Two separate civil lawsuits seeking damages worth a total of Bt679 million were filed against leaders of the yellow-shirt movement last month for last year’s seizure of Bangkok airports, Civil Court documents obtained yesterday revealed.
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For the year 2008, the Thai economy decelerated from the previous year, particularly in the last quarter where global economic downturn and internal political unrest adversely affected manufacturing production and tourism. Nonetheless, farm income in Thailand still expanded well from higher major crop production and price compared to the previous year. On the demand side, private consumption and investment declined notably in the last quarter, despite falling inflation during the second half of the year in line with lower oil prices. Both export and import expanded satisfactorily during the first three quarters. However, during the last quarter, export contracted following trading partners’ economic slowdown while import decelerated markedly in line with export and domestic demand conditions.
Thailand is among the region’s more open economies, with exports accounting for around 65% of gross domestic product (GDP)
With average factory usage rates mired at 60%, demand for new capital expenditure bank loans will likely be muted throughout 2009. Industrial output was down 7.7% in November and fell another 18% in December. UBS noted in a recent report that the decline in manufacturing over the second half of last year was steeper than the entire fall during the worst 18 month period of the 1997-98 financial crisis.
While Thailand exported itself out of crisis after the 1997-98 collapse, current global economic turmoil – including a near collapse in global trade – has significantly narrowed potential paths to recovery. Economists contend that a small trade-geared economy like Thailand can only marginally replace the revenues and jobs lost from falling exports by stimulating more domestic demand-led economic growth.
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.
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.
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