A BIG DRAG on Singapore's growth in recent years, the embattled offshore and marine industry, has broken a three year losing streak. Yet industry executives aren't betting on a return to the glory days anytime soon.

The industry, along, with a top-class finance sector, has been a key pillar of Singapore's economic transformation into a first world economy since independence from the British colonial rule in 1965 and a source of national pride.

But a 2014 collapse in oil prices has resulted in thousands of jobs lost, several defaults and billions of dollars in debt and restructurings.

Now, as oil prices pick-up, the industry is coming back to life. A 28.3 percent year-on-year jump in output from the marine and offshore engineering sector in June was the biggest since March 2014.

However, Singapore's battered companies are bracing for a long period of convalescence. The specialist divers and engineers servicing rigs in Southeast Asian waters have moved on and maybe unwilling to return for lower wages.

Bankers, having been bitten by the sector, are reluctant to lend. And oil prices have recovered almost too quickly for oil exploration and production clients to have the confidence to turn enquiries into actual orders.

'' While it may be a the bottom of the cycle, we view the recovery as more gradual with risk of most new order wins being low or zero-margin jobs,'' said Ajay Mirchandani, head of research for  ASEAN at JP Morgan.

'' We won't be anywhere near the glory days for the foreseeable future.''

Take Kim Hong Offshore and Marine Holdings, a firm which provides rig services and owns shipyards. During the downturn, it slashed its workforce by a third, cut salaries by 10-20 percent, and sold around seven barges.

As oil prices recovered , it has gone into distressed sales and bought several vessels used for towing and anchoring rigs, for as little as $3.2 million apiece, about 10 percent of their usual price.

It plans to own 15 of them, hoping for help from private equity investors. [Agencies].


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