Thai economy to take 0.3% hit from Omicron, central bank chief says

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  • Tools ready to respond to longer outbreak - governor
  • Bad loans gradually rising, but banks can cope
  • Says inflation increasing in some areas of economy

BANGKOK, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Thailand's economy will take a 0.3% hit from an outbreak of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, although it should be managed within the first half of 2022, the country's central bank governor said on Tuesday.

The Bank of Thailand has tools ready should the Omicron-driven outbreak last longer than anticipated, Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput told reporters.

He said he expects the economy to return to pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2023 and that recovery continues to be fragile.

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"This year will be no less challenging than what we faced in the past ... but the central bank is ready to introduce new measures if needed," he said.

Thailand on Tuesday reported over 7,000 new coronavirus infections, up from an average of about 2,600 in the final week of 2021.

Authorities raised the alert levels and rolled out curbs last week, including extending a suspension of a "Test & Go" scheme for vaccinated tourists to skip quarantine.

Inflation was gradually increasing in certain sectors, within the central bank's framework, but wages were still depressed, Sethaput said.

Non-performing loans (NPLs) were gradually increasing, but would not surge, he said, as Thai banks were "strong and are able to handle the rise of NPLs."

Thailand's economy would see a limited impact from global monetary tightening policies due to its financial infrastructure relying more on bank loans over bonds, he added.

The economy is forecast to expand by 3.4% in 2022, the central bank said last week.

A "financial landscape" paper is set to be released on Feb. 2 that would lay out guidelines for commercial banks and financial technology, he added.

Further details for financial institutions seeking to enter joint ventures in asset mismanagement companies would be given towards the end of the month, he said.

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Reporting by Satawasin Staporncharnchai and Chayut Setboonsarng Editing by Ed Davies, Martin Petty

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