Surprise rise in Thai February exports
BANGKOK: Thailand reported that exports grew in February for the first time in 14 months, thanks to two unusual items - helicopters and an eight-fold increase from a month earlier for gold shipments. In February, customs-cleared exports rose 10.27% from a year earlier, the Commerce Ministry said on Friday. A Reuters poll projected a drop of 7.65% following January's decline of 8.91%.
Imports plunged 16.82%, nearly double the slide seen in a Reuters poll and an indication that exports - traditionally a growth driver in Thailand - remain weak, in spite of the reported February rise. Many imported items are parts assembled into finished goods and shipped out. Pushing up February exports, in the government data, were helicopters and vehicles for military drills (US$683 million) and gold of US$1.89 billion, compared with US$237 million in January. Those two items accounted for nearly 14% of total exports of US$18.99 billion.
Deputy Commerce Minister Suvit Maesincee said that when helicopters/vehicles and gold are excluded, "normal trade (exports) was down 2%" from a year earlier. Pimonwan Mahujchariyawong, an economist with Kasikorn Research Center, said the data reflect one-off gains. "Exports may contract for another 2-3 months before turning positive in the second half when commodity prices should start to recover," she said.
Exports, equal to more than 60% of Thai output, have long been weak, one reason why Thailand's military junta has struggled to revive South-East Asia's second-largest economy after taking power in May 2014. Domestic demand, another growth driver, has also been sluggish. On Monday, Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said preliminary data showed exports rose 10% in February from a year earlier, due mainly to gold shipments.