The Bank of Thailand held its benchmark interest rate unchanged for a third straight meeting to save its limited policy space, allowing fiscal policy to take the lead in reviving an economy headed for its worst annual performance ever.
The central bank kept the policy rate unchanged on Wednesday at 0.5% in a unanimous decision, after lowering rates three times earlier this year. All 22 economists in a Bloomberg survey predicted the hold.
The pandemic has devastated two of Thailand’s main growth drivers, tourism and trade. The government has responded with a series of stimulus measures, including a $2.2 billion program of cash handouts and co-pay programs approved this week to boost consumption and jobs.
In a briefing after the decision, Assistant Governor Titanun Mallikamas said central bank policy remained accommodative but fiscal policy should be the driving force in a recovery, focusing on jobs and economic restructuring.
The central bank revised up its growth forecast for this year, predicting a 7.8% contraction compared with a previous projection of an 8.1% decline. It cut next year’s forecast to 3.6% growth from 5% previously, citing fading expectations for a tourism revival.
“There’s a concern that without more fiscal measures, the economy will be worse.” said Komsorn Prakobphol, a senior strategist at Tisco Financial Group Pcl in Bangkok. “There’s a limitation for any aggressive monetary policy with the interest rate already at a very low level.”
The baht falls as much as 0.6% against the dollar to its lowest level since August 25, before recovering slightly to 31.509 to the dollar as of 3:25 pm in Bangkok.
The benchmark SET Index of stocks fall 0.2%.
Thailand will undergo a transition in fiscal and monetary policy leadership over the next few months. Governor Veerathai Santiprabhob is leaving the central bank at the end of this month when his five-year term expires, handing over to Sethaput Suthiwart-Narueput, a member of the Monetary Policy Committee. The government also is seeking a replacement for Finance Minister Predee Daochai, who resigned in early September after less than a month in the position.
Tim Leelahaphan, an economist at Standard Chartered Plc in Bangkok, said the central bank will likely have to cut the key rate by 25 basis points in the fourth quarter, as the government has limited ability to boost the economy via fiscal measures.
“The fiscal policy outlook is in doubt after the recent resignations of two successive finance ministers; it remains unclear who will fill the position,” he said. “The political situation could pose an additional risk to the economy, given ongoing protests.”
Veerathaisaid in a recent interview that the central bank has been studying unconventional policy steps such as yield-curve control, but doesn’t think they’re needed right now. While all options, including interest-rate cuts, remain on the table, targeted policies that get funds to the sectors that need them can be most effective, he said.