This tiny country matters in the region, as it is much wealthier than its neighbours, even next-door emerging economy Malaysia. As a result, the paint and coatings industries of it and Indonesia will be pleased that Singapore's overall economy grew from 7.5% in the first quarter of 2004 to 12.5% in the second quarter. Indicators suggest that growth will continue through early 2005, albeit at slower, some might say more sustainable rates.
The preliminary forecast for economic growth in 2005 is between 3.0% and 5.0%.
That said, the construction industry and its related sectors,--including coatings--have a lot of ground to make up. Despite the overall return to economic health in Singapore last year, construction contracted by 5.1% in 2004. The total number of contracts awarded also declined by 22.4% after registering growth of 4.2% in the first quarter of 2004. Although public sector contracts fell less sharply, the number of private sector contracts fell steeply after two quarters of strong gains.
As construction is the chief market for paint manufacturers in Singapore, this has had a negative knock-on effect to that industry, according to the Singapore Paint Manufacturers' Association (SPMA).
Its most recent report (2004) stated: "Amidst the enthusiasm and optimism experienced by the strengthening of the Singapore economy after the SARS period in early 2004, the declining building and construction sector over the last five years has resulted in sluggish growth in paint consumption".
"Keen competition and rising material costs have also prompted many paint manufacturers to restructure their organisations and some had even moved their facilities out of the country. Since 2003, SPMA membership has reduced from 18 member companies to the current 14," said the report.
This could be seen as a serious blow to the local paint industry, given that before the slump Singapore was increasingly being hailed as a regional hub for the industry with several international paint manufacturers relocating there. However, Singapore, in common with other Asian states, is not prone to public hand wringing, preferring always to look on the bright side of life. And SPMA president James Lim maintains his optimism: "In recent years, the profile of paint companies in Singapore has risen significantly through the SPMA and members are now able to maintain a more prominent presence with relevant government and regulatory authorities," he said.
Singapore's financial community is also quick to talk up the paint/coatings sector. A spokeswoman for the Economic Development Board (EDB) said Singapore was "particularly strong in marine coatings and we are currently one of the world's largest in this area.
"Companies here are able to leverage on a very strong domestic ship repair and maintenance industry as well as regional markets dealing with automotives.
"The coatings industry here is also able to benefit from raw materials arising from Singapore's very strong industry integration within the chemicals industry, as well as efficient logistics through its world class port facilities," the spokeswoman said.
And it is true, coatings companies in Singapore range from sales, manufacturing and research and development for different types of coatings. Many also have technical centres here, including International Coatings, Jotun (marine coatings), Nippon, ICI, Kansai and Whitford (architectural coatings). Other companies, like Hempel and EWF, have research and development centres in the city.
The majority of the Singapore-manufactured paint for construction is destined for the state-owned Government Housing Board and other private residential and commercial construction projects. However, maritime paints also a market leader sector, accounting for roughly 44% of total paint manufacture for 2004 which was approx 14,000 kilolitres, slightly less than the percentage of total manufacture for 2003 (approx 14,250 kilolitres). Emulsions are in second place with roughly 11,000 kilolitres (approx 35% of total production), and then gloss (roughly 3,800 kilolitres--approx 12% of the total).
More detailed information however is difficult to uncover in this less than open business culture. The SPMA: "We only have 14 member companies and information pertaining to the industry is severely limited".
However it is known that Singapore's paint manufacturers are broadening their services to cater to general consumers at retail level and to specialist markets such as manufacturers of audio, TV and electronic products as well as auto-refinishes. Singapore's paint industry produces and markets a wide range of products for homes, factories, commercial premises, vehicles, ships, industrial plants and marine installations. The city state also seems to be pushing to be a world leader in paint technology, developing systems for lead and chromate free primers, and other related products.
The SPMA works closely with statutory bodies like Productivity & Standards Board (PSB Corporation) and SPRING, the Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board, that are very much geared towards local market expectations plus health and environmental concerns.
SS494 for Lead and Chromate Free Primer, SS500 for Elastromeric Wall Coatings and SS502 for Textured Coatings for Exterior Walls are some of the recent Singapore standards developed and launched with the assistance of the SPMA.
SPRING plans to try and secure international recognition for its SS345, which has a proven track record in the Singapore market. Various other standards development projects are being carried out jointly with the SPMA including a water-based sealer and VOC (volatile organic compound) specifications for different types of surface coatings.
On the commercial front, paint manufacturers in Singapore have for years been saddled with a very unique problem of having to shoulder responsibilities for what the SPMA sees as "unreasonable product warranties". To protect the interests of paint manufacturers, the SPMA has worked aggressively to launch a PMA warranty spelling out a fairer scope while limiting manufacturers' liabilities through the 'diminishing liability' clauses.
"Because of the legal and commercial complexities involved in getting this pushed forward, the project has taken longer than expected to take off," said the SPMA. "Lack of unified commitment from all manufacturers recently has resulted in the SPMA warranty being stalled for the time being but the process in itself offers a great learning experience for all involved."
Technology continues to reshape the competitive landscape through improved and new processes and products. The Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences (ICES) opened on Jurong Island in 2004 and the EDB anticipates that it will "develop into a new focal point for research and technology development that will anchor the long term growth and sustainability of the chemicals cluster in Singapore [which includes the coatings sector]".
"This Institute is uniquely positioned to work with companies to derive synergies that extend from the laboratory to pilot plants to commercial production. Process development capabilities will strengthen Singapore's ability to become the 'site-of-first-introduction' for new process technologies," said the EDB.
ICES is off to a promising start, with signed collaborations with Mitsui Chemicals and Rohmax Oil Additives (a subsidiary of Degussa).
Singapore is also growing as a procurement and sourcing hub of chemical feedstock and products for chemical companies (some of whom also make coatings in their speciality chemicals divisions), according to EDB.
"Ciba Specialty Chemicals has its regional headquarters in Singapore to manage regional procurement and sourcing, and in 2004 petrochemical trader Integra set up its global HQ here," an EDB report noted.
With the development of Singapore into something of a regional hub for coatings and related industries, one might expect close links between Singapore and its two immediate neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia, but in reality the paint manufacturing industries of each work quite independently. The Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) says Singapore does not have and nor is it discussing any free trade agreements with Malaysia or Indonesia, and nor does it own any paint manufacturers in its two neighbouring countries. There is some trade between the countries, however, although there is no joint marketing or manufacture between the countries. This is possibly something of a missed opportunity given that Singapore has to import almost all its paint and coatings raw materials, inflating production costs. Furthermore, Malaysia's industry--with 35 listed paint manufacturers--seems to be faring better than Singapore at the moment. Paint and paint products produced for export include emulsion paint, water-based paint, marine paint, aluminium paint, bituminous paint, gloss paint/finishing coats, under coat, prepared lacquer, varnish, shellac, wood preservative, paint remover, thinner, primer and distemper.
According to the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA), Sersol Technologies Bhd, which made its debut on the Mesdaq stock exchange in October 2004, said it "expects up to 15% growth in sales this year from RM26 million [US$6.8m] in the year ended December 31, 2003".
The forecast was based on the strong demand for the company's higher-end products such as chrome-effect coating. "The strong demand is mainly due to our ability to deliver products of consistent quality," said managing director Danny Tan.
Sersol is one of Malaysia's leading manufacturers of industrial coating for polymers for the electronics and electrical industry, and supplies to some of its clients' manufacturing operations in Indonesia, Singapore and Myanmar.
"We will be expanding our network to cover new overseas markets like Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines as soon as possible," he added.
Mr Tan said new products in the pipeline included water-based coatings and ultra-violet coatings. Sersol, which has a market share of around 22% in the area of coatings for polymer application, is also expanding its wood coating product line.
MIDA also reported that in February 2003 the Dutch-French paint manufacturer SigmaKalon (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, announced plans to make Malaysia a regional base for its business activities in south-east Asia.
According to MIDA's website, managing director Christian Bourhis said the company chose Malaysia as the regional base for its operation because the country is strategically located within South-East Asia's major markets: namely Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.
"Malaysia provides an avenue for us to monitor our activities in the region," he said.
In the Asia-Pacific region, SigmaKalon is a fast growing player with activities prominently in Japan, South Korea, China, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.
To reinforce its position in the Malaysian market, SigmaKalon Malaysia acquired in 2002 a former factory of Australian paint manufacturer, Wattyl-Dimet, in Shah Alam. The existing capacity of the manufacturing plant is 4,000 tonnes per year but it plans an increase. Currently, about 80% of its Shah Alam plant production is for the local market, while the remaining is for export to Singapore and a new market, Thailand.
Apart from producing specifically for property and construction-related projects, SigmaKalon is also active in marine and protective coating sectors with its brand Sigma coatings.
MIDA also said Malaysia has been pushing ahead with new product patents too. In February 2003 Malaysia's Institute of Medical Research patented another four research products, including a household emulsion paint that can kill insects.
The patent, called Painticide, is useful for pest and vector control, and can be used against insects such as flies, mosquitoes and ants--in places where spraying of insecticides such as in kitchens, restaurants and hospitals are difficult.
There is little information currently available for the Indonesian coatings marker despite the presence of the Indonesia Paint Manufacturers Association in Jakarta and the presence of some key players including the Dutch giant Akzo Nobel, and Eternal Buana Chemical Industries. Part of the problem is that the association is currently being restructured and not operational. So as far as Indonesia is concerned, industry watchers are waiting for a rejuvenated association to generate energy in the local coatings sector.