Escalating anti-government protests in Thailand could push one of this year’s worst performing stock markets even lower, some investors fear, as political instability adds another layer of risk to an already fragile tourism-dependent economy. Thai stocks were Asia’s worst performers this week, down 2.6 per cent, as protests hit the capital Bangkok where tens of thousands of people defied a ban on demonstrations.
Thailand has already suffered a record US$8.8 billion (RM36.5 billion) in equity outflows over the first nine months of this year, exchange data shows, as the Covid-19 pandemic wrecks the travel-exposed economy and finance and industry-heavy stock index. “The main thing is that it will add to the already negative sentiment,” said Jeep Chatikavanij, founder of the Ton Poh Fund which manages US$150 million. “The Thai market is in a slow death towards irrelevancy, the protests are just one more thing.”
The protesters have for months been seeking to remove Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former junta leader, and to curb the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Prayuth has vowed to stay on and this week issued an emergency decree, prohibiting gatherings of more than five people. At the same time the economy has suffered its biggest contraction in 22 years, the stock market has dropped 22 per cent since the start of the year and, due partly to a lagging currency it is among the worst performers globally in dollar terms.
That the baht has held up this week shows that at least some faith in a longer-term recovery remains. “Resurgence of the anti-government protests is concerning and suggests downside pressure in the short term, as well as a higher risk premium in Thai stocks than its Asian peers,” said Nader Naeimi, AMP Capital’s head of dynamic markets. However, he does not think the present instability will derail the Southeast Asian country’s recovery prospects. “For anyone who doesn’t believe global tourism is dead forever, Thai stocks are a great bet on a post COVID world and an eventual return to travel and leisure activities.”