Business investment into Singapore surges to seven-year high

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Business investment commitments into Singapore jumped nearly 40% last year to a seven-year high, far more than expected as some key sectors bet on rising demand, a government agency said.

Commitments for investments in fixed assets such as facilities, machinery and other equipment surged to S$15.2 billion ($11.3 billion) in 2019, well above a forecast range of S$8-10 billion, according to Economic Development Board (EDB) data.

The numbers reflect Singapore’s strong fundamentals, companies’ confidence in the city-state and its strategic position in a fast growing Asia, EDB Chairman Beh Swan Gin said at a briefing.

He attributed the growth to companies in the semiconductor and chemical sectors committing to make investments in preparation for an eventual upturn that they are expecting in the coming years.

Some chipmakers have started expecting a recovery from the industry downturn, helped by a pick up in the smartphone market.

The rapid growth of the digital sector in Singapore also helped as companies such as Sea Ltd SE.N and ride-hailing firm Grab expanded, and traditional businesses grew their technology teams.

A separate measure that tracks business spending on the likes of wages and rents climbed to S$9 billion, up 45% from a year earlier.

Singapore’s economy expanded at its slowest pace in a decade last year, with the export-oriented nation hit hard by the trade war between the United States and China.

Still, months of anti-government protests in rival Asian finance hub Hong Kong have increased Singapore’s relative allure.

Tycoons have switched money, business conferences have moved, and some wealth managers have scrapped plans to open offices in the Chinese-ruled city in favor of the Southeast Asian nation, Reuters has reported.

Beh said the rise in numbers “was not a consequence” of what is happening in Hong Kong. He added there had been some movement of functions and individuals to Singapore from Hong Kong.

“It is not a wholesale move, but some marginal moves,” he said.

Singapore, which is trying to establish itself as a global hub for the tech industry, estimates the investments will create some 32,814 jobs, of which around half are “digital jobs”.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Mark Potter