The cabinet on Tuesday approved the State Railway of Thailand’s planned restructuring plane, with a budget of 150 billion baht, Transport Minister Sohpon Zarum said.
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.
The Thai government announced an economic stimulus program totaling 117 billion baht ($3.34 billion). The program included a host of short-term measures to boost household consumption and assist lower-income families. The government is now preparing a second stimulus package worth 1.6 trillion baht ($45 billion). Among other initiatives, this package focuses on public investment in infrastructure projects, which the government hopes will help create 1.6 million jobs. “The infrastructure investments, if implemented, will help generate growth and improve Thailand’s competitiveness,” said World Bank. “However, it is worth noting that financing for infrastructure has been available for the past few years. What has suppressed investment was not funding, but rather political and institutional constraints.” While the impact on the real sector has been larger than expected, the global crisis has not shaken the Thai financial sector. The World Bank attributed this to Thailand’s strong macroeconomic fundamentals; low external debt coupled with high international reserves; and a sound financial sector, which has undergone a series of reforms following the 1997 crisis.
Private consumption in Thailand and investment also grew by more in 2008 than they did in 2007, despite the sharp increase in food and fuel prices. On the other hand, public consumption and investments in real terms have contracted in the first three quarters as a result of slow disbursement rates amidst political instability and slow project completion as raw material prices rose sharply. 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’s real GDP is projected to grow by 0 to 1 percent next year. This will be the lowest growth Thailand has seen since 1998, when real GDP contracted.The major factor weighing down growth next year is the sharp slow down in the global economy, particularly the contraction of the economies that are Thailand’s major export markets – US, EU, and Japan.This will have a large negative impact on Thailand’s exports of both goods and services which has been the major source of income and the driver of the output growth in the past few years. The US dollar value of exports of goods is expected to expand by only 8 percent in 2009, compared to around 20 percent this year.
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.