Political woes add to consumer blues

Political woes add to consumer blues

Consumer sentiment fell for a fourth straight month in December as the public fretted over the impact of the deepening US-China trade war and uncertainty surrounding Thailand's political situation.

The latest survey by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) found that the consumer confidence index dipped to 79.4 in December from 80.5 in November, 81.3 in October, 82.3 in September and 83.2 in August.

Thanavath Phonvichai, vice-president for research at the UTCC, said consumers were also worried about rising oil prices, low purchasing power, low farm prices and fewer Chinese tourist arrivals.

"Despite numerous positive factors, including visa waivers for tourists on arrival, continuous talks between China and the US to ease their trade row, higher rice, tapioca and corn prices, and New Year celebrations and state-sponsored cash handouts to welfare smartcard holders, these factors have yet to drive much domestic economic growth," Mr Thanavath said. "The anticipated election postponement is likely to affect the country's economic performance in the first quarter."

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Thursday that the long-awaited election date would likely be delayed from Feb 24 to avoid having poll-related activities overlapping with those of the coronation ceremony.

In any case, the poll will be held no later than the May 9 deadline.

Under the constitution, the general election must be held within 150 days of the organic law governing the election of MPs taking effect on Dec 11, 2018.

His Majesty the King's coronation is set for May 4-6, and there will be preliminary preparations about half a month before the coronation period, Mr Wissanu said.

The preliminary rites are expected to begin after Songkran in mid-April.

After the coronation, there will be activities organised by the government and the public to celebrate the occasion, taking about half a month, Mr Wissanu said.

Mr Thanavath said the election postponement will delay money circulation and spending on political rallies that were seen as vital to economic performance in the first quarter.

The university earlier estimated that 30-50 billion baht would be circulated during the campaign.

Nonetheless, the university forecasts Thai GDP to manage growth of 4-4.2% in 2019, based on assumptions that exports grow by 5% and an election is held at the end of the first quarter or early in the second quarter.

Mr Thanavath said the key factors needing a close watch are the trade war and oil price trends.

If negotiations between the US and China fail to progress, consumer confidence is likely to fall further throughout the first quarter, he said.

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