Thailand economy shrinks most since 1997 on tourism collapse

Thailand economy shrinks most since 1997 on tourism collapse
Last year’s 6.1 percent contraction was the worst since a 7.6 percent decline during the Asian financial crisis in 1997. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 February 2021

Thailand economy shrinks most since 1997 on tourism collapse

Thailand economy shrinks most since 1997 on tourism collapse
  • Thailand has registered more than 24,500 coronavirus cases, with a jump of about 20,000 infections since late last year

BANGKOK: Thailand’s pandemic-shattered economy suffered its worst full-year performance in more than two decades, data showed Monday, with officials citing the toll of both a gutted tourism industry and ongoing political upheaval.
Last year’s 6.1 percent contraction was the worst since a 7.6 percent decline during the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and officials said they expect the economy to expand at a much slower pace than initially predicted in 2021.
The downgrade — to 2.5-3.5 percent growth from an previous estimate of 3.5-4.5 percent — came despite a slight improvement in the final three months of the year.
“It has rebounded from the previous quarter due to the government’s stimulus package that boosted spending,” Danucha Pichayanan, the secretary general of the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC), said at a news conference.
Although the kingdom was largely spared the worst of the virus, pandemic-spurred partial lockdowns have hit the economy hard.
Thailand has registered more than 24,500 coronavirus cases, with a jump of about 20,000 infections since late last year, after a second wave that stemmed from the country’s largest seafood market.
Some 40 million tourists had been expected to arrive in 2020, but as international travel ground to a trickle, their absence hammered the country’s services sector, bruising entertainment, retail, hotels and restaurants.
The kingdom’s freefalling economy has been a factor in the youth-led protest movement that is calling for premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha’s resignation, constitutional reform and changes to the once-untouchable monarchy.
Asked about the political climate, Danucha implied it was delivering a further blow.
“The Thai economy relies on investment and exports. The political situation will affect investors’ confidence,” he said.
The country’s economy was struggling even before the pandemic, which laid bare the deep inequality between the haves and have-nots of Thai society.
In response to the pandemic slump, the government implemented a record, 1.9 trillion baht ($59.7 billion) stimulus package, cash handouts and tax incentives.
Further economic improvements will depend on managing the pandemic and boosting visitors, Danucha said.
“The outbreak and vaccine rollout, together with tourism recovery, are the main economic factors this year.”


CEOs, investors and policymakers to debate how to ‘invest in humanity’ at FII conference in Riyadh

CEOs, investors and policymakers to debate how to ‘invest in humanity’ at FII conference in Riyadh
Updated 11 sec ago

CEOs, investors and policymakers to debate how to ‘invest in humanity’ at FII conference in Riyadh

CEOs, investors and policymakers to debate how to ‘invest in humanity’ at FII conference in Riyadh
  • Future Investment Initiative summit to identify avenues for contributing in a way that creates both value and impact
  • Annual event provides platform for global leaders, investors and innovators to explore solutions to society’s challenges

RIYADH: At the first Future Investment Initiative (FII) forum in Riyadh in 2017, one of the attending billionaire entrepreneurs urged Saudi Arabia, then just embarking on the Vision 2030 strategy of transformation, to follow the example of Nike and “just do it.”

On Tuesday, at the start of the fifth FII, the Kingdom, and the FII itself, have certainly gone for “it” in a big way.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic and other global issues, in the past five years there has been a big change in the Saudi economic scene, with the pace of the Vision transformation accelerating as social, cultural and economic measures take effect in the Kingdom.

The FII itself has also undergone a transformation, becoming a permanent institute and a fixture on the international forum scene, though still under the auspices of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s multi-billion-dollar sovereign wealth fund.

At the first FII, as billionaires, entrepreneurs and senior policymakers from around the world made their way to the Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh, and the adjoining King Abdulaziz Conference Center, some smart commentator with an eye for a catch-phrase came up with “Davos in the Desert” to describe the scene.

Despite the annoyance of the World Economic Forum, which organizes the extravaganza in the Swiss mountains, the phrase stuck, and FII has increasingly taken on the trappings of the annual Alpine gathering.

Among the nearly 4,000 attendees were such luminaries as then-IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Larry Fink, chief executive of giant investment group BlackRock, who remains a regular at FII — all inquisitive to learn details of the Vision 2030 strategy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had unveiled the previous year.

The crown prince set the tone for the event, and for subsequent years, with a keynote speech that unveiled the central message of what life would be like in the Saudi Arabia of the Vision 2030 era.

He promised a “return to moderate Islam that is open to all religions,” and to eradicate promoters of extremist thoughts, adding: “We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.”

The show-stealer of that first forum was Masayoshi Son, the chairman and CEO of Japan’s SoftBank. Earlier in the year, Son had unveiled the Vision Fund, the biggest start-up investment enterprise in the world, with a budget of $100 billion — including $45 billion from the PIF — to invest in cutting-edge technology that would transform the world.

Sharing a stage with Sophia the Android, the first robot to be “awarded” Saudi citizenship in a light-hearted ceremony, Son told the audience: “Every industry will be redefined. These computers, they will learn, they will read, they will see by themselves. That’s a scary future but anyway that’s coming,” he said.

The first FII was also notable for two other landmark announcements which have left an enduring mark on the Saudi economy and the global investment scene.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled the master concept of NEOM, the $500 billion city-of-the-future to be built in the northwest of the Kingdom, which has since become the flagship project of the Vision 2030 strategy.

Carbon neutral and sustainable, the new metropolis would be served by an army of robots and driven by state-of-the-art digital technologies and artificial intelligence.

It would also create a new urban hub for innovation and enterprise in an under-populated part of Saudi Arabia. Other mega-projects followed, like the Red Sea development, the Qiddiya resort complex, the AlUla desert oasis with its historic cultural roots, and the Diriyah Gate development on the outskirts of Riyadh.

The second big announcement of that first FII was the unveiling of a financial road map for the PIF, aiming to make it the biggest sovereign wealth fund, with a target of $2 trillion assets under management by 2030.

The PIF was to be the main vehicle for the implementation of the Vision 2030 transformation, and also raise significantly the Kingdom’s profile in the international financial community.

The second FII forum, in October 2018, was overshadowed to some degree by the tragic murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul earlier in the month, which led some top-level executives and media organizations to stay away, but for which regrets and condemnation were expressed by the crown prince from the stage at the opening keynote.

It was difficult for a visitor to see much difference. The attendance figures were as good as the inaugural launch; while some familiar faces were missing from the big set-piece plenary sessions, an army of more junior executives from many of the big banks, financial institutions and other global investors were happily doing deals at the event.

Some $60 billion in deals and Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed in 2018, across a range of sectors including energy, housing, health and technology.

The 2018 event attracted eight heads of state, 20 international ministers and was watched by 2.8 million viewers worldwide.

By 2019, when Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the PIF governor, declared the FII to be “one of the top three gatherings in the world,” it was business as usual, with an even bigger turnout of around 6,000 at the event and millions more tuning in worldwide from more than 110 countries.

Like most international events of last year, FII 2020 was impacted by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented it from being held in its customary October slot.

Instead, the fourth FII was held virtually in January this year, organized from Riyadh with the help of satellite hubs in New York, Paris, Beijing and Mumbai.

The theme was “The Neo Renaissance,” referring to the rebirth of global economic life after the shock of the pandemic the previous year. The event also developed what was to be an enduring theme, and a prominent element of the fifth event starting today in Riyadh: The importance of ESG — environmental, social and governance — standards in global finance.

In the five years since the first “Davos in the Desert,” much has changed. The FII itself is now a non-profit organization run by the PIF under Chief Executive Richard Attias, who is a prominent figure at the annual events.

Its one-item agenda consists of “Impact on humanity.” Meanwhile, the Saudi economy has developed and progressed with the FII.

It has emerged from the shock of the pandemic last year, and, in particular, Saudi Arabia has helped steer global energy markets through their most severe crisis for many years through its leadership, along with Russia, of the OPEC+ organization.

All the economic indicators in the Kingdom are heading in the right direction, with GDP this year forecast to show a strong recovery from the doldrums of the pandemic recession.

Higher oil prices will make a big contribution to stronger government revenues, which can also be used to finance the ongoing Vision 2030. Non-oil growth is also expected to rise sharply.

Despite the challenges of the past two years, the FII has become an integral part of the global investment scene and the international forums circuit.

The FII has “just done it,” and will do it again in Riyadh starting on Tuesday.


Cryptocurrencies post record inflows in latest week

Cryptocurrencies post record inflows in latest week
Updated 25 October 2021

Cryptocurrencies post record inflows in latest week

Cryptocurrencies post record inflows in latest week

NEW YORK: Cryptocurrency products and funds had record inflows last week to the tune of $1.5 billion, their 10th straight week of investments, as optimism soared with the trading of bitcoin exchange traded funds, a report from digital asset manager CoinShares showed on Monday.

Inflows so far this year hit $8 billion, far exceeding the record set for the whole of 2020 of $6.7 billion, the data showed as of the week ended Oct. 22.

Total assets under management also hit a new record of $79.2 billion, although it ended the week at $76.7 billion.

The bulk of inflows for the sixth straight week went to Bitcoin, with $1.45 billion, data showed. Inflows to the world’s largest cryptocurrency year-to-date amounted to $6.1 billion.

The ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF and the Valkyrie Bitcoin Strategy ETF debuted last week, a defining moment for the crypto industry that is expected to lure more inflows from big institutional investors.

That pushed bitcoin to an all-time peak of $67,016.50 . It was last up 4.6 percent at $63,682.

“Bitcoin hitting new all-time highs shows both how far we've come and the capacity bitcoin has to upend the financial system and create a global economy, linking the developed and emerging markets like never before,” said Ray Youssef, co-founder and chief executive officer of Paxful, a global peer-to-peer fintech platform.

"While this recent price rally can be attributed to movements like the approval of the first bitcoin ETF for institutional investors, we can't ignore the impact of significant development and adoption in emerging markets," he added.

Ethereum, meanwhile, saw outflows for a third consecutive week totaling $1.4 million. 

CoinShares believed that the outflows were due to minor profit-taking as the price approaches record highs. Ether, the currency for the Ethereum blockchain, last exchanged hands at $4,224.30, up 3.5%.

Other altcoins saw inflows. Solana, Cardano and Binance posted inflows totaling $8.1 million, $5.3 million and $1.8 million, respectively.

Assets under management at Grayscale and Coinshares, the two largest digital asset managers, climbed last week to $54.6 billion and $5.2 billion, respectively. 


Greenhouse gas levels reach record amid COP26 worries

Greenhouse gas levels reach record amid COP26 worries
Updated 25 October 2021

Greenhouse gas levels reach record amid COP26 worries

Greenhouse gas levels reach record amid COP26 worries

GENEVA/GLASGOW: Greenhouse gas concentrations hit a record last year and the world is “way off track” in capping rising temperatures, the UN said on Monday in a stark illustration of the tasks facing UN climate talks in Scotland.

A report by the UN World Meteorological Organization showed carbon dioxide levels surged to 413.2 parts per million in 2020, rising more than the average rate over the last decade despite a temporary dip in emissions during COVID-19 lockdowns.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the current rate of increase in heat-trapping gases would result in temperature rises “far in excess” of the 2015 Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average this century.

“We are way off track,” he said. “We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life,” he added, calling for a “dramatic increase” in commitments at the COP26 conference beginning on Sunday.

The city of Glasgow was putting on the final touches before hosting the climate talks, which may be the world's best remaining chance to cap global warming at the 1.5-2 degrees Celsius upper limit set out in the Paris Agreement.

Under countries’ current pledges, global emissions would be 16 percent higher in 2030 than they were in 2010, according to a separate analysis by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

That is far off the 45 percent reduction by 2030 that scientists say is needed to cap warming at 1.5 degrees and avoid its most devastating impacts.

“Overshooting the temperature goals will lead to a destabilized world and endless suffering, especially among those who have contributed the least to the (greenhouse gas) emissions in the atmosphere," said Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC.

“We are nowhere near where science says we should be,” Espinosa said.


World Bank warns of inflation in low-income countries as energy prices rise

World Bank warns of inflation in low-income countries as energy prices rise
Updated 25 October 2021

World Bank warns of inflation in low-income countries as energy prices rise

World Bank warns of inflation in low-income countries as energy prices rise

MOSCOW: Rising energy prices pose significant risks of inflation in many emerging markets and developing countries, World Bank warned on Monday.

In its semi-annual report “Commodity Markets Outlook,” the bank said the ongoing energy crunch is likely to weigh on the growth of energy-importing countries in 2022.

Energy prices are expected to increase more than 2 percent in 2022 after jumping more than 80 percent in 2021, supported by continued robust demand and gradual production gains. 

The bank has raised its forecast for average oil prices to $74/bbl in 2022 from $70/bbl in 2021 projected previously in April. Natural gas and coal prices are expected to decline only slightly in 2022 to $4/mmbtu and $3.9/mmbtu from $4.1/mmbtu in 2021, as demand growth eases and production and exports increase, driven by the US.

Prices of non-energy commodities like metals and wheat are also projected to remain at elevated levels. After rising more than 48 percent this year, metal prices are projected to decline 5 percent in 2022. Prices for US hard red wheat are projected to decrease to $250 per metric ton and $245 per metric ton in 2022 and 2023 respectively from $255/mt in 2021.  

The rally in energy prices has sharply increased agricultural input costs. This includes fertilizers, which have risen more than 55 percent since January this year, with several fertilizer manufacturers halting or reducing production capacity. Elevated food prices combined with the recent spike in energy costs is pushing food price inflation up in several low-income countries such as Ethiopia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe as well as higher-income economies including Argentina and Turkey, the report pointed out.

The report provided its 2022 price forecast for energy and non-energy commodity groups revised from its previous estimate published in April this year. The most notable revisions include fertilizers (+11.8 percentage points), precious metals (+4.1 ppts), metals and minerals (+3.4 ppts), grains (-9.2 ppts), beverages (-2.7 ppts).


Egypt’s government projects to go 30% green by 2024

Egypt’s government projects to go 30% green by 2024
Updated 25 October 2021

Egypt’s government projects to go 30% green by 2024

Egypt’s government projects to go 30% green by 2024

RIYADH: Egypt aims to make 30 percent of all the government projects green by 2024 and then raise the level to 100 percent by 2030, said Yasmine Fouad, the country’s environment minister. 

Speaking at the Middle East Green Initiative Summit in Riyadh, she said Egypt spent 447 billion Egyptian pounds on 691 green projects in different sectors during the current fiscal. 

Egypt also became the first country to issue green government bonds in September 2020.

“We issued $750 million in five-year green bonds in order to focus on the climate change projects in transport and sanitation sectors,” the minister said.

Fouad said the Egyptian government is taking measures to change the overall investment environment by not just only supporting the private sector but also focussing on the banking sector to encourage it to adopt sustainable financing principles.