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Singapore exports post surprise fall as electronics decline continues

An aerial view of shipping containers stacked at the port of Singapore February 14, 2012. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo/Files (Reuters)

By Fathin Ungku

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's non-oil exports unexpectedly fell from a year earlier in March as electronics fell for the fourth consecutive month, official data showed on Tuesday.

Exports fell 2.7 percent in March from a year earlier, according to trade agency International Enterprise Singapore, a slower decline than the revised 6.0 contraction the month before but worse than the 0.2 percent increase predicted by economists in a Reuters poll.

Electronics exports fell again in March at 7.1 percent year-on-year, but improved from the 12.7 percent contraction in the month earlier.

"It could be because of spillover from Chinese New Year when they shut down factories for two weeks in February," Selena Ling, chief economist at OCBC bank said. However, she noted the continued decline of electronics is "disconcerting".

The global exports boom has benefited Singapore and other trade-dependent Asian economies in the past year, particularly for makers of electronics products and components such as semiconductors, but growth has started to moderate this year.

Ling said the Singapore central bank's recent policy tightening and the government maintaining growth projections for this year in the upper half of its 1.5 percent to 3.5 percent growth forecast range show policymakers remain confident about the outlook.

Full-year economic growth hit a 3-year high in 2017, thanks to its electronics production. The Monetary Authority of Singapore tightened policy for the first time in six years at its semiannual meeting last week.

On a seasonally adjusted month-on-month basis, exports fell 1.8 percent after contracting a revised 2.7 percent in February.

The poll predicted a 4.7 percent rise.

The city-state's economy is expected to continue growing steadily even as it acknowledged risks from a trade spat between the United States and China.

"The downside risk (to growth) that everyone is looking at is trade tensions in impacting not just trade, but business confidence and investment flows," Ling said.

(Reporting by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Sam Holmes)