Executive Search in Singapore – 2020 Outlook

In Singapore the Glass is Half-Full

Although the recent GDP estimate released pointed to the worst growth performance for the city state since the global financial crisis in 2009, the Singapore Economy is expected to be on a cyclical recovery for 2020.

Growth in the construction sector was supported by public sector construction activities while services producing industries growth was primarily supported by the finance and insurance sector, other service industries and the business service sector.  The wholesale & retail trade sector contracted in tandem with the weakness in exports and retail sales performance.

The Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Managements’ (SIPMM) manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose to 50.1 in December 2019 from 49.8 in the prior month.  This moved the index into expansionary territory for the first time in eight months which indicates that the worst may be over for a sector that had taken a beating from the US-China trade war.

Despite the subdued growth in 2019, analysts expect momentum to pick up gradually in the first quarter of 2020 and forecast output growth at 1.7% in 2020 and 2.7% in 2021.  Manufacturing makes up a fifth of Singapore’s economy. Maybank Kim Eng economists Chua Hak Bin and Lee Ju Ye noted that the sector is likely to see recovery and supply chains are shifting towards the region, which will help drive growth for 2020.

DBS Group Research senior economist forecast that Singapore will register GDP growth of 1.4% this year but note that this is still below its potential growth rate of 2.5%.  The manufacturing sector could be turning around but the outlook will remain challenging in the coming months pending a more pronounced improvement in global economic conditions.  While the external outlook has improved, the risk of relations between US and China deteriorating again remain.


Apart from manufacturing and trade, tourism is another sector seen as being “on the road to recovery”, as well as growth strengthening on financial, business and tourism-related activities. Construction will also continue growing, supported by the expansion of the integrated resorts, redevelopment of en-bloc residential sites, and major infrastructure projects such as Changi Terminal 5 and the Tuas Mega Port, said the Maybank economists. Contracts awarded have risen to a four-year high, with a pick-up in both the public and private sectors.

However, noting that hiring has picked up in all three key sectors of manufacturing, services, and construction, UOB economist Barnabas Gan’s view is that the slowdown in headline growth has not translated into labour-market weakness but labour-market resilience.

The consensus for 2020 is that Singapore will continue to be one of the top destination for regional headquarters of South East Asia / Asia Pacific operation. The key trends to watch are the phase two discussion of trade discussion between China and USA which could involve a larger scale opening up of Financial Service market in China. This might mean both opportunities and  challenges for talents at financial hubs in Asia of Singapore and Hong Kong.


For information

Edwin Yeo
Regional Head for Board Practice – Asia
CEO & Managing Director – Singapore
(Covering Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia & Vietnam)
Tel (65) 63250158 / email: edwin-yeo@cornerstone-group.com