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Thai banks, businesses count cost of deadly protests

Thai banks, businesses count cost of deadly protests
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First Published: Thu, May 20 2010. 04 35 PM IST
Updated: Thu, May 20 2010. 04 35 PM IST
Bangkok: Banks were set on fire. A major department store nearly collapsed. The stock exchange was attacked. Tourists were trapped in hotels.
After two months of protests that ended in an arson spree, Thailand is counting the economic cost and financial toll of a crisis that threatens to carve deeply into Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy and squeeze margins of some companies.
The country’s second-largest lender, Krung Thai Bank, was among the first to announce its profit would suffer from recent political violence in Bangkok.
The authorities said 39 properties had suffered fire damage, including many bank branches. Markets and banks were closed on Thursday.
Bangkok Bank, the country’s biggest lender, said 10 of its branches had suffered in the rioting.
Some branches at the bank -- a target of the protesters because of supposed links to the royalist elite they were fighting -- also were also damaged by grenades earlier in the protest, which started in mid-March.
Krung Thai had a strong first quarter and had been planning to raise its loan growth target for this year to a double-digit percentage from 7%.
That was now under review, President Apisak Tantivorawong told Reuters, adding that some of its branches and foreign exchange booths had been damaged during the violence.
“Overall, the second quarter will be lower than the first,” he said, referring to profit and lending. “Our performance was not that good in April and there are more holidays in May.”
A fire at the Stock Exchange of Thailand had damaged the building and part of its computer system, said Chairman Sompol Kiatphaibool. The market is closed on Thursday and Friday.
Central World, Southeast Asia’s second-biggest shopping mall, was badly damaged. Zen, a trendy store at the front of the complex, was destroyed, according to Central Pattana, which owns the mall.
Initial inspection showed the nearby Centara Grand Hotel, operated by Central Plaza Hotel, was not damaged.
Trouble continued late into the night on Wednesday despite a curfew, and fire broke out in a Big C Supercenter store near the protest site in central Bangkok.
The company, in which France’s Casino is a major shareholder, said it had closed a branch in Khon Kaen province in the northeast because protesters had destroyed part of it.
Major Cineplex, Thailand’s largest cinema chain operator, said it had shut nine theatres on Thursday due to the violence in Bangkok, including one in the torched Big C complex.
The various malls at Rachaprasong intersection -- the heart of the “red shirt” camp from 3 April -- had combined revenue of around 5.2 billion baht ($161 million) in a normal month, said Fafuen Temboonkiat of the Rachaprasong Square Trade Association.
It was hard to assess losses for the moment, he said. “Every operator wants to enter the area, so we can estimate the damage, but we can’t because the area is closed by police.”
Most firms will feel some effect from the violence.
This week was made a public holiday to keep people out of the centre of Bangkok while the security operation was in progress, so many businesses are closed or operating with reduced staff.
The elevated Skytrain and underground railway are halted, power outages have been experienced in parts of the capital since Wednesday, and phone and Internet connections are unstable.
The Tourism Council of Thailand, a private organisation, has slashed its tourist target for this year to 13 million from 16 million -- versus last year’s total of 14.1 million -- because of the riots, an official told Thai PBS TV.
The state Tourism Authority of Thailand has cut its target to 13 million from 15.5 million and slashed its revenue target by a fifth to 480 billion baht ($14.8 billion).
Tourism accounts for 6% of gross domestic product and employs at least 15 % of the workforce, so consumer spending is bound to suffer if many jobs are lost, as feared.
A source at the state planning agency, the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) said the economic impact of the political turmoil and rioting would easily exceed 100 billion baht, getting on for 1 percent of gross domestic product.
“Although the protest and political tension may be past its worst, the impact and related losses are higher than people had expected. What we need to see is how long it will take to regain the confidence of foreign tourists and investors,” said the official, declining to be identified.
The NESDB releases January-March GDP data on Monday.
“We expect first-quarter GDP could record its fastest year-on-year growth in 14 years at around 10%,” said economist Pimonwan Mahujchariyawong at Kasikorn Research Center. “However, the worse-than-expected violence will cause a sharp quarter-on-quarter contraction in the second quarter.”
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First Published: Thu, May 20 2010. 04 35 PM IST