Thai Feb exports surprisingly rise, due to gold and helicopters

BANGKOK, Mar 25:   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 percent from a year earlier, the Commerce Ministry said on Friday. A Reuters poll projected a drop of 7.65 percent following January’s decline of 8.91 percent. Imports plunged 16.82 percent, 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 ($683 million) and gold of $1.89 billion, compared with $237 million in January. Those two items accounted for nearly 14 percent of total exports of $18.99 billion. Deputy Commerce Minister Suvit Maesincee said that when helicopters/vehicles and gold are excluded, “normal trade (exports) was down 2 percent” from a year earlier. Pimonwan Mahujchariyawong, an economist with Kasikorn Research Center, said the data reflects 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.SLUGGISH DOMESTIC DEMAND Exports, equal to more than 60 percent of Thai output, have long been weak, one reason why Thailand’s military junta has struggled to revive Southeast 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 percent in February from a year earlier, due mainly to gold shipments. Exports have contracted the past three years, with shipments in 2015 down 5.78 percent, the biggest annual pace of fall in six years. The Bank of Thailand (BOT) expects another contraction this year, a factor in its cutting its 2016 economic growth forecast on Wednesday to 3.1 percent from 3.5 percent. The central bank said exports would shrink 2 percent, rather than be flat. In February, exports to China fell 7.6 percent from a year earlier, while those to Europe rose 4.1 percent. Shipments to the United States were up 0.3 percent last month and exports to Japan, which the ministry said was where the helicopters went, surged 34.8 percent.  (AGENCIES)

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