Thailand’s economy in the fourth quarter of this year will turn positive, according to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
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Real GDP in Thailand growth slowed to 2.6 percent in 2008 from 4.9 percent in 2007. In the first three quarters of 2008, output grew 5.1 percent year-on-year thanks to robust exports and investment. Starting in October, however, the sharp decline in global demand, amplified by the domestic political crisis took a toll on growth and real GDP contracted 4.3 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter. While Thailand’s financial sector was mostly insulated from the financial crisis, the real sector was impacted quickly, and export volumes contracted in October for the first time in six and a half years.
However, significant downside risks remain should political instability resurface in Thailand and the global decline proved more protracted or steeper than now expected
Inflation has been easing with the slowdown in economic activity and the decline in oil and food prices. After peaking at 9.3 percent in July 2008, 12-month inflation fell to only 0.4 percent in December, although the average for 2009 at 5.5 percent was roughly double the level in 2007. Core inflation averaged 2.3 percent in 2008, within the central bank’s target of 0-3.5 percent. In January and February, prices declined 0.3 percent from the first two months of 2008, but this has been driven primarily by fuel prices, with other prices still increasing year-on-year. Given the increased excess capacity in the economy and the continuing decline in global oil and food prices this year, inflation in 2009 is expected to be negligible.
Export volumes are projected to contract 16 percent in 2009 after a 6 percent expansion in 2008. Exports of services, more than half of which were accounted for by tourism receipts (around 8 percent of GDP) will also be heavily impacted by the slowdown in arrivals from advanced countries (40 percent of total tourists). Accordingly, exports of services are projected to contract by 6.6 percent this year. Import volumes should contract more than exports due to businesses running down inventories and a contraction in overall investment and consumption of imports. Net foreign demand will nevertheless contribute negatively to growth since in real terms exports represent a much larger share of GDP than imports.
The thai government is implementing two sets of stimulus measures, one of 1.5 percent of GDP targeted at FY09 (announced in January) and a recently-announced plan for FY10-12 (fiscal years run October-September) that anticipates deficits as high as 5 percent of GDP. As a consequence, government consumption is expected to increase by nearly 10 percent in 2009. The current account registered a small deficit in 2008, and is expected to turn to a surplus starting in 2009 supported by a steep decline both the price and volume of imports – especially fuel. The small deficit registered in 2008 was mostly due to the increase in imports and reduced exports and service receipts in the second half of the year. The financial account is expected to register modest net outflows in 2009 as portfolio investments continue to show outflows , while FDI net inflo will continue to be positive, but at a lower level compared to the past few years.
Thailand’s economic growth is falling by more than earlier expected amid a sharp and continuing decline in global trade.
The contraction would be Thailand’s first since 1998, said Mathew A. Verghis, the World Bank’s Lead Economist in Bangkok. It would follow a decade of growth averaging nearly 5 percent each year.
“Countries like Thailand that have been dependent on manufacturing exports are most affected,” said Verghis, who covers Thailand and four other Southeast Asian countries. The World Bank released its latest forecasts for Thailand and other economies in East Asia and Pacific on Tuesday. The global economic slump shut down what has been, for the past three decades, the main engine for Thailand’s economic growth: exports. As a result, the manufacturing sector has been badly hit. The Thai government estimated that one million or more workers would lose their jobs this year due to the slowdown. In January, the unemployment rate stood at 2.4 percent of the total workforce – a full percentage point higher than the 1.4 percent recorded in December 2008.
So far, the Thai government has enough capacity to finance the first economic stimulus package and the three-year public investment plan. In the face of shrinking revenues, the government estimates its budget deficit to be about 525 billion baht, or 6 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product, in the fiscal year ending September 2009. It is also seeking loans from domestic and external sources to shore up the budget and support planned investment.
Strong external accounts have enabled Thailand to withstand the contraction in global liquidity. International reserves remain relatively large and external debt – especially short-term debt – is low.
Commercial banks’ loan growth next year will likely be in a single digit after registering 11.2 percent growth as of October this year.