Thai economy expands slowly in February, helped by tourism, central bank says

By Thomson Reuters Mar 29, 2024 | 2:31 AM

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s economy expanded slowly in February with growth in the service sector and an increase in tourist arrivals offseting a fall in exports from the previous month, the Bank of Thailand (BOT) said on Friday.

Thailand recorded a current account surplus of $2 billion in February, after a deficit of $0.2 billion in the previous month, the BOT said.

There have been 8.73 million foreign tourist arrivals in Thailand this year up to March 24, up 44% year-on-year, with visitors from China reaching 1.63 million, tourism ministry data showed.

The government is aiming for a record of 40 million foreign visitors this year following the 28 million in 2023.

The economy in March will be helped by tourism, but export recovery and industrial manufacturing will have to be closely monitored, Assistant Governor Chayawadee Chai-Anant told a briefing.

The BOT is monitoring the global economic recovery, government spending and economic stimulus measures, she added.

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy unexpectedly shrank 0.6% in the final quarter of 2023 from the third, with full-year growth at 1.9%, lower than the 2.5% growth in 2022.

Last month, the central bank lowered its 2024 growth outlook to 2.5%-3.0% from 3.2%.

Car production in regional autos hub Thailand fell 19.28% in February from a year earlier, largely due to a decline in production of pickup trucks and more imported electric vehicles (EVs), a local industry group said.

This week, BOT Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput said first-quarter gross domestic product was “not likely to look pretty” but drag factors would ease later in the year, and the BOT must ensure the policy rate was appropriate for supporting long-term growth.

Despite government pressure to ease policy, the BOT last month left its key interest rate unchanged at 2.50%, the highest in more than a decade, in a split vote. It will next review monetary policy on April 10.

(Reporting by Orathai Sriring and Kitiphong Thaichareon; Writing by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Martin Petty)