Thai retailers hopeful consumer spending will return after mourning period

  • Economy
  • Tuesday, 24 Oct 2017

BANGKOK: The distributor of Nike Inc’s Converse brand in Thailand is hopeful of a revival in consumer spending once a yearlong mourning period for King Bhumibol Adulyadej ends on Oct 29.

Whether Rich Sport Pcl Chief Executive Officer Papitch Wongpaitoonpiya is proved right will help to determine the strength of a rebound in the Thai economy, since household consumption is worth about half the country’s US$407bil gross domestic product. 

Spending has been subdued amid grieving for the monarch, most visibly in a preference for monochrome clothing.

“Almost all retailers are highly optimistic consumer spending will finally recover after October,” Papitch said in an interview. 

“It’s been a gloomy environment for the retail sector, especially clothing. It’s been very hard to sell products in colors other than black and white. That’s understandable, as the whole country has been in grief.”

The mourning period for Bhumibol, who died Oct 13 last year, will conclude after a five-day, US$90mil cremation ceremony that starts Wednesday and is expected to bring Bangkok to a standstill. Flags are flying at half-mast, and commemorative portraits of the revered monarch are dotted across the capital.

Household expenditure is worth about US$188bil, according to the World Bank. Private consumption expanded at an average pace of 2.5% this year, compared with 3.5% in 2016, Bank of Thailand data shows.

Investors appear to be betting on a revival, with the 22-member Stock Exchange of Thailand Commerce Index rising 11% so far in 2017, beating the 10% climb in the overall stock market.

One obstacle to a bigger impetus from consumers is the elevated level of Thai household debt, swollen by now-defunct policies such as an incentive programme that encouraged car purchases.

Domestic private-sector credit exceeds 140% of GDP, the most in major emerging Southeast Asian economies, World Bank data shows. Household debt has climbed to 78% of GDP from roughly 70% five years ago. Lenders are grappling with a build up in soured loans.

“The end of a yearlong mourning period might unleash some pent-up demand,” said Euben Paracuelles, a senior economist for Southeast Asia at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Singapore. “However, there are still strong structural forces at play, particularly the on-going household deleveraging.”

For now, exports and tourism are driving the pick up in economic growth. But while the 3.8% GDP expansion expected by the Bank of Thailand in 2017 would be the fastest pace in five years, it would still lag behind neighbors such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. - Bloomberg
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