Thai baht soars to post-coup high, threatening local business

The Thai baht has soared to its highest level against the dollar since the current junta government seized power in a coup in 2014, jeopardizing the nation’s exports and tourism-dependent economic growth just a month before the country’s long-awaited election in March.

The baht traded at 31.19 to the U.S. dollar on Friday, up 4% since the start of the year, as one point reaching its highest level since November 2013.

The appreciation of the Thai currency was steeper compared to regional peers. The Indonesian rupiah and Philippine peso have risen by 2% and 1%, respectively, since the start of the year. The baht was the strongest performer of all regional currencies in 2018.

While the risk appetite of investors around the world turned positive since U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell signaled a halt in rate rises in January, the Bank of Thailand has maintained its hawkish stance. The country’s central bank held rates at its policy meeting in early February, although two out of six committee members present voted for a rise, even though the bank had already raised rates for the first time in seven years in December.

The difference in policy direction of the U.S. and Thai central banks drew money to the latter market, causing the baht’s rise. A constant current account surplus since late 2014 has also contributed to the currency’s rise.

Yoichiro Yamaguchi, chief economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., said that while currencies of countries with a current-account deficit tend to be vulnerable to market shocks, “Thai baht-based assets are considered safer in the Southeast Asia region.”


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