* Imports slump amid weak demand for consumer goods
* Thai Airways report big losses for Q4 and 2013
* Share prices of some Thaksin-linked companies rebound
By Orathai Sriring and Amy Sawitta Lefevre
BANGKOK, Feb 25 Thailand announced a slump in
trade figures on Tuesday with the biggest drop in imports in
more than four years in January, as months of anti-government
protests extended their economic toll beyond falling tourism
The protesters, whose disruption of a general election this
month left Thailand in political limbo, aim to topple caretaker
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and erase the influence of
her brother, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, seen by many as
the power behind the government.
Weeks of unrest, most of it in the capital, Bangkok, have
been interrupted by occasional bombs and gunfire, with one blast
killing a woman and a young brother and sister in a busy
shopping district on Sunday.
Imports fell 15.5 percent in January from a year earlier,
the biggest tumble since October 2009. Imports of computers and
parts were down 19 percent from a year earlier, auto parts off
31.8 percent and consumer goods 5.3 percent. Exports dropped 2
Thailand is a regional hub for global car makers and a major
producer of hard disk drives.
"Everybody is definitely delaying their imports (of consumer
products) as most shopping malls are quiet," said Nopporn
Thepsitthar, chairman of the National Shippers' Council. "Nobody
dares to place big orders."
Thai Airways International reported a big net loss
of 12 billion baht ($369 million) for 2013, including a loss of
5.65 billion in the final three months of the year.
Another loss is already expected for 2014.
The political unrest since November and a drop in the number
of tourists visiting Thailand have added to the problems of the
struggling flag carrier, whose chairman resigned last week, two
months after the president said he was stepping down for health
The Thai Hotel Association said this month that occupancy
rates in the capital were hovering at around 50 percent, well
below the usual 80 percent at this time of year.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc, which ranks
fourth among hotel brands in Thailand, has said the protests
significantly hurt its business there in January.
Thailand had a record year for tourists in 2013, with more
than 26 million visitors, but the picture began to change in the
final two months, which is normally the start of the high
season. And arrivals in January were barely changed from a year
earlier, Tourism Authority of Thailand figures show.
Tourism accounts for about a tenth of Thailand's gross
In a small bit of good news for Yingluck, the Election
Commission approved a 712 million baht ($21.87 million) fund to
be drawn from the central budget for rice farmers, many of whom
have been waiting months for payment and some of whom have
committed suicide in desperation.
But the sum is a small fraction of the estimated 130 billion
baht her government needs to pay to nearly a million farmers.
"If we don't get our money this week, we'll return to remind
the prime minister about it," said one of the farmers' leaders
after they protested outside an air force base where Yingluck
was holding a cabinet meeting.
The rice subsidy scheme is one of several populist policies
that swept Yingluck to an election win in 2011 thanks to her
rural support base in the north and northeast.
Anti-government protesters accuse former telecoms tycoon
Thaksin of corruption and say that, prior to being ousted by the
army in 2006, he used taxpayers' money for such populist
policies to buy him the loyalty of millions.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said protesters would
target Shinawatra businesses again on Tuesday, a threat that
sent stock prices tumbling last week.
SC Asset Corp, a property developer controlled by
the Shinawatra family, lost almost 10 percent in the second half
of last week and mobile handset distributor M-Link Asia Corp
, also with links to the family, lost 12 percent.
However, SC Asset recovered 0.7 percent on Tuesday and
M-Link nearly 5.5 percent.
At least 20 people have been killed and more than 700
wounded since the protests began in November.
It is the worst political violence since 2010, when
Thaksin's supporters paralysed Bangkok for weeks. More than 90
people were killed and 2,000 wounded during that unrest, which
ended when Suthep, then a deputy premier, sent in troops.