Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How The Weaker Singapore Dollar Affects Our Life?

By now, most of us would have realised that the Singapore dollar is weakening especially against the US dollar. 2 years ago, the exchange rate for USD/SGD is $1 US dollar to $1.22 Singapore dollar. Today, it is close to S$1.40 per US dollar. In laymen terms, this means we who are in Singapore, would require more money to buy the same US goods 2 years ago.

It was reported last week in the news that the Singapore dollar outlook is worst since the Asian Financial Crisis. The Asian financial crisis in 1997 was one which many people in Asia would remember. Stock markets plunged, currencies devalued to extremely low levels and jobs were lost. So how will the weaker Singapore dollar affect us this time? Will we see another Asian financial crisis?

When I was in University taking my degree in Economics, I had to research and write on how MAS conducts its monetary policy in Singapore. Currency movements certainly have impacts in our economy and it will surely affect our lives as we use money every single say. The depreciating of the Singapore dollar definitely signifies that something is happening. How bad and how long is still unknown.

An Asian Financial Crisis all over again?

The Asian financial crisis was triggered by the depreciation of the Thai Bhat and it quickly affected other major currencies in Asia including Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and also Singapore. In the chart below, it shows the USD to SGD exchange rate. As we can see, the Singapore dollar depreciates against the US dollar during all major financial crisis. The 1997 Asian financial crisis was the worst as seen by the spike followed by the 2008 global financial crisis and also the recently sovereign debt crisis which saw the European region having trouble.

Chart of USD/SGD from

Fast forward to now, it seems like the Singapore dollar is depreciating at a much faster rate than the 2012 sovereign debt crisis and almost similar to the 2008 global financial crisis now. The depreciating of the Singapore dollar just means that more people are selling the currency than buying it. This was partly driven by the data showing the slowdown in China, Singapore's largest trading partner. Investors confidence in the Asian region is shaken.

Why the Singapore dollar is depreciating?

The Singapore dollar has been strong for the past few years in an effort to combat inflation. Singapore adopts an exchange rate policy instead of an interest rate policy. This has been the case since 1981. The primarily objective of this policy is to maintain price stability and sustainable economic growth. The appreciation of the S$ dollar in the past has made it more expensive for foreigners to buy Singapore’s assets and at the same time increase export prices thus slowing down the economy and bringing down inflation.

Inflation has slowed down significantly and MAS said in January that it will slow down the appreciation of the Singapore dollar too. This has led to the Singapore dollar depreciating to what we see now. However, we have to note that our neighbours currencies are depreciating at a faster rate than us. Malaysia and Indonesia both have their currencies weakening for the past few months. If our currency stays strong, we'll lose our export competitiveness as goods in neighbouring becomes cheaper for international buyers.

How the depreciating of the Singapore dollar affects us? 

A strong local currency indicates a strong economy with high productivity growth and high savings rate. A weaker local currency indicates the opposite. The US economy is recovering and money is definitely flowing back into the US now. Apart from all the economic theory, let us take a look at how a weaker Singapore dollar will affect us directly?

Higher prices of import goods

With a weaker currency, importing goods from other countries especially the US would become more expensive. Singapore's top few largest trading partners includes China, Malaysia and United States. While our currency has depreciated against the Yuan and the US dollar, Malaysian Ringgit has depreciated at a much faster rate than the Singapore dollar.

A lot of us in Singapore also like to go online to buy stuff and some are businesses based overseas. A lot of these online shopping websites which are based overseas use the US dollar as their base currency. It'll be more expensive for us to do online shopping now.

Property Price Drop

Property prices in most Asian countries have been rising over the past few years. Singapore too was one of the hot property market places. When the market was bullish on Asia and bearish the U.S. dollar, the Singapore dollar did exceptionally well. Now, its the opposite. 

Property prices will drop mainly due to the increase in interest rates. The spike in interest rates is attributed to expectations of further currency weakness. Think of it this way, when Singapore's currency is expected to weaken, it reduces the attractiveness for people to buy Singapore government bonds. Interest rates need to be pushed higher since investors need more incentive to hold onto the local currency. 

During the Asian financial crisis in 1998, property prices dropped about 40% over a one year period. The government of Singapore also took drastic measures to cool the property market in May 1996. If those cooling measures were not implemented prior to the crisis, it could have been worse. Currently, the Singapore government has also implemented cooling measures to cool the hot property market. I would be expecting property prices to drop further as its only the beginning now. 

Interest rates have been rising but still at a low currently. As seen below, the increase in interest rates has always been accompanied by a drop in prices of properties. Interest rates (3 month SIBOR) have risen above 1% as at 24th March 2015.

No matter what happens, we can always be prepared for any situation which is to come. Being prudent in our finances, having emergency funds set aside and not taking on too much debt would ensure that we do not get into serious financial problems. 

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  1. one note. why is it i saw many USD appreciation that is not in a major crisis against the SGD. so a USD appreciation leads to a financial crisis? thanks.

    1. Hi Kyith,

      Currency movement may not lead to a financial crisis but all currency movements show us that something is happening. A big movement may lead to a crisis because individuals and businesses get affected too fast and they could not react in time. That is what we're seeing now, currency movement plus interest rates movement. It is going fast too.

    2. i see. i always thought that currency and interest rate are suppose to be moving.

    3. They do always move but too big movement will cause imbalance in the economy. MAS is suppose to come in to stabilise the movement but so far they just let it depreciate. The next monetary policy direction in April should see some action from MAS.

  2. Is this why the SSBs are timed to launch soon?

    1. Hi E H,

      I have no idea why SSBs are launching at this time. The SSBs will definitely give the govt more money. Bonds are debt instrument and it is a way for the govt to raise money. They will use it for what purpose that I'm not too sure.