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Weak Thai consumer confidence improves after coup - university survey

Source: Reuters - Tue, 3 Jun 2014 05:14 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Refiles to fix spelling of one word in 1st paragraph)

* Private university's index rises for 1st time in more than a year

* Survey was done after army seized power on May 22

* Sentiment lifted by army move to restore order, pay rice farmers

By Orathai Sriring and Kitiphong Thaichareon

BANGKOK, June 3 (Reuters) - Consumer confidence in Thailand rose in May after falling for 13 straight months, according to a university survey carried out after the army seized power and said it will end political unrest and revive a stumbling economy.

The privately-owned University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce's consumer confidence index rose to 70.7 in May from 67.8 in April, which was the lowest level since November 2001. Confidence had fallen for 13 months in a row.

The latest reading is the highest since January this year.

"The main factor boosting sentiment was confidence in the future due to political clarity. People were more confident that the economy would get better," Thanavath Phonvichai, an economics professor at the university, told a briefing.

The university said its survey had 2,251 respondents - about 40 percent of them in Bangkok and 60 percent in the provinces.

Months of anti-government protests in Bangkok contributed to Southeast Asia's second-largest economy shrinking 2.1 percent in the first quarter from the previous three months, and recession loomed.

Political unrest has hurt confidence, domestic demand, investment, public spending and tourism, while adding to worries for Thai producers already suffering from poor exports.

In April, domestic car sales tumbled 33 percent from a year earlier. Tourism, which accounts for about 10 percent of the economy, has taken a hit, with arrivals down nearly 5 percent in January-April from a year earlier.

From December until May 22 - the day the army took control - Thailand had a caretaker government with limited powers.

The junta says it is seeking to rebuild confidence and revive economic activity. It started paying about 90 billion baht ($2.7 billion) arrears owned to hundreds of thousands of farmers under a controversial rice-buying scheme.

It has said the new state budget will start on time on Oct. 1 and it has prepared emergency economic measures to kick start the domestic economy.

Economic growth forecasts for Thailand have been cut several times since late 2013. But some economists think the outlook may improve on optimism over the new government and its economic policies.

Last week, the Finance Ministry said it was aiming for 3 percent growth this year. Before the coup, the ministry said it planned to cut its recent forecast of 2.6 percent.

In 2013, Thailand's economy expanded 2.9 percent. (Editing by Richard Borsuk)

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