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Singapore report

This past week, the family sought some respite from the heat and humidity of Mumbai in the air-conditioned monotony of regulated excellence that Singapore has become.

I last visited the tiny city-state in the year 2000 and was quite impressed by its recovery/insulation from the Asian economic crisis of 1997/98. This time around, I went in with a few preconceived notions about the economy:

  1. The impex based economy has been hit pretty hard by the global recession:  this is generally true.   I saw minimal activity in the port as I drove by a couple of times.  And the piles of containers waiting to move in/out of the country are gone.
  2. Job losses have led to a sharp fall in the real estate markets:   mostly false.   The government has stepped up to infuse nearly US$13B of fiscal stimuli that are targeted at maintaining unemployment at 2.2%.  This has propped up asset prices and several casual conversations pointed to a return to rising housing costs in Singapore after a 30% drop last year.  The government has dipped into its $300B reserve fund and also embarked on highly uncharacteristic projects like building mega-casinos (below) which are being constructed at a frenzied pace.  The casinos are supposed to provide employment and also help Singapore compete with other Asian cities for tourism (due to open later this year).SingaporeConstruction
  3. Private equity is hurting in Singapore:  anecdotally  true.   Most deal making is now focused on China and India and both those markets need local attention.   Funds previously head-quartered in Singapore are now growing local teams in India/China instead of flying in three days a week.
  4. The economy is in recession: generally true but the government has managed to shield the country from the worst.  Retail establishments were busy most evenings and on the weekend.    Orchard Road was as busy as I remembered it from past visits.SingaporeOrchardRd
  5. Nightlife in Singapore is looking up:  mixed reviews here.   Singapore is run with a well-intentioned tight fist.  It produces an excellent quality of life, especially for families.    Although the city boasts excellent eateries everywhere,  more raucous nightlife continues to be segregated into small pockets like Clark Quay and Changi Village.   It has gotten better in its number and quality of offerings but the city lacks vibrancy and edge: that feeling you get when walking in the meatpacking district or East Village of New York City, or Central Square in Cambridge (Mass.)  for that matter.   Its that edge which organically breeds cool and that I have always missed in Singapore.   I am told there is more to the city’s underbelly but I am very sure it does not compare well to other world class cities.
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