With all the aggressive noise Singapore is making these days about plans to become the services centre of Asia, one key fact appears to have been glossed over. It is that the Straits of Johor are dire straits indeed these days where services are concerned. As the first chart below shows, its net trade in services has collapsed over the past year. Singapore is buying foreign services as much as ever but foreigners are no longer buying its services as they used to do. Hong Kong has also suffered a downturn in its services balance with the Asian financial crisis, and for the same reason - more sellers than buyers. But the contraction has been nowhere near as acute as Singapore's. It is no wonder that the Monetary Authority of Singapore is opening promotions offices around the world in an attempt to counter this trend. The only wonder is that Fortune magazine should then vote Singapore as Asia's best business city when business itself has already so clearly cast its ballot the other way. But then Fortune magazine was also the one that, a few years ago, carried a black-bordered front cover bearing the bold words 'The Death of Hong Kong' just before one of the biggest bull markets of Hong Kong's history. The questions about the damage to Singapore go a little further than this, however. Its third-quarter figures show that the economy contracted at a year-on-year rate of only 0.68 per cent while Hong Kong expects a third-quarter decline of 7 per cent and 5 per cent drop in the fourth quarter. But Singapore's figures on the services component of its gross domestic product (GDP) don't seem to tie in well with what it has published in its balance of payments. Aggregate the nominal GDP figures for the financial, transport, commerce and other service sectors; show this as an index with a beginning value of 100 for the first quarter of 1989 and you get the red line on the second chart. The data for this year is estimated because Singapore has published only constant price GDP figures so far. These, however, still show growth for services in real terms, let alone nominal terms, so it's a conservative estimate that the services component in nominal terms is unchanged from last year. Now take exports of services from the balance of payments figures, put it on the same index basis and you get the blue line in the second chart. Something's missing, folks. The two tie in superbly until this year and then we get a big hole in the balance of payments which doesn't show up in the national accounts. It may be the result of no more than another of those huge swings in the errors and omissions column of the balance of payments, for which Singapore is notorious. But get your pencils ready nonetheless to mark in a downwards revision of previously announced economic growth rates. And, by the way, keep them in hand to fill in a subscription form to Fortune . There's money to be made the other way when they take a strong view on an Asian market.