Baht 'could come under severe pressure'

Economy January 11, 2014 00:00


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CONTINUING political unrest set to culminate in next week's "Bangkok shutdown" campaign by opponents of the government is adding to pressure on the baht, which amid other factors could weaken to 34 against the US dollar if there are violent clashes.

Sutee Losoponkul, first executive vice president of CIMB Thai Bank and head of its treasury group, said yesterday that the bank saw no immediate prospect for large capital inflows, and the baht was unlikely to regain strength before the political situation is resolved.

But even if the immediate political conflict is calmed down, until there is assurance that the previously planned infrastructure mega-projects will get back on track, the economy will not be on a firm growth path. This is despite the fact that Thailand remains a good place to invest in terms of strong economic fundamentals and strategic location, Sutee said.

CIMB Thai expects the baht this year to average 33.5-33.6 against the greenback but could hit 34 if the US Federal Reserve ends its bond-purchasing programme. And that 34 mark could arrive much more suddenly if riots erupt on Monday, he said.

He also noted that the weaker baht was not yet having much effect in terms of fuelling an export recovery. Meanwhile foreign tourists are starting to take their vacations elsewhere, fearing violence in Thailand, adding another unwanted blow to the baht.

CIMB Thai warns traders to pay serious attention to foreign-currency forward contracts to mitigate risk.

“It is not only Thailand that is facing currency depreciation, neighbouring countries such as Malaysia are also. Therefore, gaining margins from the baht’s depreciation is not the right solution for exporters. They should think seriously about hedging tools and focus on improving operational efficiency to compete with traders in neighbouring countries,” Sutee said.

Meanwhile HSBC Global Research says in its “Asian FX Focus 2014” outlook that the house is cautious on the baht on a number of fronts, both domestic and external.

Last year Thailand’s forex cover fell to its lowest level since 2006. While the ratio was still higher than others in Asia, and the Bank of Thailand is ready and able to intervene to reduce foreign-exchange volatility, the weak growth outlook may curb efforts to contain baht weakness. Indeed, the central bank could cut the policy rate again in light of slower growth potential and political pressures, the house said.

Sentiment is likely to remain cautious going into the February 2 election, it said, which the main opposition party is boycotting. While political headwinds are not new for the baht, they are now having a larger impact on the currency. The Fed’s tapering of its quantitative easing programme has also made foreign investors more selective, and Thailand’s narrower current-account deficit has meant that capital flows are having a larger direct impact on the baht than in the past.

Roong Mallikamas, BOT director of macroeconomic policy, said the baht’s depreciation encouraged importers to increase their forex-hedging volumes.

In November alone, importers’ hedging volumes increased to 27 per cent from 17 per cent in October, while hedging activities by exporters in November increased to 34 per cent, from 30 per cent the previous month, she noted. Yet, trend of hedging by exporters is lower than the average volumes of 30-40 per cent.

“We expect the trend of baht depreciation will make hedging attractive to importers because currency volatility is [a major] risk for trading businesses.”