Chartchai Parasuk, PhD, is a freelance economist.
In the second quarter of 2020, the Thai economy shrank as much as 12.1%, resulting in a loss of 610 billion baht in GDP. Such a huge loss was the impact of Covid-19, caused by fear of the pandemic, the impact of strict lockdown measures, and a loss of revenue from foreign tourists.
Wow. What a difference two weeks makes! In my previous article, I wrote, with grave concern, that over 6,000 people had been infected with Covid-19 within just two weeks of the third outbreak. Two weeks later, the number of cases from the third wave alone, which started early this month, has skyrocketed five-fold to over 30,000 cases. Who knows when and how this round will end?
Today's article is "breaking news" as I am in the midst of writing a five-part series about the liquidity crisis risk facing the country. I have already published the first two parts of the series -- origins of the risk and experience from 1997 economic crisis. I still have three more articles to go. They are: (1) warning signs of the risk, (2) shielding oneself from the risk, and (3) appropriate macro-economic policy responses. I do not want to break the series because warning signs are getting stronger every day such as the alarming US$8.4 billion (263 billion baht) outflow in March and the 154 billion baht government cash deficit in February.
Today is April Fools' day. But there is no fooling about the threat of liquidity crisis. I am sure that many readers are sceptical about the possibility of a liquidity crunch in this country. First, the government debt to GDP ratio is less than 60% which is not high by international standards. Second, Thailand now, unlike in 1997, has adopted a flexible exchange rate system which has a low risk of currency speculation. And, third, the country has international reserves equivalent to 11 months of imports of goods and services which is two times higher than IMF's suggested requirement. How could an economy this good be at risk?
The world is having great economic news. All international economic agencies have upgraded world economic forecasts for 2021. The latest one is the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) who raises global economic growth forecast from 4.2% (December 2020's forecast) to 5.6% (March 2021's forecast). A higher growth prospect is the result of a fast roll-out of Covid-19 vaccination; super-large US economic stimulus package; and accelerated growth of the Chinese economy. The OECD projected that the US economy would grow by 6.5% while the Chinese economy would expand by 7.8% this year. These two giant economies account for 41% of the world economy. Therefore, high growth from these two countries is likely to induce high economic growth in other economies as well.
The 2021 Budget Bill, covering the period of Oct 1 2020 to Sept 30 2021, authorises the government to borrow up to 609 billion baht to cover its fiscal deficit -- 140 billion baht higher than the 2020 borrowing limit. In the bill, revenue is estimated to be 2.7 trillion baht (an 11.4% increase from the previous year's actual collection) and expenditure is budgeted to be 3.3 trillion baht (7.1% increase from the previous year's actual spending).
On March 2, Thai Airways will submit its business rehabilitation plan to the Central Bankruptcy Court. After that, in around May, the court will assemble Thai Airways' creditors to vote on the plan. If a majority of creditors vote yes, the court will appoint rehabilitation plan administrators and Thai Airways will conduct its business according to the plan. If a majority of creditors vote no, Thai Airways will be declared bankrupt and will head towards liquidation.
It is a pitiful dilemma, isn't it? When the economy is in a bad shape, you want the government to spend money (more money, and lots of money) to help shore up the economy. Like we are seeing in our country now. Alas, by spending money (more money, and lots of money), the government itself induces another kind of economic crisis -- a liquidity crisis.
My first article of the year cannot be about anything but the Covid-19 lockdown. Actually, I planned to write about the two-month disappearance of the world-famous Jack Ma -- founder of Alibaba and Alipay. He has an innovative idea to revolutionise the Chinese financial system but his revolutionary idea was not agreeable with Chinese authorities and caused him to "disappear". What interests me is not China's internal affairs. But his idea, once put into use, will revolutionise the global economy as well. Milton Friedman (a Nobel Prize laureate in Economics and the father of monetary policy) and his Optimum Quantity of Money theory will become useless. His idea, if taken far enough, might be able to pull the world economy out of the Covid slump. Sound interesting? Readers have to wait until my next article, which will come in two weeks' time.