University of Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC)’s Economic and Business Forecasting Centre director Thanawat Polvichai said the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the first quarter of this year would likely contract five per cent due to the global economic slowdown.
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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.In December 2008, the overall economy in Thailand contracted from the same period last year. On the supply side, manufacturing production and tourism sector continued to contract, while farm income slowed down as a result of the deceleration in both major crop production and price. On the demand side, export, investment as well as import also contracted, while private consumption slightly improved from last month due to the cease of political turbulence as well as extended New Year holidays. Overall economic stability remained sound in Thailand . External stability 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 in Thailand remained low but employment started to deteriorate in the forth quarter, particularly in the production sector affected by economic slowdown.
International reserves stood at US$106 billion in early December 2008 compared to US$87.5 billion at end-2007. This is due to the large capital inflows in the first quarter of the year and again in the last quarter of the year. External debt is low at around US$66 billion or 30 percent of GDP, of which two-fifths are short-term debt.Three quarters of the short term debt are trade credits and inter-company loans. Public external debt (government and state-owned enterprises) make up one-fifth of total external debt and less than 1 percent of it is short-term. Overall, external debt service ratios are manageable at 6.1 percent of exports.
Loan growth in Thailand, however, will slow down next year. As the economy slows down, liquidity in the global markets tightened, and corporate balance sheets weaken, commercial banks have signaled that they will focus more on risk management than on loan growth. Commercial banks’ loan growth next year will likely be in a single digit after registering 11.2 percent growth as of October this year.