Singapore PM cautions against burning through reserves

It would be the “biggest misconception” to think that reserves will always remain sufficient

(FMT) – The financial hub has reportedly amassed an undisclosed reserve estimated at over a trillion dollars.

Singapore needs to be mindful about not burning through reserves, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, citing risks from the recent trend of spending outpacing the government’s revenue growth.

While noting that the city-state’s reserves are sufficient for “most circumstances,” Lee told state broadcaster CNA in an interview published Wednesday that it doesn’t guarantee things will remain so in the times to come.

The word of caution from Lee comes within days of a top banker suggesting the need for Singapore to better deploy its reserves and leverage its wealthy status by investing more in the region.

The city-state has budgeted for another year of slim deficit in 2023, amid measures to blunt inflationary pressures including higher subsidies to lower-income households to offset an increase in goods-and-services tax.

The financial hub has over the years accumulated a large, undisclosed sum of reserves, which has been estimated at over a trillion dollars, a figure that DBS Group Holdings Ltd chief executive officer Piyush Gupta had referenced to at a conference earlier this week.

The administration should consider whether to use its reserves to “address the underbelly of society” or more importantly, to scale up Singapore’s presence in new sectors and industries, Gupta had said, adding that the country cannot always be risk-averse due to a fast-changing world.

“I’m anxious that we keep it like this for as long as we can,” Lee said in the CNA interview. “Because it’s one of those things – once it’s gone, it will never come back again.”

Singapore plans to hold its presidential election on Sept 1 if more than one candidate runs for the post. While the role as the official head of state is largely ceremonial, it has some key powers including the ability to veto government efforts to draw down on the national reserves.

Allocating 2% to 3% of Singapore’s gross domestic product to build a sovereign fund from zero would be “very hard,” Lee said. “The economy will not be able to take it.”