Britain’s Prudential on Monday agreed to buy the Asian arm of US peer AIG for 35.5 billion dollars in the insurance sector’s biggest ever takeover but the share price crashed on concerns over funding.
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Foreign direct investment has decelerated markedly in Thailand, but inflows should continue in 2009 and 2010 due to the secular trend to move production away from advanced economies.
The medium-term outlook is sobering, with growth expected at 3.5 percent in 2010 and likely remaining below potential for the next three years. Because the Thai economy is largely dependent on final demand in advanced economies, a return to pre-crisis rates of economic growth (a full recovery vs. a rebound to pre-crisis levels) will require a combination of (a recovery of demand from advanced economies and a rebalancing of the sources of growth to reduce Thailand’s dependence on demand from advanced economies. Neither process is likely to be swift. Recovery from a financial crisis is a lengthy process that involves the rebuilding of balance sheets, and the IMF estimates that half of the losses in the financial system in advanced economies are yet to be recognized.
Automotive exports – the second largest item in the country?s exports after electronics – fell sharply early this year by about 45 percent from a year before. (During 2009, exports slumped through May before rebounding in the third quarter, although data of late suggest some leveling off of foreign demand.) Compared with electronics, automotive exports are half as large in value but have twice as large value-added per unit of output, leaving the contributions of both sectors to GDP about equal.
Despite the rebound, Thailand’s export recovery is still subject to several downside risks
The key risk to the global recovery lies in the need to get the timing of withdrawing fiscal and monetary stimulus just right. Withdrawal of fiscal stimulus too early may lead to another negative demand shock and a negative expectations spiral, whereas withdrawing the stimulus too late may lead to high inflation, further weakening of the US dollar, and possible asset price bubbles. In Thailand, for example, more than ten years since the 1997/1998 financial crisis banks still have bad loans in their books and the government still holds a large amount of debt related to the recapitalization of financial institutions. Given the expected length of recovery, it is important not to withdraw stimulus programs too soon, before the recovery is on a firm footing. On the other hand, macroeconomic imbalances are accumulating and eventually fiscal and monetary authorities, especially in the US, must consolidate their fiscal position and withdraw liquidity.
Most of the infrastructure development in Thailand has been responsive to demand rather than forward-looking. Availability and accessibility appear to no longer be a challenge. The next step for Thailand is to put more emphasis on quality of service delivery, management, and sound regulation.
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