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the ultimate compilation of all recessions

A Singaporean's Guide to Past Recessions

profileMing Feng


Is Singapore Heading Towards a Recession?

The short answer to the question will be a possible yes.

How do we know?

Well, because he said so…

Source: TodayOnline

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Singaporeans to brace for impact, given that post-Covid recovery is clouded and recession could hit us within the next 2 years.

On top of that, there are signs of it.

Source: Tradingview

The daily chart of the S&P500 looks very similar to the chart from the 2008 crash. For context, the S&P500 fell 56% from its high over a course of about 510 days.

On top of that, we have the Russia-Ukraine war, China’s strict zero-covid regime, UST stablecoin losing its peg etc.

Now, even the price of chicken is getting expensive.

Source: giphy

The Ultimate Compilation of Past Recessions

With all that is happening right now, we thought we take a swipe at past recessions to make a sense of Singapore’s report card when it comes to dealing with economic challenges.

RecessionDateDurationGDP Decline (Singapore)GDP Decline (U.S.)Peak Unemployment Rate (U.S.)
The Roosevelt RecessionMay 1937 - June 193813 months-10%20%
The Union RecessionFebruary 1945 - October 19458 months-10.9%5.2%
The Post-War RecessionNovember 1948 - October 194911 months-1.7%5.7%
The Post-Korean War RecessionJuly 1953 - May 195410 months-2.7%5.9%
The Eisenhower RecessionAugust 1957 - April 19588 months-3.7%7.4%
The Rolling Adjustment RecessionApril 1960 - February 196110 months3.1%1.6%6.9%
The Nixon RecessionDecember 1969 - November 197011 monthsPositive GDP growth:
The Oil Crisis RecessionNovember 1973 - March 197516 monthsPositive GDP growth:
The Energy Crisis RecessionJanuary 1980 - July 19806 monthsPositive GDP growth:
1985 Economic Crisis
(Singapore's first post-independence recession)
March 1985 - 1986Not confirmed since Singapore increased growth by 19870.6%-1.8% (year 1982)
Singapore experienced it later
10.8% (year 1982)
The Iran Crisis RecessionJuly 1981 - November 198216 monthsPositive GDP growth:
The Gulf War RecessionJuly 1990 - March 19918 monthsPositive GDP growth:
The Asian Financial CrisisJuly 1997 - December 199818 months2.2%Positive GDP growth:
The dot-com bust/ 9/11 RecessionMarch 2001 - November 20018 months1.1%0.3%5.5%
2008 Global Financial CrisisDecember 2007 - June 200918 monthsPositive GDP growth:
The COVID-19 RecessionFebruary 2020 - OngoingOngoing5.4%~9.1%13.0% (May 2020)

We put in the unemployment rate and GDP decline of U.S., just to give a bit more context on the amplitude of these recessions.

For context, Singapore gained independence in the year 1965 and has experienced good growth ever since. The year 1985 was the first time Singapore experienced her first post-independence recession.

In case you are wondering, Singapore’s GDP growth was at 4% in the year 2003, despite the SARS outbreak.

Well done, Singapore!

How Have Past Recessions Impacted Singapore’s Unemployment Rate?

Source: memegenerator

Closer to our hearts, we also look at how past financial crises have impacted our unemployment rate.

RecessionDateSingapore's Unemployment Rate
The Asian Financial CrisisJuly 1997 - December 19982.5%
The 9/11 RecessionMarch 2001 - November 20012.7%
2008 Global Financial CrisisDecember 2007 - June 20092.2%
The COVID-19 RecessionFebruary 2020 - Ongoing3.0% (Year 2020)
2.7% (Year 2021)

Singapore generally managed to maintain quite a healthy unemployment rate throughout these crises. For context, many considered the natural unemployment rate to be at 4% to 5%. The natural rate of unemployment, also known as the minimum unemployment rate, is defined as the number of people who are unemployed due to labour movements or voluntary unemployment.

How Did Singapore Managed Past Recessions?

To better understand how Singapore managed to produce a relatively good report card over the past recessions, we look into what are some of the policies that were implemented.

YearHow did Singapore managed it?
1985 Economic CrisisReduced employers' Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution by 15%

Enforced wage restraint for public sector.

Reduce personal income tax rates

Incentives for investments for firms

Cutting corporate tax from 40% to 30%
1997 Asian Financial CrisisReduced employers' Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution

Wage cuts

Rebates on property and corporate tax

Decrease government fees and charges

Funding of skills training and enterprise development

Rebates on HDB charges and rentals

Suspending government land sales

Increase government spending on education and infrastructure
2008 Global Financial CrisisExpanding public sector recruitment

Workfare Income Supplement

Programme to encourage skills upgrading

Tax concessions for businesses

Direct assistance for households

Increase support for charitable organisations and community

Increased targeted help for vulnerable groups

Upgrading education and healthcare infrastructure

Enhanced sustainable development programmes

Rejuvenating public housing estates

Source: lkyspp.nus.edu.sg

Surviving Recession

While Singaporeans have been experiencing a cushioned impact from the economic issues, it is important that we realised that we are treading uncharted waters. Singapore generally has been able to weave through past recessions like a boss, and hopefully, we will be able to do so moving forward.

While past experiences can equip us with the necessary skills to tide through difficult times, every recession is different. In short, whatever got us here may not be the way forward.

If you have yet to check out our guide to surviving a recession, you can do so.

Adding on, I would personally look to invest in safer investments with guaranteed returns and are highly liquid. Singapore Savings Bonds can be one of such instruments.

In times of recession, we need to be able to access our rainy day funds almost immediately.

Given that cash is king, you might want to consider saving up more as we go through the challenges ahead.

About Ming Feng
A stint in Bloomberg gifted me with a beer belly, which only grew larger when I moved on to become a Professional Trader. Now I turn caffeine into digestible finance-related content.
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