Thai economy may lose $3 billion a month after new virus outbreak

Analysts have cut growth forecasts for this year, but most concern now centres on the country's slow vaccine rollout and whether the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar will cause a refugee spillover on the border that complicate efforts to suppress Covid-19

Thai economy may lose $3.2 billion a month after new virus outbreak
Construction workers are seen in a building in Bangkok in this file photo from March 2017. The country is in the midst of its worst downturn since the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 90s. Image: Jorge Silva/Reuters.

(ATF) Thailand's economy could lose 100 billion baht ($3.2 billion) a month, a university warned on Thursday, as the country struggles with a third wave of the coronavirus. 

The University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce said the latest wave could reduce the number of workers by 149,000 a month, mainly in the service industry and and tourism sector, which has been ravaged by the Covid pandemic.

The university expects the new wave to be controlled within two or three months like previous outbreaks, but said it is likely to cut gross domestic product (GDP) by 1.2% to 1.8%, university president Thanavath Phonvichai told a briefing.

"If there will be economic stimulus measures, the economy may grow 1.2% to 1.6% this year," Thanavath said, adding the university's current forecast was for 2.8% growth.

Household debt levels might rise to 92% of GDP this year as the outbreak has cut income and jobs, he said.

The debt hit 89.3% of GDP, the highest since records began, at the end of 2020, when Southeast Asia's second-largest economy suffered its deepest slump in over two decades due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Asia Plus Securities expects the Thai economy to grow 2.6% this year and said the third Covid wave was unlikely to affect the Stock Exchange of Thailand as much as feared in 2020.

APS executive vice-president Therdsak Thaveeteeratham said the government's measures to control the outbreak would have less impact on economic activity than last year as there were no lockdowns and curfews.

The government was also likely inject more money into the economy to help those affected by the new outbreak and expedite vaccine rollouts to curb the infection rate, he said

The new outbreak has spread to more than 62 of the country's 78 provinces. However, the Thai situation is nowhere near as grave as outbreaks in India, Brazil and hotspots in the US, the UK and parts of Europe last year. Thailand has been relatively successful in managing the Covid challenge so far. It has recorded over 18,000 cases over the past three weeks – over 45,000 in total – and just 108 deaths overall.

But Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has faced strong criticism for failing to secure more vaccines. The government said on April 9 that private hospitals were allowed to secure 10 million vaccines. And on Tuesday, the PM said his government was negotiating to buy 5 to 10 million doses from US pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

The other major concern is the growing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar, which analysts fear will spill across the 2,400km-long border it shares with Thailand at some point, if no resolution can be worked out with the leader of the Myanmar military, who will speak to regional leaders in a virtual hook-up to an ASEAN summit in Jakarta this weekend.

The Thai government has plans to try to manage an emergency refugee crisis if air strikes or shelling drive Karen, Shan or Burmese refugees to the border, although it is currently seeking to push people back and has not allowed the UN refugee agency to monitor arrivals at the border.

Gulf Energy offers $5.4 bn for AIS

In other business news, Gulf Energy Development has offered $5.4 billion for Intouch Holdings, which runs AIS, the country's biggest mobile phone operator.

Gulf is Thailand's biggest power producer and run by billionaire Sarath Ratanavadi.

The 65 baht ($2.08) per share offer for the 81.1% shares of Intouch that Gulf doesn't already own, represents an 11% premium to Intouch's close last Friday. Intouch stock rose as much as 9% on Monday to 63.75 baht and closed at 63 baht.

The acquisition, if successful, will be Thailand's second-biggest ever intra-country deal after Tesco's $10.6 billion sale of its local operations last year, Dealogic data showed.

"We see that Intouch is a good platform with diverse companies in its portfolio, whether digital or satellite businesses, e-commerce and other techonologies," Smith Banomyong, chief of Gulf asset management, said in an online briefing. 

"It also has good cash flow and stability, good partners and shareholders, and strong management." 

Gulf, a third of which is controlled by Ratnavadi, said in a filing that if it is able to secure at least half of Intouch stock, it will have to offer to buy out Advanced Info Service (AIS) under Thailand's securities regulation. Intouch owns 40.45% of AIS. 

Gulf said it does not intend to buy satellite operator Thaicom Pcl, Intouch's other holding, and will request Thailand's securities regulator to waive the requirement for a tender offer.

Gulf said it will offer 122.86 baht per share for AIS, a 27% discount to AIS' Friday close. Gulf's total bid for AIS and Intouch would then amount to some $17 billion. AIS shares rose 0.89% on Monday.

Singapore Telecommunications, Singapore's largest telecoms firm, which owns just over a fifth of Intouch and 23% of AIS, said it was reviewing its options for the stakes. 

"Singtel views its stakes ... as strategic investments and we believe in the long-term outlook of the businesses," it said in a statement. 

Intouch and AIS acknowledged the bid in separate filings. AIS did not comment further, while Intouch could not be immediately reached for a comment. 

"Gulf's intention seems to be on Intouch rather than Advanced," said Ekkarin Wongsiri, analyst at Trinity Securities, adding that Gulf would already have to take on a lot of debt to buy Intouch.

"Its offer price for Advanced shares is also below current value, which means there is less likelihood shares will change hands," Wongsiri said, adding he expected Gulf to be able to secure up to a 70% stake in Intouch.

Gulf said it would use working capital and loans to fund the transaction.

If the deal goes through, the market will focus on Gulf's plans to shed debt, which could be partly achieved by AIS selling some of cellular towers, Kasikorn Securities analyst Pisut Ngamvijitvong said in a note.

With reporting by Reuters

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Thailand Covid Third wave economic impact vaccines slow rollout Myanmar refugee concern Thai-Myanmar border Gulf Energy InTouch takeover bid AIS