BANGKOK: Thailand will likely be the worst economic performer in Southeast Asia this year, with economists continuing to slash the country’s growth forecast amid surging Covid-19 infections, mounting political tensions and fading hopes for a tourism revival.
The Finance Ministry on Thursday cut its 2021 gross domestic product forecast to 1.3 per cent growth, from the 2.3 per cent it expected in April, report agencies.
According to the latest weighted average of 36 economists surveyed by Bloomberg, GDP should grow 1.8 per cent this year. That’s particularly weak considering it’s a comparison to last year, when Thailand’s economy contracted 6.1 per cent, the most in more than two decades.
“We see Thailand as a laggard in the region, penciling in the lowest GDP growth forecasts in Asean for both 2021 and 2022,” said Charnon Boonnuch, an economist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Singapore.
“Our forecast implies economic output will not return to pre-Covid levels before the third quarter of 2022, the slowest in Asean, partly reflecting the high dependence on foreign tourists,” he added.
Bangkok and 12 other provinces, which account for more than half of the Thai economy, have been under lockdown and curfew since last week as the delta variant threatens to overwhelm the country’s public health system. The Bank of Thailand has said the outbreak could shave as much as two percentage points off this year’s GDP if current measures fail to quell it and the pandemic endures for the rest of the year.
The Finance Ministry’s new forecast, which carries a range of 0.8 per cent-1.8 per cent, assumes Thailand will receive 300,000 tourists this year, a fall of 96 per cent from last year. The ministry also expects the current lockdown to last just one month, and sees the outbreak peaking in August.
The ministry raised this year’s export forecast to 16.6 per cent growth, from 11 per cent predicted in April, as global demand recovers.
The baht is down 8.9 per cent against the dollar so far this year, the worst performer among Asian currencies tracked by Bloomberg. The local currency was little changed at 32.875 to the dollar as of 12:54 p.m. local time. The ministry forecast the baht’s average level for the year at 31.48 per dollar.
Thailand reported 17,669 new infections and 165 deaths Thursday, both single-day records. Total cases rose to 561,030, of which 95 per cent have come since the latest wave began in April, official data show. The Public Health Ministry expects the current wave to begin easing by October.
Thailand has administered about 16 million vaccine doses, enough to cover about 11 per cent of the population, according to the Bloomberg Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker. The central bank, which previously expected the country to achieve herd immunity in the first half of next year, now says that milestone won’t be reached until after 2022.