How Much Money in National Reserves Does Singapore Have?

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore had to draw down on its past reserves several times since 2020. 

In total, the government expects to draw up to S$53.7 billion from its reserves for FY2020 and FY2021. 

Does it still have enough left in the tank for future use and other emergencies?

Rumour has it that Singapore’s reserves amount to S$1 trillion. 

Is it true? How much money does Singapore really have in 2021? 

Let’s find out now.

(Conversion rate used: US$1 to S$1.35)

In a Nutshell 

Singapore’s reserves are managed by three organisations. Below are their holdings: 

  1. Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS): S$535 billion as of June 2021 [fact]
  2. GIC Private Limited: At least US$100 billion (or S$135 billion) as of June 2021 [fact] 
  3. Temasek Holdings: S$381 billion as of March 2021 [fact]

In total, these three organisations hold at least S$1,051 billion (or S$1.05 trillion) based on published information.

Read on to learn why the reserves are likely to increase, how they are managed, and why having strong reserves is so important in Singapore’s context. 

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What’s the Meaning of “Reserves”?

According to the Ministry of Finance, reserves are the excess of the total assets over liabilities of the government and other entities specified in the Fifth Schedule under the Constitution. These entities include CPF Board, MAS, HDB, GIC, and Temasek.

The government’s assets include physical assets, such as land and buildings, and financial assets, such as cash, foreign currencies, equities, etc. 

Its liabilities include the Singapore Government Securities (SGS) and the Special Singapore Government Securities (SSGS). 

A common misconception is that CPF monies are directly invested by GIC or Temasek. This isn’t true as CPF monies are invested by the CPF Board into the SSGS, which are bonds fully guaranteed by the government. These bonds provide a coupon rate to the CPF Board, which is pegged to the interest rates CPF members receive. 

The drawdown of past reserves (reserves accumulated during previous terms of government) is protected by the Constitution in order to prevent reckless government spending. A drawdown can only happen with the approval of the president. 

How Did Singapore Build Its National Reserves?

Singapore has had strong economic progress over the many decades since its independence. 

This is reflected in the growth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Its current GDP per capita of S$82,503 is amongst the highest in the world. 

During this period, the government’s operating revenue (mainly from corporate and personal income tax and GST) has increased, although government spending has also gone up. A positive difference of revenue over spending has produced surpluses over the years. 

In addition, the national reserves also include proceeds from the sale of land as well as accumulated investment returns on said reserves.

A decent return on investment in the country’s sizable reserves will grow them even further. 

3 Organisations that Manage Singapore’s Reserves

As stated, the three organisations managing Singapore’s national reserves are:

  1. Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)
  2. GIC Private Limited
  3. Temasek Holdings

They have separate roles and mandates.

Collectively, the purpose of Singapore having a reserve is for these three reasons

  1. To have a buffer against emergencies
  2. To provide a long-term sustainable income stream that helps fund part of the government’s expenditure
  3. To maintain confidence in Singapore’s exchange rate-centred monetary policy

Below, we dive deeper into each organisation. 

1) Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS)

MAS is the central bank of Singapore, formed in 1971. It is a statutory board.

Its monetary policy is focused on the exchange rate of the Singapore dollar against other currencies instead of controlling the interest rate commonly used by other central banks. This is because of Singapore’s unique position as a small but open economy. 

What assets does it hold?

MAS manages the official foreign reserves (OFR) of Singapore. It is able to buy/sell currencies in line with its monetary policy.

As of June 2021, the total official foreign reserves amount to S$535,459.2 million (US$398,356.5 million), or S$535 billion.

Here’s a breakdown of the official foreign reserves in Singapore

AssetsUS$ million
Foreign currency reserves (in convertible foreign currencies)US$393,470
IMF reserve positionUS$1,532.80
Special drawing rightsUS$1,096.10
Gold (including gold deposits and, if appropriate, gold swapped)US$1,794.40
Other reserve assetsUS$463.20
TotalUS$398,356.5 million (US$398 billion)

What kind of investment returns does it generate? 

Amongst the three entities, MAS is the most conservative. Its objective isn’t geared to generate returns, and as such, its holdings are primarily in safe and liquid assets. 

2) GIC Private Limited

GIC Private Limited was formerly known as the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, established in 1981.

GIC, which some may refer to as a sovereign wealth fund, is a professional fund management company privately owned by the government. GIC doesn’t own the assets under its care (the government does), and is only paid a fee for the management of them.

The source of funds from the government include proceeds from the SSGS and other financial assets of the government, outside of assets held by MAS and Temasek.

Its objective is to generate decent long-term returns. 

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What assets does it hold?

Being a fairly conservative fund manager, GIC invests in a globally diversified portfolio, mainly in equities and fixed income bonds and mostly in the public markets. 

According to GIC’s report, the government’s risk preference of the investment portfolio is 65% in global equities and 35% in global bonds. 

The actual portfolio consists of these asset classes: 

  1. Nominal bonds and cash
  2. Developed market equities
  3. Emerging market equities
  4. Private equity
  5. Real estate
  6. Inflation-linked bonds

The exact allocation is not known.

Furthermore, the exact size of the assets managed by GIC is not revealed by GIC nor the government for strategic reasons. One such reason is a matter of national security as the Singapore dollar might be open to currency attacks. 

However, it has been revealed by GIC that it has “well over US$100 billion in assets under management”.

Attempts have been made by others to determine the size of GIC’s fund, such as the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute estimating GIC’s total assets at US$545 billion. However, these figures are likely to be speculative as the exact value is never known publicly.

What kind of investment returns does it generate?

Here are the nominal returns and volatilities of the GIC portfolio

Time PeriodNominal Annualised ReturnVolatility
20-year6.8%8.8%
10-year6.2%7.5%
5-year8.8%6.6%

Over a 20-year period up to 31 March 2021, the annualised nominal return of the GIC portfolio was 6.8% per year. After factoring in global inflation, the annualised real return was 4.3% per year.

3) Temasek Holdings

Temasek is an investment holding company which owns the assets on its balance sheet. Its sole shareholder is the Singapore government, represented by the Minister of Finance.

Formed in 1974, its role is to own and commercially manage investments and assets previously held by the government. Also, its shareholder (the government) injects capital from time to time. 

As an active, value-oriented equity investor, Temasek seeks to maximise shareholder value over the long run. 

What assets does it hold?

In the earlier years, Temasek held a greater proportion of assets in Singapore, but it has since diversified its portfolio into the global markets.

Its current portfolio size is S$381 billion (US$283 billion) as of 31 March 2021.

Here’s the asset distribution based on geography (as of 31 March 2021):

  • China: 27%
  • Singapore: 24%
  • Americas: 20%
  • Asia (excluding Singapore and China): 13%
  • Europe, Middle East, and Africa: 12%
  • Australia and New Zealand: 4%

Here’s the asset distribution based on sector (as of 31 March 2021):

  • Financial services: 24%
  • Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, media, and technology: 21%
  • Trans­porta­tion and industrials: 19%
  • Consumer and real estate: 14%
  • Life Sciences and agri‑food: 10%
  • Multi-sector funds: 8%
  • Others (including credit): 4%

What kind of investment returns does it generate?

Temasek has achieved a total shareholder return (S$) of 8% per year over a 20-year period. If we look at the return since its inception (1974), it was 14% per year.

What’s the Total Amount of Money in Singapore’s National Reserves?

So, how rich is Singapore?

Here are the holdings of the three organisations managing the reserves: 

  1. Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS): S$535 billion as of June 2021 [fact]
  2. GIC Private Limited: At least US$100 billion (or S$135 billion) as of June 2021 [fact] 
  3. Temasek Holdings: S$381 billion as of March 2021 [fact]

In total, Singapore holds at least S$1,051 billion or S$1.05 trillion in assets. This amounts to US$777 billion. The exact amount of money in assets the government holds is likely to be higher because of GIC’s fund.

The Importance of Having Strong National Reserves

Let’s recall that Singapore is a small country with very few natural resources. 

With great foresight, it has capitalised on its strategic port, having pushed through obstacles and having made many correct decisions along the way in order to arrive at where it is today. 

Despite the prosperity of the nation and its people, Singapore still remains extremely vulnerable. 

The country is highly dependent on trade. It has to import water, food, and natural gas (for electricity).

Thus, Singapore’s reserves are meant to cushion any financial blows, control its currency, and provide investment returns.

How exactly do the investment returns on its reserves help Singaporeans? 

The government is able to use the Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC), which is comprised of:

  • Up to 50% of the Net Investment Returns (NIR) on the net assets invested by GIC, MAS, and Temasek and
  • Up to 50% of the Net Investment Income (NII) derived from past reserves from the remaining assets. 

The NIRC is able to supplement the government’s budget for nation-building purposes, such as building schools, healthcare facilities, transport infrastructure, etc. 

With the NIRC and the government’s operating revenue (taxes, fees, and charges), Singapore is able to enjoy a sustained overall budget surplus.

Because a chunk of the reserves were used to fight the pandemic, it might not be prudent for the government to keep digging into the “country’s savings account” as it might negatively impact the future of the nation and the people living in it.

Overall, having strong reserves and protecting them is a financially sound policy to provide a continuous stream of income not just for the current generation but also for generations to come. 

What Can We Learn From the Singapore Government?

We, as individuals, should follow how the government manages its money. 

It carefully budgets where money is going to be spent every year so as to not overspend.

The government also builds an emergency fund and prioritises building assets so significant that they can generate healthy returns over the long run.

This is important to us because over the past 20 years, the average inflation rate was 1.52%, reflecting a rising cost of living.

If we’re going to leave the bulk of the money in the bank or in low-interest instruments, our money will devalue with time. 

Therefore, with your excess money, it’s vital to invest it, depending on your risk profile. 

Don’t know where to start? Why not go through a comprehensive financial planning session?

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Abram Lim

With over 7 years of experience in the financial advisory industry, and previous stints in Citibank and UOB, Abram eagerly shares his knowledge by publishing research-backed articles. Learn more about Abram