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Singapore's jobless rate worst since 2005

SINGAPORE'S unemployment for the first quarter hit its highest since 2005 as a slump in global trade pummeled its exports and sparked manufacturing layoffs.

The unemployment rate rose to a seasonally adjusted 3.2 percent in March from 2.5 percent in December and 1.9 percent in March 2008, Singapore's Manpower Ministry said in a statement yesterday.

The manufacturing sector lost 19,900 jobs, up from 7,000 jobs lost in the fourth quarter, the ministry said.

"Unless the recovery is swift, further job losses probably lie ahead of us," said Kit Wei Zheng, an analyst with Citigroup in Singapore.

Singapore's economy contracted 11.5 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, the biggest drop since its independence in 1965.

The government announced a US$13-billion stimulus package in January - including a company subsidy for 12 percent of the first US$1,662 of every employee's monthly wages - which has helped to keep joblessness from surging even higher, Kit said.

"The labor market may not see the worst-case scenario initially feared, and the unemployment rate this year could fall slightly below our current forecast of 4.8 percent," he said.


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