BANGKOK: Thailand’s economy grew much slower-than-expected in the third quarter, weighed down by weak exports and government spending, the state planning agency said on Monday, while predicting stronger growth next year.
Gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 1.5% in the July-September quarter from a year earlier, the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) said, down from the 2.4% growth predicted by economists in a Reuters poll.
The quarterly growth was the slowest in the past three quarters, having risen 1.8% year-on-year in the second quarter and 2.6% in the January-March period.
Solid private consumption and a recovery in tourism prevented an even more disappointing performance by Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.
Sluggish global demand kept exports subdued, though the planning agency noted signs of improvement in the current quarter.
“Overall, the Thai economy continues to expand. But if we want to make the economy expand better than this, it must be restructured, especially in the industrial sector,” planning agency chief Danucha Pichayanan told a press conference.
“In the fourth quarter, export momentum began to improve. It should make industrial production better as well.”
The weak GDP data underscored the need for fiscal and monetary policy to “focus on growth over inflation,” said Kobsidthi Silpachai, head of capital markets research of Kasikornbank.
The Bank of Thailand will next review policy on Nov. 29 after a surprise hike in the key rate to a decade high of 2.5% in September. Kobsidthi said he expected the central bank to hold rates steady through the first half of 2024.
Investor confidence in Thailand remained low despite the end of a protracted political deadlock following an election in May that resulted in defeat for the pro-military ruling party that sprang from the 2014 coup.
The coalition government that emerged from the election is led by the populist Pheu Thai party, and includes parties backed by its longtime foe, the military.
It has planned a raft of stimulus measures aimed at kick-starting an economy that has struggled in the wake of the pandemic and grew just 2.6% last year.
The planning agency said it expected the economy to grow 2.5% in 2023, the lower end of a previous forecast range of 2.5% to 3.0%, but sees GDP growth of between 2.7% and 3.7% next year.
Next year’s figures did not factor in the government’s signature stimulus plan of injecting $14 billion into the economy via a “digital wallet” handout scheme for 50 million people to spend in their localities within six months.
On a quarterly basis, GDP rose a seasonally adjusted 0.8% in the September quarter, versus a forecast rise of 1.2%, and against 0.2% growth in the previous quarter.
Danucha said the agency would await more clarity on the stimulus plan before factoring it in to its growth outlook.
NESDC predicted a 2% contraction in exports, a key driver of Thai growth, for this year, having earlier forecast a 1.8% fall seen earlier. For 2024, it expects exports to rise 3.8%.
The agency maintained its forecast of foreign tourist arrivals at 28 million this year, and predicted 35 million visitors in 2024. Pre-pandemic 2019 saw a record of nearly 40 million arrivals. ($1 = 35.130 baht) – Reuters