducers, television 10 9 -4 98127085
2 Mineral fuels, mineral oils, and products of their distillation; bituminous substances; mineral 42 22 -14 75273927
3 Machinery, mechanical appliances, nuclear reactors, boilers; parts thereof 6 18 10 58318617
4 Natural or cultured pearls, precious or semi-precious stones, precious metals, metals clad 77 2 -8 18866456
5 Optical, photographic, cinematographic, measuring, checking, precision, medical or surgical 1 8 3 12446600
6 Aircraft, spacecraft, and parts thereof 19 47 1 11891736
7 Plastics and articles thereof 14 14 -3 8505683
8 Organic chemicals 13 12 4 7209819
9 Vehicles other than railway or tramway rolling stock, and parts and accessories thereof -10 9 -1 5383478
10 Essential oils and resinoids; perfumery, cosmetic or toilet preparations 20 23 7 4794349
11 Miscellaneous chemical products 24 3 -16 4350085
12 Commodities not elsewhere specified -36 11 27 4210183
13 Articles of iron or steel -16 23 2 3507235
14 Pharmaceutical products 7 18 9 3190537
15 Beverages, spirits, and vinegar 9 12 -3 2820627
16 Iron and steel 11 22 -10 2631209
17 Articles of leather; saddlery and harness; travel goods, handbags, and similar containers; articles 8 13 7 2138528
18 Clocks and watches and parts thereof 2 8 10 2130578
19 Paper and paperboard; articles of paper pulp, of paper or of paperboard 12 -1 -4 1604060
20 Furniture: bedding, mattresses, mattress supports, cushions and similar stuffed furnishings; -2 11 -1 1282691

*US Dollar in Thousands                             Source: International Trade Center, United Nations Comtrade


Investment Inflows by Countries in Singapore

Based on a recent report published by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (World Investment Report 2020), foreign direct investment inflows to Singapore rose to USD 92 billion in 2019, from USD 79 billion in 2018. This made Singapore as the 5th largest recipient of FDI inflows in the world, after the United States, China, the Netherlands, and Hong Kong. Singapore is also a major investor abroad as its FDI outflows stood at USD 33 billion in 2019. Apparently, Singapore seeks to target and diversify its investment portfolio beyond its usual partners. It is seeking to deviate from the traditional market partners and making trade partnerships to various countries since years ago. The main investors in Singapore are the United States, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and the Netherlands. Financial and insurance activities are by far the main recipient of foreign investment, accounting for 54.5% of all FDI stock.

Singapore has based its economic development on a proactive strategy to attract FDI using its trade openness. Since the first publication of the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking in 2003, the country has always been in the lead until 2018, when it was overtaken by New Zealand. The country maintained the second position in 2020. Being favorable for lending to foreign investors, a simple regulatory system, tax incentives, a high-quality industrial real estate park, political stability and the absence of corruption make Singapore an attractive destination for investment. The country has one of the best regulatory systems of the world for paying taxes (it is fast and cheap) and for enforcing contracts. In 2019, dealing with construction permits was facilitated (in terms of improvement of the risk-based approach to inspections, improvement of the public access to soil information and rationalization of the process of obtaining a building permit).

Foreign Direct Investment 2017 2018 2019
FDI Inward Flow (million USD) 83,604 79,738 92,081
FDI Stock (million USD) 1,393,445 1,536,089 1,697,556
Number of Greenfield Investments* 396 424 397
Value of Greenfield Investments (million USD) 17,116 16,175 6,820

Source: UNCTAD, Latest available data.

Note: * Greenfield Investments are a form of Foreign Direct Investment where a parent company starts a new venture in a foreign country by constructing new operational facilities from the ground up.


2020: U.S. trade in goods with Singapore

Month Exports Imports Balance
January 2020 2,452.90 2,536.60 -83.6
February 2020 2,713.50 1,954.10 759.4
March 2020 2,561.10 2,437.50 123.6
April 2020 2,411.50 3,537.00 -1,125.50
May 2020 1,978.40 3,383.20 -1,404.70
June 2020 2,098.30 2,376.50 -278.2
July 2020 1,864.40 3,342.80 -1,478.50
August 2020 2,087.00 1,986.10 100.8
September 2020 2,185.40 2,153.70 31.7
Total 2020 20,352.50 23,707.50 -3,355.10

Source: United States Census Bureau

NOTE: All figures are in millions of U.S. dollars on a nominal basis, not seasonally adjusted unless otherwise specified. Details may not equal totals due to rounding. Table reflects only those months for which there was trade.

Singapore has been considered for many years by the World Bank as one of the best countries in the world in terms of the ease of doing business. Its second position in the World Bank’s ranking (Doing Business 2018) attests to it. The workforce in Singapore is one of the most qualified in the world, and is composed of many expatriates, which by definition makes it diversified, flexible and very open to international functions, high value-added sectors (such as ICT, finance, chemistry and pharmaceuticals) are very well developed and financial infrastructure (solid banking system), telecommunications and transport are excellent. Additionally, its strategic location at the crossroads of shipping routes and close to major emerging markets (in Asia and in the Middle East) makes it an important hub for regional and international trade and in order to attract more and more FDI, the country is working to maintain an attractive tax regime and offers tax reductions and facilitated loan conditions and other investment incentives. However, disadvantages are still present, including, being incredibly open internationally making it less attractive for investors seeking for targeted growth, its economy becoming very dependent on exports causing it the economy vulnerable to external threats and uncertainties globally and lastly, like all developed countries, the country is facing an ageing population and “soft” growth, forcing the country to find new growth drivers. Additionally, there has been a lack of a lack of transparency in administrative incentives and the non-internationalization of the Singaporean dollar i.e. the use of the SGD outside Singapore for activities unrelated to its real economy. Although Singapore is a free port, tariff protection for industrial enterprises is not granted. Singapore levies high excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco, automobiles, and petroleum products. The preponderant role of semi-public companies can inhibit investment in certain sectors.

Capital Investment

Singapore Exchange (SGX) plays a key role in Asia’s securities and derivatives market, offering the world’s largest offshore market for Asian equities index derivatives. Its markets attract many overseas players, and approximately 40% of listed companies have their origins overseas. The company was formed in 1999 through a consolidation of three Singaporean companies that ran exchanges and clearing services, namely Stock Exchange of Singapore (SES), Singapore International Monetary Exchange (Simex) and Securities Clearing and Computer Services (SCCS). It operates through the following segments: Equities, Fixed Income, Currencies and Commodities, Data, Connectivity & Indices and Corporate. The Fixed Income, Currencies and Commodities segment engages in Provision of fixed income issuer services, trading and clearing services and collateral management. The Equities segment engages in Provision of issuer services, securities trading and clearing, securities settlement and depository management, derivatives trading and clearing and collateral management. The Data, Connectivity & Indices segment engages in Provision of market data, connectivity, and indices services. The Corporate segment is a Non-operating segment comprising corporate activities which are not allocated to the three operating segments. The company was founded on August 21, 1999 and is headquartered in Singapore.

Singapore Exchange – Historical Data in USD

  June 2016 June 2017 June 2018 June 2019 June 2020
Revenue 596.36M 579.19M 637.08M 666.34M 761.10M
Gross Profit 396.78M 388.78M 426.45M 585.94M 657.32M
Operating income 302.20M 296.48M 325.03M 338.07M 408.17M
Income before tax 298.47M 293.66M 325.91M 347.53M 414.26M
Net income 251.11M 243.97M 270.58M 286.46M 340.96M
EBITDA 345.27M 337.80M 370.21M 383.86M 475.19M
Diluted EPS 0.23 0.22 0.25 0.26 0.31
DPS 0.2 0.2 0.22 0.21 0.22
Total Assets 1,568.14M 1,486.44M 1,553.58M 1,576.02M 1,920.71M
Total liabilities 832.89M 736.51M 749.59M 769.75M 1,025.19M
Total equity 735.25M 749.92M 803.98M 806.27M 892.33M
Operating cash flow 313.00M 282.45M 334.29M 307.57M 460.85M

Source: Singapore Exchange Database


On Singapore Exchange August 2020 market statistics report, the securities market turnover jumped 18% year-on-year (y-o-y) to S$28.1 billion; securities daily average value (SDAV) was up 18% y-o-y at S$1.4 billion. Interest in ETFs, particularly the SPDR® Gold Shares ETF and STI ETFs, remained strong. ETF turnover was S$432 million, up 87% y-o-y. Assets under management of SGX-listed ETFs grew 20% y-o-y to S$6 billion.

COVID-19 related developments and the reopening of global economies remained in focus. The cash equity market was more active due to portfolio repositioning after the release of half-year financial results, buoyant US technology stocks and hopes for a viable COVID-19 vaccine. Equity index futures trading eased as volatility of underlying Asian markets returned to more normal levels. Iron ore derivatives volume stayed in an uptrend on China’s economic recovery.

Additionally, SGX launched Asia’s first international REIT futures. The two contracts – the SGX FTSE EPRA Nareit Asia ex-Japan Index Futures and the SGX iEdge S-REIT Leaders Index Futures – together with six SGX FTSE Net Total Return (NTR) Index Futures. The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission has certified the two REIT futures and four of the SGX FTSE NTR Index Futures contracts for sale to US-based clients. Bond listings declined y-o-y from the high base in August 2019 when 60 Fannie Mae mortgage-backed-securities were listed. A total of 53 new bonds raised S$21.9 billion in August 2020. They included the US$1.4 billion Vedanta Holdings Mauritius II Limited senior secured 3-year bonds and the US$1.38 billion AES Panama Generation Holdings, S.R.L. senior secured 10-year notes.

Equity index futures volumes declined 11% y-o-y to 14.9 million contracts as underlying cash equity markets stabilized. The FTSE China A50 index futures traded 8.5 million contracts, down 4% y-o-y, while the Nifty 50 Index futures traded 8% less contracts y-o-y at 1.9 million contracts. The new SGX FTSE Taiwan Index futures volume tripled m-o-m to 352,438 contracts with daily average turnover doubling as participation increased more than 50% to over 90 trading entities. FX derivatives volume increased 7% month-on-month (m-o-m) to 1.8 million contracts. INR/USD futures chalked up a 10% m-o-m rise in trading to 1 million contracts as foreign direct and equity fund inflows to the country buoyed the Indian rupee. Commodities saw a 10% m-o-m gain in volume amid China’s reopening and hedging activity. Iron ore derivatives recorded volume of 2.1 million contracts, up 13% m-o-m as iron ore futures prices flirted with a multi-year high. Trading of rubber futures was up 19% m-o-m due to a pick-up in auto demand as China continued to make progress with its economic recovery.

Securities Market Turnover by Country

FY2020 Q4 FY2021 Q1 Aug 2020 Sep 2020 Oct 2020 FYTD 2021 CYTD 2020 Oct 2019 YoY%
Singapore Companies Volume 68,818 53,833 18,459 16,872 13,716 67,549 217,711 15,396 -11%
Value 78,877 53,473 17,894 17,519 16,700 70,173 235,579 17,032 -2%
Overseas Companies Volume 24,593 41,341 14,874 11,247 9,033 50,374 104,662 5,855 54%
Value 13,909 22,816 9,630 6,244 5,756 28,572 6,385 3,805 51%
China Companies Volume 10,952 11,646 6,105 3,03 5,246 16,892 31,074 1,166 350%
Value 2,013 1,62 623 543 766 2,395 5,362 734 4%
Total Market Turnover Volume 104,362 106,820 39,438 31,152 27,995 134,815 353,447 22,146 25%
Value 94,799 77,918 28,146 24,307 23,222 101,140 297,326 21,571 8%

Source: Singapore Exchange Database

Note: Volume in Million Shares, Value in $Million

Note: FY2020 Q4 refers to Apr – Jun 2020 and FY2021 Q1 refers to Jul – Sep 2020x


Real Estate

In terms of capital flows, 2020 has seen a steep decline in year-on-year transaction volumes. This partly reflects the impact of border closures preventing buyers from travelling, and partly the fact that sellers are refusing to discount asset prices in the hope that markets will quickly rebound once a vaccine is delivered. This year’s investment prospect rankings showed an ongoing preference for regional gateway cities that offer liquid, stable markets, together with reliable sources of domestic demand.

Singapore has emerged as the top investment prospect for property in Asia Pacific, according to a new report from PwC and the Urban Land Institute. This is no mean feat for the land-scarce country, which has experienced several subpar years, ranking as low as 21 in 2017. It is expected to be among the top five sources of active capital in 2021, with investments bound for real estate assets in markets such as Australia, the United Kingdom and China.

Despite the pandemic, the real estate industry in Singapore remains to be a hot target for global companies and investors. According to Dr Beh Swan Gin, chairman of the Singapore Economic Development Board, the year of 2019 recorded US$ 11 billion (S$15.2 billion) in real estate and property investments, 39 per cent more than in 2018, making Singapore a preferred location for foreign investors to tap in Asia’s growth and Singapore’s competitiveness as a hub for manufacturing, innovation and digital activities. Citing Singapore’s strong policy response to the pandemic as reinforcing its safe haven status,

Historical Investment Prospect Rankings

Source: Emerging Trends in Real Estate Asia Pacific 2021 survey

PwC Real Estate Report for APAC projects that real estate investment sales volumes will grow on average by 5 per cent per annum in the longer-term, over 2019-2024, despite a 24 per cent forecast drop year-on-year in 2020. The best-performing sector is expected to be residential, which in the first quarter of 2020 led the investment volume for the first time since the first quarter of 2018, accounting for 51 per cent of the total. Overall residential transactions surged by 68.5 per cent quarter-on-quarter, and while developers bid cautiously for public land sales given the market uncertainties ahead, Colliers reports sustained buyer demand at new condominium launches as well as in landed housing and Good Class Bungalow (GCB) sales. The commercial sector also looks promising. Wright notes that commercial and mixed-use deals made up 72 per cent of the second-quarter tally, as foreign investors picked up sizeable stakes in several central business district (CBD) properties including Alibaba, the parent company of the South China Morning Post, buying a half stake in AXA Tower, and Shun Tak Holdings buying the remaining 30 per cent stake it did not already own in TripleOne Somerset.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change in the real estate industry. Throughout 2020, the success of government efforts across the Asia Pacific to contain the spread of COVID-19 has helped limit its impact on local real estate markets. At the same time, however, there is a sense that asset values have been propped up by a combination of transient factors — government support programs, bank forbearance policies, healthy corporate balance sheets — that are unlikely to last. As the tank runs dry, there is growing conviction among investors that a market correction is inevitable. Reduced consumer demand caused by the global recession inevitably translates to lower demand for space from occupiers. With vacancy rates rising, and investors uncertain as to the depth and length of the slowdown, appetite for new space has weakened. For the right product, however—and in particular for assets with long-term appeal—demand will likely remain strong, especially given the huge amount of institutional capital still on the lookout for core assets in the region.

Private Residential Properties – 2020 – Market at a Glance

Key Indicators Change 2Q2020 3Q2020
Price Index +0.80% 152.6 153.8
Rental Index -0.50% 104.3 103.8
Take-up* +105.30% 1713 3517
Pipeline Supply +2.60% 49090 50369
Vacancy Rate +0.80% 5.4% 6.2%

Source: Singapore Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)

Note: *Figures exclude Executive Condominium (ECs)


Cities Most Likely to See Rental Growth in 2021

Country Ranking
Ho Chi Minh City 5.33
Singapore 5.18
Shenzhen 5.16
Tokyo 5.11
Seoul 5.01
Osaka 4.97
Sydney 4.92
Shanghai 4.89
Guangzhou 4.87
Taipei 4.78
Beijing 4.68
Melbourne 4.67
Chine- second tier cities 4.63
Mumbai 4.60
Bangalore 4.59
Auckland 4.58
Hong Kong 4.57
Bangkok 4.55
New Delhi 4.55
Manila 4.42
Jakarta 4.37
Kuala Lumpur 4.32

Source: Emerging Trends in Real Estate Asia Pacific 2021 survey


Potential sectors and countries that Singapore businesses can look to if they intend to expand overseas

As 2021 approaches, many investors are feeling uncertain about a number of big questions facing the markets currently. Business owners and investors should keep in mind that no matter how strong the economy or how bulletproof the industry, no specific sector can ever claim to be a perfectly safe investment.

Changes in the policy, economic and financial environment, along with the increasing diversity of economic performance and reaction to the pandemic, to lockdowns and re-openings, as well as gradual structural change, calls for geographic and sectoral diversification in asset allocation, as opposed to concentration strategies that have worked well lately. Political trends across most major economies, including both developed and emerging economies, point to limited and gradual policy change rather than radical reform, supporting financial stability and smoother adjustments in relative valuations, as opposed to recent episodes of high volatility amid uncertainty.

Here are the emerging market trends that possible investors can check for 2021 –

  1. Global Equities – Earnings growth expectations positively outweighed any increased valuations. Across regions, it is expected that last quarter of 2021 will generate strong growth and double returns. Cyclical companies will perform better than the benchmark current weighting. Possible sectors include Basic Materials, Consumer Cyclical, Financial Services, and Real Estate. Underweight stance for defensive sectors such as Consumer Defensive, Healthcare, and Utilities.
  2. G10 currencies (ten of the most heavily traded currencies in the world – AUD, CAD, EUR, JPY, NZD, NOK, GBP, SEK, CHF and USD) – Mild appreciation in 2021. Duration will see a struggle between strong global growth and ample liquidity. The Chinese yuan is the top G10 currency performer this year, having risen around 6.5% against the USD YTD
  3. Commodities – Commodities are set to a bull market next year. Silver, copper, gold and natural could surge in 2021. For gold, Goldman Sachs expects prices to average $1,836 an ounce this year and then climb to an average $2,300 an ounce in 2021. Silver is likely to average $22 this year and $30 next year. SGX commodities allow both investors and finance managers to position themselves against major swings in commodities prices for both investment and operational purposes. Iron ore, steel, freight, and rubber are products that may perform well next year.
  4. Securitized Credit (Mortgage-Backed Securities & Asset-Backed Securities) – Federal Reserve will stay on hold until 2023 so investors are advised to utilize the portfolio balance approach. High yielding, lower-rated sectors may outperform less risky assets.

Analysts from Morgan Stanley recommended the investors to follow the early-cycle playbook, keeping in mind that the market outlook will be relatively “normal”, trust the recovery and favor early-cycle outperformers. Coming out of a recession, analysts think it pays to buy stocks with the lowest expectations, that means owning small-caps over large-caps. Smaller companies typically lead coming out of recessions, and additional fiscal stimulus measures would likely be more supportive for smaller firms. The early-cycle playbook also favors high-quality cyclicals, such as U.S. and European financials, materials, and segments hard hit by COVID-19 lockdowns, such as travel and leisure.

“Cyclicality” Valuation (15Y percentile)

Source: Bloomberg, Morgan Stanley Research; Note: Commodity FX here is the average 15-year percentile of AUD, CAD and NOKE versus USD.


COVID-19 has reshaped ASEAN’s digital landscape with many governments and businesses being forced to accelerate towards a digital economy. The pandemic has reshaped ASEAN’s digital landscape with many governments and businesses in the region being forced to accelerate the transition towards a digital economy. Here are the sectors that are on the watchlist for 2021 –

  1. Information Technology – Telecommuting/Remote Working and 5G networks

Technology will play a leading role in the Asia-Pacific region in not only improving resilience to disasters, such as COVID-19, but also to increase the uptake of digital services, tools, and solutions. Online education and telemedicine are examples of new sectors that have proliferated during lockdowns, and there has been an amplification of demand for telecommuting/ remote working and online conferencing software platforms and services, such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Skype, among others. Working remotely might continue to be a new norm in ASEAN with most businesses resorting to flexible work schedules that allows half of the workforce to work from home while the rest work at the office. Given the increasing reliance on remote work connectivity during the pandemic and the need for ASEAN countries to improve their existing telecommunications infrastructure, this will be an industry requiring major foreign investment.

  1. Consumer, E-commerce

Electronic commerce is the most lucrative investment for new entrepreneurs. The two giants of this industry, Amazon, and Alibaba, gives an apparent proof for entrepreneurs and business owners to dive in and explore the digital world. The pandemic has changed the behavior, attitude, and purchasing habits of consumers and many of these are set to remain post-pandemic. Although purchases are currently centered around basic needs, a growing number of these transactions are done through digital commerce.

  1. Healthcare

There have been significant advancements in the healthcare sector, enabling humans to live healthier lives with increased lifespans. However, the regular outbreak of global epidemics (like Ebola or Coronavirus) or seasonal recurrences of the flu and colds, reminds us of our dependence on the healthcare sector. Despite preventative measures including vaccinations, the world will keep seeing new diseases requiring healthcare pharmaceuticals. Healthcare will be a relatively safe sector for decades. Best value healthcare stocks in the US market are Bio-Rad Laboratories (BIO), Biogen Inc. (BIIB), and CVS Health Corp (CVS) while healthcare stocks listed on Singapore Exchange are Tianjin Zhongxin Pharma, Haw Par and iX Biopharma.

Ease of Doing Business Rankings 2020

Economy Global Rank Starting a Business Dealing with Construction Permits Getting Electricity Registering Property Paying Taxes Trading across Borders
New Zealand 1 1 7 48 2 9 63
Singapore 2 4 5 19 21 7 47
Hong Kong SAR 3 5 1 3 51 2 29
Denmark 4 45 4 21 11 8 1
Korea, Rep. 5 33 12 2 40 21 36
United States 6 55 24 64 39 25 39
Georgia 7 2 21 42 5 14 45
United Kingdom 8 18 23 8 41 27 33
Norway 9 25 22 44 15 34 22
Sweden 10 39 31 10 9 31 18
Lithuania 11 34 10 15 4 18 19
Malaysia 12 126 2 4 33 80 49
Mauritius 13 20 8 28 23 5 72
Australia 14 7 11 62 42 28 106
Taiwan, China 15 21 6 9 20 39 61
United Arab Emirates 16 17 3 1 10 30 92
North Macedonia 17 78 15 68 48 37 32
Estonia 18 14 19 53 6 12 17
Latvia 19 26 56 61 25 16 28
Finland 20 31 42 24 34 10 37

Source: World Bank Report 2020


The ease of doing business ranking compares economies with one another; the ease of doing business scores benchmark economies with respect to regulatory best practice, showing the proximity to the best regulatory performance on each Doing Business indicator. The table shows the top 20 countries where one can start a business with ease.

Putting up a business can be intimidating as investor and entrepreneurs have a wide range of countries to choose from. One should carefully consider the location before expanding overseas especially when large amount of investment is involved. Before starting any business, entrepreneurs first think of a proper location to set up their business.



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