October 5, 2018 / 9:16 AM / 14 days ago

Trade worries hang over Singapore central bank as some analysts eye tightening

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore’s central bank faces a quandary.

A view of the Monetary Authority of Singapore's headquarters in Singapore June 28, 2017. Picture taken June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Only a slim majority in a Reuters poll of economists predict a tightening at its policy review next week, with the bank seen trying to balance the risks to growth and inflation amid global trade frictions.

Eleven of 20 analysts polled expect the Monetary Authority of Singapore to replicate a tightening of policy seen in April, its first in six years, when it issues its statement on October 12 at 8 a.m. (0000 GMT).

But others are wary of the fallout from a tariff dispute between two of Singapore’s top trading partners - the United States and China - and see this as enough reason for policymakers to stand pat given they have long-flagged the risks it poses to the global trading and financial hub.

In the latest escalation of the row, U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods kicked in last week, prompting Beijing to retaliate with additional tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. products.

“I think they (MAS) would rather keep their powder dry at this time,” said Sian Fenner, senior Asia economist at Oxford Economics.

“Things are holding up quite well but as we go into 2019 we will start seeing a drag from these tariffs. ..and for Singapore that can have a huge impact on economic growth.”

The MAS manages monetary policy by making changes to the exchange rate, rather than interest rates, letting the Singapore dollar rise or fall against the currencies of its main trading partners within an undisclosed policy band based on its nominal effective exchange rate (NEER).

The 11 analysts who are penciling in a tightening expect the MAS to slightly increase the slope of the policy band, leaving its other two levers - the band’s mid-point and width - unchanged.

The poll results include five additional responses to an earlier poll published on September 28, which showed 60 percent of analysts expect tightening.

The government’s advance estimate of third-quarter gross domestic product, due at the same time, is expected to show GDP expanded 4.9 pct from the previous three months on an annualized basis, up from 0.6 percent in the second quarter, according to the median forecast in a Reuters survey.

On a year-on-year basis, GDP likely grew 2.5 percent, down from 3.9 pct in April-June.

A number of economists cited price pressures as a reason in favor of further policy tweaks, with the central bank’s measure of core inflation up at a near four-year high of 1.9 percent.

“Although the ongoing US-China trade tensions pose downside risks to the external growth outlook, the Singapore economy is expected to expand at a moderate pace with core inflation heading slightly above its long-term average towards the end of the year,” said economists at ANZ, one of the bank’s expecting further tightening.

Reporting by John Geddie; Editing by Shri Navaratnam

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