It was a good start, with the lesser objectives met. The crowds were big enough and the march from Sanam Luang to Government House was without incident. Donations were pouring in although the amounts were still nowhere near those transferred earlier to the bank account of its “yellow” rival.
Reds’ minor objectives met, now the real challenge
In January 2009, the overall economy in Thailand continued to contract from the same period last year, with continual large contractions in manufacturing production and export. Private consumption and investment trended downward, in line with a considerable drop in import. Furthermore, major crops production and price continued to decelerate, resulting in a slowdown in farm income. Nevertheless, tourism sector observed a smaller contraction. External stability remained sound with high international reserves as well as trade and current account surpluses following a marked decrease in import. Regarding internal stability, January’s inflation in Thailand turned negative
for the first time since October 1999. Even though the unemployment rate remained low, manufacturing employment continued to decline.
External stability in Thailand was upheld by high international reserves, while trade and current account were close to balance. Regarding internal stability, inflation rose from last year in line with higher oil prices, despite a downward trend during the second half of the year. Unemployment rate remained low in Thailand in 2008 but employment started to deteriorate in the forth quarter, particularly in the production sector affected by economic slowdown.
Thailand is among the region’s more open economies, with exports accounting for around 65% of gross domestic product (GDP)
So far Thailand has been hard hit by flagging global demand, particularly in the US and Europe. Exports fell 15.7% year on year in December, the second consecutive month of declining growth, according to Bank of Thailand statistics. The Ministry of Finance’s Fiscal Policy Office meanwhile projected the Thai economy contracted a worse-than-expected 3.5% in the fourth quarter. Independent analysts have carried forward that downbeat analysis, predicting economic and export growth will both be negative territory in 2009.Thailand’s shipments span the value-added gamut, with the country serving as a production and export hub for multinational automobile manufacturers, while maintaining its traditional position as one of the world’s leading rice, rubber and seafood exporters.
Thailand’s banks and finance companies were at the heart of the country’s 1997 collapse
Lower provisioning requirements for nonperforming loan (NPL) stocks and impressive year-on-year loan growth, which was up 11% for the entire sector, drove those countercyclical gains. While extending new credits, the Thai financial system’s overall NPL rate fell from 9% of total outstanding loans in 2007 to 7% at the end of last year. Meanwhile Thai banks’ Tier 1 capital and capital adequacy ratios (the ratio of capital to risk-weighted assets) are now strong by international standards at 11% and 14% respectively.
It seems likely in the deteriorating global and local economic environment that Thai banks will relinquish some of those recent balance sheet gains. Analysts point to two particular areas of potential volatility, which if aggravated in the year ahead could raise questions about possible systemic risk: the first entails state-owned Krung Thai Bank’s low 40% loan loss coverage ratio for its NPLs; the other Thai Military Bank’s stubbornly high 16.4% NPL ratio.
Those outlays are added to the stimulus measures written into the 2009 fiscal budget, which was devised to run a 2.5% of GDP deficit. The government has also implemented 40 billion baht worth of tax cuts mainly for the property sector and indicated it could launch another supplementary budget before the end of the fiscal year in September if the global economy slips further than expected.
The Bank of Thailand meanwhile has supported those measures with rapid monetary easing. Since December the central bank has trimmed 175 basis points off the benchmark interest rate, bringing down the 14 day bond repurchase rate to 2%. Economic analysts believe central bank authorities will slash rates further to around 1% before the end of the year. The local currency, the baht, has reacted mildly to the cuts fluctuating between 34 and 35 to the US dollar.
The same protest group occupied Government House for nearly three months beginning last August, effectively crippling the workings of two different Thaksin-affiliated governments. A modicum of stability has returned with the formation of Abhisit’s coalition government, which is believed to have military backing and has prioritized restoring foreign confidence.
Investor confidence has not yet fully recovered from the military appointed administration’s surprise move in December 2006 to impose and then retract capital controls on foreign equity, bond and currency transactions. A nationalistic motion the following year to amend the Foreign Business Act spooked Japanese investors, many of whom have their Thailand operations structured in a way legislators aimed to ban.
Electronics and electrical components account for nearly 35% of total exports.
While official unemployment figures were still low at 1.5% as of December, they are expected to climb potentially twice as high in the months ahead as cash-strapped employers opt to save costs by cutting staff rather than reducing worker hours. Whether rising unemployment will translate into significant new rounds of social unrest and political disruption is unclear.