COVID-19 Pandemic and The Developments in ASEAN-6

Posted on 10 January 2022

It comes as no surprise that the pandemic has affected many lives globally, which is evidenced by significant decline in incomes and the region’s economies. ASEAN countries were hit by the Delta variant prompting more restrictions in many countries in Q3 2021, according to Mr. Yeoh Wee Jin’s presentation at the SEAISI Sustainability & Construction Fortnight  e-Event.

In particular, Malaysia introduced strict restrictions from March to May followed by another more serious lockdown, from end June to September, whereby the entire capital (Federal Territory) and economic center of Klang valley in Selangor was under the most severe control.

Similarly, Thailand re-introduced their curfews in July 2021 after the Songkran holidays where the population had a long holiday. The country is starting to lift the restrictions towards end of November.

Starting April 2021, Vietnam faced major outbreaks of the Delta variant in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, leading to a major lockdown for these cities and affected area, comprising of more than 30% of it population.  and more than 3 million people. As the outbreak spread to factories, strict control in the industrial areas eventually affected productivity and output.

The other ASEAN countries such as Indonesia and Philippines continued to impose various restrictions, but these have not stopped their economies from growing. Similarly, Singapore controlled the outbreaks well, until the Delta variant emerged during the later half of the third quarter, at a time when the bulk of the population was already vaccinated.

All these restrictions resulted in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam registering a negative GDP growth, while Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore continued to grow, although the growth rate has slowed down. The detailed growth rates figures are in the SG’s message in the earlier part of this journal.

In line with weaker economic performance in Q3 2021, the construction, automotive, manufacturing industries follow similar paths in their respective countries. Again, Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore registered slower growth while these industries in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam contracted compared to the previous quarter.

ASEAN -6 countries steel demand sank to 71.8 million tonnes in 2020 due to COVID19, down from 80.3  million tonnes from a year ago. The first half of 2021 steel demand for ASEAN-6 reached 38 million tonnes, 14.1% higher than the first half of 2020 (33.3 million MT). However, the final demand figure remains to be seen given the weak third quarter.

Most ASEAN countries are working towards recovery by cautiously opening up their borders to tourists, after more and more their populated got vaccinated. Not only that, they recognize the need to invest in public infrastructure works to kick start the economies.

Significant recovering signs in construction appeared in 2021  in  many  countries  in  ASEAN-6, mainly driven by government’s projects. However, challenges for the sector remain, from new variants of covid-19 which may cause renewed lockdowns, social distancing and mass gathering restrictions. Also, prolong border closures and continuing outbreak may disrupt migration of labour and expertise, further hindering economic growth. Given the uncertain situation of the pandemic and policy changes in China, volatile  steel  prices  will  certainly  affect  contractors especially in their fixed term contracts.

 Exports led manufacturing activities are also critical especially in goods that are in demand, such as pharmaceuticals goods, medical goods, computers and electronics and other equipment in shortage.

However, disruption in global shipping operation backlog will continue to hamper trade in goods. Many ports, which are critical parts of the supply logistics chain, were shut down during the lockdown. Labour shortages could be another reason for the disruption.

Chip shortage was due to closed factories during the covid-19 pandemic lockdown. The automotive sector is badly affected, having  cancelled  their  orders, prompting chip companies switched to making chips for consumer products.

Thai and Indonesian automotive industry is dominated by Japanese carmakers have seen fairly limited impact from the tightening of chip supply as Thailand and Indonesia are part of Japan’s chip supply chain which produces its own automotive chips. Nevertheless, the chip plant fire in Japan will likely cause a slowdown in motor vehicle production in Q2 2021. Gradual improvement could be seen in late 2021 once the fire-damaged factory is rebuilt and resumes operations.

Most countries in ASEAN-6 have forecasted their economy at to grow at 3-4% in 2021. Thailand’s economy in 2021, on the other hand, is expected to 1% as the fourth wave of covid-19 had a more severe impact on the country’s economy. Singapore’s projection of its economy to grow at 6-7% in 2021, was mainly due to the faster recovery of the manufacturing sector as well as in the country’s economy in the third quarter than initially estimated.

ASEAN-6 steel demand is forecasted to reach 77.2 million tonnes in 2021. Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore forecasted that steel demand in respective countries would reach or exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2021. Steel demand forecast for Singapore and Philippines, in particular, reach double digit growth rates of 56% and 24% respectively. Indonesia’s steel demand is forecasted reach a pre- pandemic level of 6% in 2021. Thailand’s steel demand is expected to grow moderately at 4.7% in 2021, followed by the prediction in Malaysia at 3.2%. Vietnam expected steel demand to grow 2.4% in 2021.

Whether or not this forecast can be achieved really depends on how the countries contain the  Delta variant and spur their economies towards recovery.

Source : SEAISI