* Consumer confidence down for 11th straight month
* Months of political protests hit consumption, investment
* Consumption seen subdued until late in Q2 - UTCC professor
* Carmakers, property firms, hotels all suffering
(Adds detail, comments)
By Orathai Sriring and Boontiwa Wichakul
BANGKOK, March 6 Thailand's consumer confidence
tumbled to a 12-year low in February, a survey showed on
Thursday, highlighting the toll that prolonged political unrest
is taking on Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy.
The economy has been nicknamed "Teflon Thailand" for its
past resilience to turbulence, but consumer sentiment was weaker
last month than it had been even after the devastating floods of
late 2011, violent political unrest in 2010 and a deadly tsunami
in late 2004.
After months of protests aimed at ousting Prime Minister
Yingluck Shinawatra, Thais have become reluctant to spend and
tourists are staying away, weighing on sales at automakers,
property firms and hotels. The downward trend in spending is
seen continuing in the coming months.
"People are worried about weaker purchasing power, smaller
income and fewer new jobs. Consumption is likely to remain
subdued until late in the second quarter," said Thanavath
Phonvichai, an economics professor at the University of the Thai
Chamber of Commerce (UTCC), which conducted the survey.
"There is no positive sign in the first quarter. It remains
to be seen when a new government will be formed. If we have a
new government and its policies in the second quarter,
confidence will return," he told a news conference.
The UTCC's consumer confidence index fell to 69.9 in
February - the lowest since November 2001 - from 71.5 in
January. It was the 11th straight month of declines.
The survey showed that consumers' readiness to spend on new
cars fell to its lowest in 26 months, underlining a recent sales
slide in Thailand, Southeast Asia's biggest auto market. Auto
sales dropped 45.5 percent in January from a year earlier after
falling 7.7 percent in all of 2013.
PROPERTY FIRMS, HOTELS
Readiness to spend on new homes slid to its lowest in over
8-1/2 years, the survey also showed.
This has hurt property firms like LPN Development,
Thailand's biggest condominium developer. The firm said on
Thursday that it had cut its new project plans by half to only
six or seven projects this year because of "the political and
economic problems as well as our customers' situation."
Meanwhile, the number of tourist arrivals to the "Land of
Smiles" rose just 0.06 percent in January from a year earlier,
after growing about 20 percent in all of 2013.
Against this backdrop, Hotelier Erawan Group,
operator of a five-star hotel in a busy Bangkok shopping area,
this week cut its 2014 revenue growth target to just 2 percent
from 10-15 percent. It said the unrest has dragged its occupancy
rates in Bangkok down to 50 percent in the first quarter from 83
percent in the same period a year earlier.
"Travel warnings by countries will affect the hotel business
in the first half. But we expect it to rebound quickly in the
second half if the political situation eases," said Kanyarat
Krisnathevin, executive vice president and chief financial
officer at Erawan.
The protests are now in their fifth month, but at the
weekend the remaining activists closed down several big protest
sites and moved to a central Bangkok park. A state of emergency
in the capital could be extended until the protests end
Thailand held a general election on Feb. 2 but it was
disrupted by demonstrators, leaving a caretaker government with
limited powers to borrow and spend. It may be a long time before
a new functioning government can be installed.
Thailand's economy, Southeast Asia's second largest after
that of Indonesia, grew just 0.6 percent in the final quarter of
2013 from the previous three months and a year earlier as the
turmoil hit consumption, investment and tourism.
Last month, the state planning agency, which compiles gross
domestic product data, cut its 2014 GDP growth forecast to 3-4
percent from 4-5 percent. The central bank recently said growth
could be less than 3 percent.
In 2013, the economy expanded 2.9 percent, far below the 6.5
percent recorded in 2012.
(Additional reporting by Saranya Suksomkij; Editing by Chris