Factory output expands 5.3 per cent but volatile biomed sector dips

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Manufacturers end year on high note with factory output growing 5.3%

Manufacturers in Singapore are ending the year on a high, with the strengthening global economy lifting demand last month.

There is likely to be more of the same robust growth next year, though economists believe the pace of expansion will slow.

Factory output expanded 5.3 per cent in November over the same month last year, according to data out yesterday.

This was a strong showing but still came in below economist forecasts of an 8.1 per cent increase, largely because of a production dip in the volatile biomedical sector. If biomed manufacturing was excluded, overall factory output would have gone up 13.9 per cent.

United Overseas Bank economist Francis Tan said yesterday: "It is without doubt that another month of strong production numbers in November continues the optimism surrounding the recovery story in Singapore's manufacturing industries."

Manufacturing, which makes up a fifth of the economy, has been a standout performer this year. While biomed struggled, most segments continued to record strong expansion, including electronics manufacturing, which has been a key driver of growth this year.

Electronics output expanded 27.6 per cent in November over the same month a year earlier, as the semiconductors, computer peripherals and infocomms and consumer electronics segments posted strong growth.

Precision engineering, which benefited from the pick-up in electronics demand, grew 19.9 per cent year-on-year last month, showed Economic Development Board figures yesterday. However, some manufacturers fared less well. Biomed production shrank 23.3 per cent year-on-year, largely due to a 31.1 per cent slide in pharmaceutical output.

Output in the transport engineering cluster fell 8.3 per cent year-on-year, dragged down by declines in the land transport and marine and offshore engineering segments.

Mr Tan noted that while most manufacturing segments are doing well, some caution is warranted.

"Although the growth in the manufacturing sector has become more broad-based, the growth rate in the semiconductor segment may be slower due to the high base effects of 2017," he said.

Separately, data out yesterday showed inflation remain subdued in November despite prices for several items such as healthcare, transport and education ticking up.

The consumer price index - the main measure of inflation - grew 0.6 per cent last month from a year earlier, according to the Department of Statistics. The biggest gains in consumer prices came from transport and education, which saw 2.6 per cent rises year-on-year.

Private road transport inflation, in particular, rose to 4.1 per cent last month, mainly due to an increase in car prices.