By Kevin Lim and Neil Chatterjee
SINGAPORE, Jan 21 - Singapore's economy shrank more than expected in the fourth quarter, prompting the government to declare the nation was in its worst ever recession and fanning expectations that the central bank will let its currency weaken.
The Singapore economy shrank in the fourth quarter at a seasonally adjusted, annualised pace of 16.9 percent, deeper than advance estimates of a 12.5 percent contraction, detailed government data showed on Wednesday.
The government said it now expected Singapore's economy to contract between two and five percent this year, slashing its forecast further from an already downgraded outlook of a range of minus 2 percent to plus 1 percent published just three weeks ago.
"The Singapore economy is going through its sharpest, deepest and most protracted recession," the Trade Ministry's second permanent secretary Ravi Menon said at a media briefing.
Singapore's central bank said on Wednesday that its monetary policy stance of zero appreciation in the Singapore dollar announced last October was intact and it had no plans to review monetary policy ahead of a scheduled policy meeting in April.
But analysts said the gloomy economic forecasts and grim fourth quarter data increased the likelihood the central bank will loosen policy and let the Singapore dollar slide.
"I'm bearish for the Singapore dollar. It's worse than I expected," said Irene Cheung, currency strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland in Singapore.
"I expect monetary policy to remain accommodative -- they should have recentered the band earlier, but they might still do it -- the sooner the better."
Singapore manages monetary policy by adjusting the value of its currency relative to those of its main trading partners in an undisclosed band. The Singapore dollar stood at 1.5037 against the U.S. dollar by 0050 GMT, compared with 1.51 before the data.
The government expects key non-oil domestic exports will shrink 9-11 percent this year, while total trade, which includes entreport activities, may plunge 17-19 percent.
From a year ago, fourth quarter gross domestic product, or the value of all goods and services produced in Singapore, fell 3.7 percent following a drop of 0.2 percent in the third quarter.
Singapore last reported three straight quarters of economic contraction in 2001 after the dotcom bubble burst in the United States, badly hurting the city-state's key electronics sector.
The economy grew 1.2 percent for all of 2008, slowing sharply from 7.7 percent expansion in 2007.
The government said manufacturing output in the fourth quarter shrank 10.7 percent from a year earlier, while services contracted 0.1 percent. (Additional reporting by Saeed Azhar and Jan Dahinten; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)