Thai exports fall for 11th straight month in November, outlook weak

A general view of Laem Chabang port, east of Bangkok.
A general view of Laem Chabang port, east of Bangkok.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand's exports fell for an 11th straight month in November and by more than expected, while imports fell again, showing the trade-dependent economy is still sputtering 19 months after the army took power.

Although the May, 2014 coup ended months of political unrest, Southeast Asia's second-largest economy has yet to get out of a rut, with pivotal exports and domestic consumption stubbornly weak.

For the third year in a row, exports will shrink in 2015, and the central bank on Friday said it expects zero growth in 2016.

In November, exports contracted 7.4 per cent from a year earlier, the Commerce Ministry said on Monday (Dec 28), worse than the 5.1 per cent drop predicted by economists in a Reuters poll though less than October's 8.11 per cent slump.

"These numbers shows that we can't rely on exports to prop up Thailand's economy next year," said Thammarat Kittisiripat, economist at KT Zmico Securities.

Somkiat Triratpan, a ministry official, said Thai exports "have still fared better than other countries".

In November, exports to China were 6.1 per cent below a year earlier, while those to Japan were off 4.7 per cent. Shipments to Europe declined 6.7 per cent and those to the United States by 6.3 per cent.

Imports were off 9.5 per cent, but were somewhat encouraging as that fall has half of the October tumble and significantly less than the poll's projection for a 14.5 per cent decline.

November imports of capital goods fell 1.7 per cent and raw materials slipped 10.15 percent while those of consumer goods rose 3.3 per cent.

Imports of auto parts jumped 23.5 per cent from a year earlier. Thailand is a major regional hub for global auto firms, and exports of cars and parts rose 13.7 per cent.

Despite an 8.8 per cent fall in the baht this year, the Bank of Thailand (BOT) on Friday said it expected exports to fall 5.5 per cent this year. On Monday, the commerce ministry agreed with that number.

The BOT has cut its 2016 economic growth projection to 3.5 per cent from 3.7 per cent though nudged this year's estimate to 2.8 per cent from 2.7 per cent. Growth last year was 0.9 per cent.

Since two surprise cuts in March and April, the central bank has left its policy rate steady at 1.50 per cent.

It next reviews policy on Feb. 3, and most economists expect no change for now amid tame inflation.