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Economy

Singapore financial system solid amid 'dire' economy: central banker

Monetary Authority's Menon warns recovery will be 'slow and uneven'

Ravi Menon, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, delivers a speech in 2016.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- Singapore's financial system remains robust and resilient even as the economy suffers its most severe downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic, central bank chief Ravi Menon said on Thursday.

Data this week showed that the trade-reliant economy plunged into recession in the second quarter after contracting by a record 41.2%.

There was substantial uncertainty over the global economic outlook, the Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) managing director told a news conference after the central bank's annual report was released.

"The economic situation remains dire. The recovery is likely to be slow and uneven, weighed down by renewed outbreaks of infection here or abroad," he said.

The MAS maintained its official GDP forecast in the range of -4% to -7% for 2020, keeping Singapore on track for its biggest ever slump.

The central bank eased its monetary policy in March, while the government has pumped in nearly S$100 billion ($72 billion) worth of stimulus and emergency relief measures to blunt the impact of the pandemic and lockdown measures.

"The aim of monetary policy during this crisis is to prevent a broadening of disinflationary pressures that would be destabilising for the economy," Menon said.

Responding to a question on whether Singapore was seeing asset inflows due to the political uncertainty in Hong Kong, Menon reiterated that this was not significant.

"We've seen increased flows into Singapore from a variety of destinations and that includes Hong Kong but the amounts are not large. And if you look at Hong Kong's data, it'll also saw the same thing - there are no significant outflows," he said.

"There are more enquiries as you would expect when there is greater uncertainty in Hong Kong but actual fund flows are not very large. Flow of activity of businesses also is not significant," Menon said.

China imposed a sweeping new security law in Hong Kong this month, adding to worries over the risk of a flight of capital and talent as Beijing tightens its grip on the financial hub.

Menon also said the MAS is working with local economic agencies to discuss gradual repayment of relief measures by businesses and individuals, and hoped to make an announcement around October.

"We want to avoid cliff effects" from a sudden withdrawal of that support, he said.

Singapore has rolled out measures to help individuals and small businesses manage their cash flows and meet their financial obligations, such as loan repayments and insurance premiums.

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