The Swiss National Bank’s decision last January to scrap a Swiss franc exchange rate ceiling with the euro means Zurich and Geneva have leapfrogged Singapore to become the most expensive cities in the world.
Officially Singapore has earned the dubious honour of being the world’s most expensive city for the second year running, according to the findings of The Economist Intelligence Unit's Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, a relocation tool that compares the cost of living between 133 cities worldwide using New York as a base city, which has a ranking of 22nd.
However, the EIU has admitted that “at today’s exchange rates, Zurich and Geneva would be the world’s most expensive cities, with indices of 136 and 130, respectively”.
Singapore heads an unchanged top five, with Paris (2nd), Oslo (3rd), Zurich (4th) and Sydney (5th) all remaining structurally expensive. There is plenty of movement lower down the list however, especially relating to exchange rate weakness. Caracas, in Venezuela, falls 124 places, from 6th in last year’s ranking to 4th from bottom this year. Kiev (Ukraine) and Tehran (Iran) fall 38 and 61 places, respectively.
The survey compares the cost of more than 160 services and products including food, clothing and utility bills. In total, more than 50,000 individual prices are collected.
In Singapore a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and a pack of cigarettes will together cost the equivalent of US$39.11.
It is not just emerging markets that are prone to slides. Tokyo in Japan, which was replaced as the world's most expensive city last year, has fallen to 11th place as low inflation and a weak Yen take their toll. Conversely, Seoul, in South Korea, is rising quickly up the rankings. Ranked 50th five years ago, it is now in the top ten.
"The situation of an unchanged top five is very rare for the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey and disguises some significant global drivers that are impacting the cost of living everywhere," comments Jon Copestake, chief retail & consumer goods analyst and editor of the report at the The Economist intelligence Unit. "In fact, a look at the data six months ago would have shown a different top five, and things are changing quickly, especially with the fall in oil prices. Rebasing the survey to today's exchange rates would put Zurich top, highlighting how fluid the global cost of living has become."
Despite topping the ranking, Singapore still offers relative value in some categories. For basic groceries, Singapore is only 11% more expensive than New York, but it is the joint most expensive place in the world alongside Seoul to buy clothes, with the malls of Orchard Road offering a price premium that is over 50% higher than New York. Most significantly, Singapore's complex Certificate of Entitlement system makes car prices excessive, with Singaporean and transport costs almost three times higher than in New York.
Karachi in Pakistan and Bangalore in India offer the best value for money. Indian cities make up four of the six cheapest. Structurally low wages and price subsidies on some staples have made for a highly price sensitive market and it seems that falling oil prices will add further weight to this.
A summary of the full report can be downloaded at www.eiu.com/wcol 2015
How Asian cities rank
*Chennai and Bangalore are being ranked for the first time
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