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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Forced Anal Testing Case to Appear Before Kenya Court

    Men challenge use of anal examinations to ‘prove homosexuality’; practice accomplishes nothing except to humiliate those subjected to them, according to Human Rights Watch

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    World Currencies

    EUR
    USD
    0.8643
    JPY
    USD
    105.91
    GBP
    USD
    0.6837
    CAD
    USD
    1.2584
    INR
    USD
    66.395

    Rates may not be current.