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Thailand Confident of Expanding Economic Growth in 2003 - 2003-03-31

Thailand's finance ministry is confident the economy will expand by at least five percent in 2003. In Seoul, there are plans to sell a unit of the troubled Hyundai group to Prudential Financial.

Thailand's finance ministry says it has no plans to revise its maximum growth forecast of 5.7 percent for this year.

A ministry spokesman says that both export and import figures reflect strong demand despite concerns over the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Thailand's economy grew by 5.2 percent last year, its biggest expansion since the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990's. The ministry says the economy should grow by at least five percent this year.

In South Korea, the government has signed a memorandum of understanding to sell an 80 percent stake in Hyundai Investment Trust and Securities to Prudential Financial, a U.S. financial services company. The $400 million deal, however, does not include the ailing financial unit Hyundai Securities.

Dalip Awasthi is the head of Asian credit research at Lehman Brothers. He says the sale is a sign that international investors are more confident that South Korean companies have made strides in improving corporate governance. "This is unambiguously positive. If a large international investor is willing to buy a Korean financial institution, whether an asset manager, an investment trust company or a bank, this is very positive for Korean bank and sovereign quality," he says.

Hyundai Investment Trust and Securities is part of the Hyundai conglomerate, an industrial and financial giant in South Korea. Many companies in the group, however, fell on hard times in the late 1990's.

Credit rating agency Standard and Poor's says it will maintain its long term triple 'A' rating for Singapore. Standard and Poor's says the high rating reflects the country's enduring fiscal and external strengths.

The agency says it will also maintain the city's 'A' one-plus short-term local and foreign currency ratings and says the ratings outlook is stable. An S&P analyst says that Singapore has "more than enough resources to cope with the current uncertain economic environment."

Singapore remains the only country in Asia with the top grade of triple A for its long-term rating.