From its towering "supertree" vertical gardens to a Formula 1night race, Singapore is known for many attractions. Underground space, however, is not one of them. But that may soon change, as the city-state prepares to unveil an Underground Master Plan in 2019. With some 5.6 million people in an area three-fifths the size of New York City - and with the population estimated to grow to 6.9 million by 2030 - the island nation is fast running out of space. Singapore has been reclaiming land for decades, but that is increasingly unsustainable due to rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change. So, the city is going underground. Singapore has already moved some infrastructure and utilities below ground, including train lines, retail, pedestrian walkways, a five-lane highway and air-conditioning cooling pipes. It also stores fuel and ammunition underground.
Now, the city wants to go further. "Given Singapore's limited land, we need to make better use of our surface land and systematically consider how to tap our underground space for future needs," said Ler Seng Ann, a group director at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The Underground Master Plan will feature pilot areas, with ideas including data centres, utility plants, bus depots, a deep-tunnel sewerage system, warehousing and water reservoirs. There are no plans to move homes or offices below ground. Singapore joins only a handful of cities that are mapping their subterranean space, said Peter Stones, a senior engineer with the consultancy Arup, which did a study for URA comparing its use of underground space to other cities.
Free trade agreements signed in 2018
Singapore signed three major free trade agreements (FTAs) this year, which are expected to progressively remove tariffs on Singapore products entering the European Union, as well as eliminated import tariffs on trade with countries such as Mexico and Canada, which the Republic had no trade agreements with. Over the years, Singapore has forged a network of over 22 implemented agreements.
Singapore capitalising on growing fintech remittance industry New high-tech players with their low fees and virtually instant mobile transactions are shaping up as one of the most disruptive forces in the financial industry. And Singapore is capitalising heavily on this trend, buoyed by its large migrant workforce and a sizeable contingent of Singaporeans working overseas and expatriates posted here, said industry observers. People here sent around US$6.2 billion (S$8.5 billion) overseas last year, according to World Bank estimates. This does not include remittances coming into Singapore. Singapore has become the fifth biggest remittance market in the Asia-Pacific, after Hong Kong, Australia, Japan and Malaysia, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development in May.
Global economy poised to feel pain of trade war
While 2018 was the year trade wars broke out, 2019 will be the year the global economy feels the pain. Bloomberg's Global Trade Tracker is softening amid a fading rush to front-load export orders ahead of threatened tariffs. And volumes are tipped to slow further even as the US and China seek to resolve their trade spat, with firms warning of ongoing disruption. Financial markets have already taken a hit. Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimates that the trade war news has accounted for a net drop of 6 per cent in the S&P 500 this year. China's stock market has lost US$2 trillion in value in 2018 and is languishing in a bear market. Recent data underscore concerns that trade will be a drag on American growth in 2019.
The once-stodgy remittance market has burst into life as increasing numbers of companies - from start-ups to legacy banks - fight to get a slice of the booming market in international money transfers. They are using a variety of ways to set themselves apart from the competition, including making their cost structures transparent and allowing customers to send money with a tap on their mobile phones.
Look ahead 2019: 3 things to watch out for in Asia
Firstly, China-US ties likely to remain fraught.
Even if China and the United States do reach a deal in March that reduces trade tensions, bilateral relations will not get better in the new year for the world's two largest economies.
Secondly, Naruhito is likely to continue Emperor Akihito's life work
Emperor Akihito will be the first Japanese monarch in 200 years to abdicate the throne when he steps down on April 30, with his elder son Naruhito taking over as monarch the next day.
Lastly, an uphill battle for Modi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has travelled the world to raise India's profile, ushered in one of the biggest reforms of modern-day India with a goods and services tax, and presided over one of the world's fastest-growing economies.
Singapore’s growth could cool on global trends next year
Singapore’s economy is expected to grow by 3 per cent to 3.5 per cent for 2018, in an upgraded estimate from the Ministry of Trade and Industry. But official economists have a more uncertain take on the year ahead, with a forecast of 1.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent for 2019. The Business Times takes a look at the latest data behind the cooling sentiment.
High net worth, mass affluent offer private banks best potential
Private banks enjoyed robust net inflows in 2018, but risk appetite has turned cautious in the wake of the market downdraft and worries over the fallout from US-China trade tensions. There is a silver lining to the market volatility, however. Bankers report healthy inflows into discretionary portfolio management (DPM) services where investment decisions are taken out of clients' hands. A number of banks are also capitalising on expansion into Asia's burgeoning wealth markets. These include DBS Bank which completed the acquisition of ANZ's retail and wealth management business earlier this year. Bank of Singapore (BOS) partnered SMBC Trust Bank and expects to raise its profile in the Japanese high net worth and ultra-wealthy segments.
Though the global electronics cycle is easing from its peak, Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) director for semiconductors Pee Beng Kong highlighted bright spots ahead, with investments made in 2017 and 2018 - by firms such as AAC, ams, RF360, Soitec, Siltronic, SSMC and Micron - expected to continue ramping up in the coming quarters. The US-China trade war has yet to take its toll, he said. Far from their heyday being over, the electronics and semiconductors sectors have been growing as pillars of Singapore manufacturing, he said. Output in the sectors had a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 5 per cent and 8 per cent respectively between 2008 and 2017, increasing their share of manufacturing output from 27 per cent to 38 per cent, and from 15 per cent to 27 per cent respectively over the period.
As manufacturing slows, diverse factors may drive 2019 growth
As clouds of global uncertainty show no sign of lifting and Singapore's manufacturing industry - its erstwhile growth driver - continues to cool from a once red-hot pace, it may seem unclear where the country should look to for growth in 2019. Still, economists see potential in sectors both old and new, with growth staying relatively resilient in the face of weaker external demand and allowing the possibility of further monetary tightening ahead. Compared to this year's 3 to 3.5 per cent range, the official growth estimate for 2019 is 1.5 to 3.5 per cent, with most economists expecting it to come in within 2.5 to 3 per cent.
Singapore's overall, core inflation both ease in November
Singapore's headline or overall inflation fell to 0.3 per cent in November, a six-month low, as private transport costs fell for the fifth month in a row this year. The drop in the consumer price index, which measures the cost increase of all items, is the first in three months. Since August, it had remained at 0.7 per cent. But last month, it eased on the back of smaller increases in services costs and in prices of electricity and gas, and retail items, offsetting a slower pace of decline in accommodation costs. Core inflation, which strips out accommodation and private transport costs, also slowed, to 1.7 per cent from 1.9 per cent in October, a joint statement from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said. Both overall and core inflation came in under economists' expectations of 0.6 per cent and 1.9 per cent respectively, according to consensus forecasts compiled by Bloomberg.