Oops, The Economy Broke: Reasons for Singapore’s Inflation Scare

Did you have breakfast this morning? I sure as hell didn’t. Or rather I did, but then I read the news and upchucked four hot cakes from sheer shock. The consumer price index was at 5.2% in March, and may hit 6%. Our inflation’s growing faster than my waistline, and I’m Singapore’s most popular model…for the “Before” pictures in weight loss ads. But what’s causing our economy to bloat like Steven Segal after 40? Read on and find out:

 

 

How Bad Is Our Inflation?

The consumer price index (CPI) checks the price difference of a market basket of goods over time. So a CPI of 5.2% suggests, in a very simplified way, that most of what you buy will cost 5.2% more.

Unless you’ve gotten a matching raise in your pay, it means you now have less money. And apart from everything costing more, the inflation eats into your bank savings. Your bank’s interest rate (even for fixed and structured deposits) are nowhere near the 5.2% inflation. So if you have a savings deposit, you may as well lock your money in a room with a lighter and an arsonist.

 

 

The CPF may also lose its efficacy as a retirement fund. The CPF interest rate is 2.5%, and the inflation rate is 5.2%. As a retirement provision, that’s about as effective as a paper umbrella in a tsunami. But of course, the government will take action to rectify this soon.

Right? 

Hello, government? Is anyone awake in there? Because we need to fix the reasons. Like the…

 

1. Insane COE Prices

As of April 18, COEs for larger cars hit $91,000. Reuters pointed out that a Toyota Vios, which cost $77,000 at the start of the year, now costs $107,000 (including COE). That same amount could land you a Porsche in some parts of Europe (and a complimentary AK-47 in Russia, because YOU try owning a Porsche in St. Petersburg).

Come August, the government also intends to drop the vehicle quota to 0.5%. This will raise COE premiums even higher; presumably, it’ll match the admissions rate of hysterically giggling car buyers at IMH. Because the bad news is, there will always be situations when a car is necessary; no matter the price. Certain lines of work, along with family requirements, will continue to pressure people into buying cars.

And because the COE is an unavoidable, artificial addition to price (increasing price without adding real value), it’s a major contributor to inflation.

 

 

2. Overheated Property Market

Nice try with the new measures, HDB. Sadly, chucking an ice cube at Fukushima would have been a stronger cooling measure.

The ABSD has dissuaded foreign buyers, but it’s channelled demand into the rental market. Foreigners are now pushing rental income to new heights, and that’s led to property speculation (shoebox flats anyone?) Likewise, the cash over valuation (COV) of resale flats is now less realistic than Transformers 2.

 

 

And have you seen Sky Habitat?  The property developers forgot to include a disclaimer. Something like:

“Please note that your purchase signifies market collapse, uncontrolled inflation, impaired judgement, or all of the above”.

There has also been news of HDB flats reaching the $900,000 mark, and even heartland homes aren’t the low-cost bulwarks they used to be. Until some control is placed on COV, and further cooling measures kick in, housing’s going to keep raising our cost of living.

 

3. Higher Transport Costs

Government policies have made cars unaffordable, while raising public transport costs. It’s like the person-in-charge Googled: “Inflation and How to Cause It”, and started taking notes.

SBS is already intending to pay bus drivers 16% more, which should raise transport fares. Part of the reason is to, you know, cope with inflation. Then there was Comfort and it’s minions other cab companies; they raised fares as well. To cope with inflation.

 

 

Now, take a step back and reread those reasons. Do you see a problem here?

Transport companies are coping with inflation by…contributing to said inflation. That’s like trying to solve groin pain by having doctors take turns kicking you in the nuts.

But hey, at least higher transport costs have had benefits. Like making the MRT more reliable, or making bus captains more polite. And I’m totally not being sarcastic there.

 

4. Rising Food Prices

Singapore imports a lot of food. Look at our land space; if we planted one shoot of kang kong it would die of claustrophobia. But in particular, the global recession and rising cost of fuel (which affects the import cost of foodstuffs) take a lot of blame.

Where local policies contribute is property. As rent rises, so too do food prices. Supermarkets need to charge more to maintain inventory, and hawkers need to pay their stall rent. The practice of subletting hawker stalls is especially problematic: That’s when a stall holder pays maybe $700 a month for the stall, but charges someone $2000 a month to operate it. Wave at Holland Village, people.

 

 

As it is, restaurants need as much reason to raise prices as North Korea needs to launch a missile. But the rental market is heating up, and landlords are basically sharks with legs. As surrounding rents go up, they’ll try to match it, which prompts F&B tenants to skyrocket prices.

 

5. Absurd Optimism

Inflation seems to be getting worse because of our laid back attitude. We’re taking little action because we can’t seem to acknowledge how bad it is. Here’s a quote from Channel NewsAsia:

However, analysts said Singapore’s inflation rate is not a cause for alarm as the government had already warned that price gains would be steeper in the first half of this year.”

By contrast, that’s like saying you don’t have to be alarmed that your car is going off a bridge, so long as the screaming passengers in the back “already warned” you. Early warning doesn’t mean we shouldn’t freak out.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will probably allow the Singapore dollar to appreciate, as a way to combat inflation. This is effective as a stopgap measure, but it doesn’t address deeper flaws in the system.

 

 

Another problem is MAS’ method of measuring core inflation: It excludes housing and private transport. Since these are are a major cause of inflation, the method results in optimistic numbers and homeless Singaporeans. It’s like getting lung cancer, but having the doctor congratulate you because hey, apart from your lungs, you’re fine.

MAS is expected to take corrective action in October. But the immediate solution seems to be crossing our fingers really hard. Let’s all sit back and think happy thoughts, and pretend inaction isn’t part of the problem.

Image Credits:
sanchom, Britanglishman, Thant Zin Myint, beggs, mbrochh, narin-flickr

Why do you think our inflation is off-the-charts crazy? Comment and let us know! 

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