Passing of Lee Kuan Yew – Did grief boost Singapore’s confidence?


| | 22 Apr 2015

A man holds a special edition newspapers about the death of Singapore’s first elected Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, at Raffles Place in Singapore, on Monday, March 23, 2015.

The death of Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, may have spurred an unusual side effect: the city-state’s consumers now feel more confident about the future.

“Consumer confidence rose in April despite what we considered to be the considerable uncertainty over the impact on the Singaporean psyche,” Glenn Maguire, chief economist for Southeast Asia at ANZ, said in a note Wednesday. “The passing of Mr. Lee has given Singaporeans an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved in the past fifty years.”

The bank’s ANZ-Roy Morgan Singapore consumer confidence index rose 1.2 points to 125.7 in April, above the long-term average of 121.7, mainly on greater confidence in the economic outlook for the year ahead, the note said.

Around 49 percent said they expect Singapore will have “good times” financially over the next 12 months, up two percentage points from the last reading and the highest since July 2014, the note said. Around 9 percent expect “bad times,” down three percentage points. Over the longer term, 48 percent of respondents expect “good times” for the city-state over the next five years, up one percentage point.

That uptick in confidence comes as Singapore’s export-dependent open economy, generally buffeted by the fortunes of larger economies globally, faces some uncertainty ahead amid slow growth in Europe and concerns over whether interest rates will begin to rise.

While it may seem strange that a country’s grief – which included more than 100,000 lining the streets in heavy rain to view the funeral procession – would spur an uptick in confidence, some Singaporeans said that matched their experience.

Singaporean Mathilda D’Silva, a 32-year-old social-media engagement manager at Mediacorp, said she’s spent time considering what she appreciates about her home after Lee’s death last month.

Lee, who governed the 50-year-old nation for three decades between 1959 and 1990, is generally considered one of Asia’s greatest statesmen for turning a fishing village into a first-world economy with one of the world’s highest per-capita incomes, but his political ideology made him a controversial figure.

“It’s mostly things like safety, like just being able to walk in the streets at night,” D’Silva, a former Singapore Idol contestant, said. “It’s also the availability of services everywhere, the conveniences of that.”

She’s feeling confident enough about Singapore’s outlook that she’s working on a Master’s degree as well as shelling out for a 2,000 Singapore dollar ($1,484) foldable bicycle.

To be sure, some said Lee’s passing didn’t change their view much.

“I have always known we are better off,” because of Lee’s political influence, said Cindy Lim, a human-resources manager at an insurance company. “We know how it was before Lee took power.

But even then, she feels her finances have improved over the past year. She also isn’t too concerned about fears the city-state’s lofty property prices may take a tumble, largely because she’s hoping to buy a property in a couple years.

Of course, Singapore’s economy is faring relatively well. In the first quarter, gross domestic product (GDP) rose an annualized 2.1 percent from a year earlier, above expectations, although shrinking industrial production weighed on growth.

–Nyshka Chandran and Li Anne Wong contributed to this article

—By CNBC.Com’s Leslie Shaffer



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