The Malaysia-based no-frills airline group AirAsia and its sister Thai airline have set their sights on separate listings on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) to raise fund to support their aggressive expansion plans. On 27 December 2006, AirAsia’s CEO Tony Fernandes unveiled a five-year plan to further enhance its presence in Asia. In the plan, AirAsia will strengthen and enhance its route network by connecting all the existing cities in the region and expanding further into Indochina, Indonesia, Southern China (Kun Ming, Xiamen, Shenzen) and India. The airline will focus on developing its hubs in Bangkok and Jakarta through its sister companies, Thai AirAsia and Indonesia AirAsia. Hence, with increase frequency and addition of new routes, AirAsia expects passenger volume to hit 18 million by end-2007.
From September 2007, AirAsia’s Kuala Lumpur hub is fully operated with A320s while Thai AirAsia received its first Airbus A320 in October 2007. Indonesia AirAsia received its first Airbus by January 2008.
AirAsia is a Malaysian low-cost airline. It operates scheduled domestic and international flights and is Asia’s largest low fare, no frills airline. AirAsia pioneered low cost travelling in Asia. It is also the first airline in the region to implement fully ticketless travel and unassigned seats. However, as of 5 February 2009, AirAsia has finally implemented allocated seatings across all AirAsia flights, including in their sister airlines, Indonesia AirAsia and Thai AirAsia. Its main base is the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). Its affiliate airlines Thai AirAsia and Indonesia AirAsia have hubs at Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand and Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Indonesia, respectively. The airline is also considering founding Hong Kong AirAsia in the future. AirAsia’s registered office is in Petaling Jaya, Selangor while its head office is on the grounds of Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Selangor.
Political unrest and the shutdown of the two airports in Bangkok in late November severely affected tourism and consumer confidence in Thailand. Real GDP is projected to contract by 2.7 percent in 2009, as the global outlook remains negative and external demand continues to contract. The fiscal stimulus and monetary expansion implemented by the authorities are likely to partially mitigate the impact of the slowdown, allowing growth to resume in the fourth quarter of 2009 assuming a better outlook for the global economy in 2010.
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 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.
However, the World Bank cautioned that, for public debt to remain manageable, budget deficits will need to be reduced over the next few years and growth needs to return its long-term average, highlighting the importance of using the crisis as an opportunity to enhance growth prospects.
For the year 2008, the Thai economy decelerated from the previous year, particularly in the last quarter where global economic downturn and internal political unrest adversely affected manufacturing production and tourism. Nonetheless, farm income still expanded well from higher major crop production and price compared to the previous year.The political unrest in the last quarter of 2008 will continue to dampen tourist confidence into at least the first half of 2009. In addition, the slow down in growth of the economies from which a large number of tourists come to Thailand, such as EU and Japan, will reduce tourist receipts next year. With the slow down in exports capacity utilization is expected to fall; which will negatively affect private investment.Household consumption growth will also continue to be dampened as income growth will be slower next year with employment increasing minimally, and consumer confidence falling, even though inflation will be significant lower at only around 2 percent compared to 6 percent this year. Significant downside risks remain to the growth projection should political instability heighten, the global economy decelerate faster than projected, and implementation of the fiscal stimulus is delayed.