The unemployment rate in the fourth quarter last year dropped to only 1 per cent of the entire workforce thanks to the improving economy, National Economic and Social Development Board deputy secretary-general Suwannee Khamman said on Wednesday.

Excerpt from:
NESDB: Q4/09 unemployment rate 1%

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.

Private investment in Thailand has been subdued in the past three years due to uncertainty about the political situation.
In 2006-2008 investment grew by an average of 2.7 percent a year (compared with real GDP growth of 4.3 percent on average), down from 14.8 percent during 2003-2005. This earlier retrenchment of investment has dampened the impact of the financial crisis, most notably on foreign direct investment (FDI). While little new FDI is expected, there has been no rush to exit from foreign investors. Growth of private investment in 2008 came mainly from Thai investors, as gross FDI inflows declined from 2007 levels. Private investment is expected to contract 5 percent in 2009 as capacity utilization remains low (around 50 percent). However, growth could resume in the fourth quarter on the back of increased public investment. Public investment has been sluggish in Thailand since the 1998 crisis, but is expected to increase in 2009 given increased political stability and the political imperative to respond to the slowdown in the export sector. The share of public investment in real GDP averaged only 5.7 percent during 2004-2008 compared more than 10 percent before the 1998 crisis. In 2008, public investment contracted by nearly 5 percent as a result of political uncertainties, which delayed investment decisions. Public investment is projected to grow at 7 percent in 2009 as the

“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.

NESDB: Q4/09 unemployment rate 1%

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.

The banking sector in Thailand remains sound, but individual banks needs to be closely monitored.Banks’ foreign investments are less than 2 percent of their total asset with investment in foreign debt instruments being around 13 percent of total debt-instrument holdings. Foreign banks account for about 12 percent of the Thai market (although this figure goes up to 30-40 percent through equity holdings in Thai banks).

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