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* Consumer confidence at its lowest since November 2001
* Political instability hits consumption, investment, tourism
* Prime minister forced out this week, adding to gloom
* Millions of rice farmers still waiting for govt payments
By Kitiphong Thaichareon and Viparat Jantraprap
BANGKOK, May 8 (Reuters) - Consumer confidence in Thailand fell to its lowest in over 12 years in April as a protracted political crisis that culminated in the removal of the prime minister this week took its toll on Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.
There appears little chance of confidence recovering any time soon given the uncertainty over what will happen next in Thailand’s febrile politics.
Months of anti-government protests in Bangkok have led to a drop in investment and tourists, while adding to worries among manufacturers already suffering from weak exports.
The University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce’s consumer confidence index fell to 67.8 in April from 68.8 in March. It has fallen for 13 months in a row and stands at its lowest level since November 2001.
In addition to the political unrest, the university listed weakness in exports and rising living costs as negative factors, along with the failure of the government to pay hundreds of thousands of farmers for rice it has bought from them.
Thailand has had a caretaker government with limited powers since December, when then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawtra dissolved parliament and called a snap election. However, the vote in February was disrupted and subsequently annulled.
Yingluck was found guilty on Wednesday of violating the constitution and had to step down. She had agreed a July 20 date with the Election Commission for a new election but it is unclear if that will go ahead.
“There’s still no sign of a pick-up in the economy. Consumer confidence continued to weaken although the pace of the fall this month was not that big thanks to higher spending during the Songkran festival,” Thanavath Phonvichai, an economics professor at the university, told a briefing, referring to a holiday for Thailand’s new year.
“We expect consumption to remain weak, at least to the end of the second quarter. Any recovery in confidence will depend on some clarity in the political situation,” he added.
Domestic car sales tumbled nearly 47 percent in March from a year earlier. That partly reflected high sales early in 2013 thanks to a government subsidy for first-time buyers, but the troubled political climate has also deterred buyers.
Top convenience store chain CP All said last week that because of the political situation it expected sales to grow only 10 percent in 2014, below the average of 12 percent in recent years.
Tourism, which accounts for about 10 percent of the economy, has taken a hit, with arrivals down 5.85 percent in January-March from a year earlier, according to the Department of Tourism.
Economic growth forecasts for Thailand have been cut steadily since the political troubles flared up last November.
The central bank recently said it would reduce its 2014 growth forecast again in June from its most recent 2.7 percent. Last October it was expecting 4.8 percent.
Kasikorn Research Center has forecast just 1.8 percent and Singapore-based OCBC 1.5 percent.
Inflation hit its highest in over a year in April although at 2.45 percent it remains contained. (Writing by Orathai Sriring and Alan Raybould; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)