News / Economy

No Quick Rebound as Clouds Gather Over Thai Economy

FILE - A sign indicating the closure of a main touristic road can be seen next to barricades of anti-government protesters near a main stage of the protest in Bangkok, Feb. 5, 2014.
FILE - A sign indicating the closure of a main touristic road can be seen next to barricades of anti-government protesters near a main stage of the protest in Bangkok, Feb. 5, 2014.
Reuters
Any comfort investors in Thailand draw from what happened four years ago, when economic growth, the stock market and foreign investment all surged despite deadly unrest in Bangkok, may be sorely misplaced.
      
The latest bout of political strife will delay major government spending projects and damage a lucrative tourism industry. And, even if Thailand's politics calm down, its economy will remain handicapped by weak private investment and rising household debt.
      
“If you look at the channels through which politics impacts real economic activity, it's virtually every demand side component of GDP,” said Euben Paracuelles, senior economist at Nomura. “But, where I have a bigger worry is on private consumption and private investment.”
 
Data released on Monday showed the economy slowed sharply in the fourth quarter of 2013, when street protests aimed at bringing down Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai Party government first began.
 
Over-optimistic
 
The national planning agency slashed its growth forecast to 3-4 percent for 2014, from the 4-5 percent it was predicting in November, when the protests began building a head of steam. Some private sector economists think that is still over-optimistic.
         
“The longer the power vacuum lasts, the worse it will be for the Thai economy,” said Krystal Tan, Asia economist at Capital Economists, who doubts growth will top three percent this year.
 
“Spending restrictions on the caretaker government leave it with limited ammunition to boost the economy,” she added in a note.
 
As well as the big-ticket infrastructure items now facing delays, the government will also be unable to pursue the populist policies that brought Yingluck to power in 2011.
 
A controversial rice subsidy that has run into funding problems cannot be renewed when it expires this month, which will hit rural demand.
 
“Another major downside risk to growth from government spending is the inability to pay the rice farmers under the pledging scheme when many of them are already facing a liquidity problem,” said Santitarn Sathirathai, an economist at Credit Suisse in Singapore. “Even the cautious economists in the market, including ourselves, have not fully factored this issue in.”
 
This time it’s different
      
While 12 people have been killed in sporadic clashes between protesters, security forces and government supporters, the unrest has so far been less violent than during the country's last major spasm of street protests four years ago.
 
More than 90 people were killed in April and May 2010, but that year saw foreign direct investment jump 88 percent, the stock market surged 41 percent and the economy bounded ahead by 7.8 percent, its best performance in 15 years.
 
Back then China, the biggest market for the exports that make up 60 percent of the Thai economy, was roaring back from the global financial crisis at a stimulus-fuelled, double-digit clip, while domestic private investment was picking up.
 
Though it expanded 7.7 percent last year, China's growth narrowly missed a 14-year trough.
 
The chill for Thailand is even more evident in private investment, which fell 13.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 from a year earlier. The National Economic and Social Development Board sees it rising just 3.8 percent this year.
 
In 2010, private investment rose nearly 14 percent.
 
Tourism, whose share of Thailand's economy has been grown in recent years to account for around 10 percent of GDP, has been suffering. Just last week, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide warned that political unrest had “significantly” hurt its business in January.
 
Of greater concern over the longer term is the rapid accumulation of debt by Thai consumers, who splurged on loans for house and car purchases in recent years.
 
Household debt is now equivalent to around 80 percent of GDP, up from 56 percent at end of 2008, and the Bank of Thailand warned this month it was likely to rise further as consumer loan growth may be faster than economic growth.
 
That is likely to depress consumer confidence, which dropped for a 10th straight month in January, even after the political crisis is resolved, and will limit the ability of the central bank to cut interest rates too far to prop up growth.
 
“When we get some kind of resolution, tourism tends to recover very quickly,” said Nomura's Paracuelles. “But what I would caution is that maybe the recovery is not going to be as quick from the private consumption side as previous episodes have suggested, because the difference now is we have very leveraged households, which are spending a lot of their disposable income just to service that level of debt.”

You May Like

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8140
JPY
USD
118.81
GBP
USD
0.6402
CAD
USD
1.1597
INR
USD
63.066

Rates may not be current.