Official: Baht surge fits fundamentals

Movement in line with Asian currencies' trend

Experts say the baht is just tracking other Asian currencies, reflecting 'strong fundamentals' and needs no intervention. (File photo)

The strengthening baht is in line with the economy's fundamentals and no intervention by the central bank is needed, says a high-ranking finance official.

"The stronger baht that has been observed recently reflects Thailand's strong economic fundamentals, so we should not panic over it," said finance permanent secretary Somchai Sujjapongse.

The baht rose to 34.66 to the US dollar at one point Monday, its strongest level since early October.

Asian currencies have risen broadly as the dollar remained under pressure after the Federal Reserve last week raised its policy rate by a quarter point for the third time since 2015 but signalled a less hawkish stance on future rate hikes this year.

The Taiwan dollar hit its highest level in 22 months, the Japanese yen was its strongest in three weeks, and South Korea's won reached a five-month best.

Mr Somchai said economic indicators such as the unemployment rate, fiscal position and government revenue are all solid, supporting confidence in the Thai economy and the currency's run-up.

"As the baht has appreciated in line with economic fundamentals, it won't be necessary for the Bank of Thailand to intervene in the market too much," he said.

It is better to let the baht move according to the market mechanism, he said, though the baht shouldn't be too strong or too weak relative to its peers in the region.

The Thai central bank has occasionally stepped into the currency market to keep the baht from rising rapidly against the greenback.

Foreign reserves, regarded as a proxy for central bank intervention, surged to US$180 billion on March 10 from $171.9 billion on Dec 30, while the baht has strengthened by about 3% this year.

Mr Somchai said the Finance Ministry is confident that the central bank will be able to manage capital flows effectively.

"This [capital movement] is not happening for the first time, and we know that it was caused by external factors, mainly changes in the US and European economies," he said.

Thailand is well prepared to deal with fluctuations because the country has high foreign reserves and both the foreign debt-to-GDP ratio and public debt remain low, he assured.

"We [Thailand] have the instruments and ability to cope with these capital flows efficiently," Mr Somchai said.

Chantavarn Sucharitakul, the Bank of Thailand's assistant governor overseeing the corporate strategy and relations group, said a stronger baht might be seen in the short run while the thin market persists.

"The US dollar also depreciated against neighbouring countries' currencies, such as Taiwan and Korea," she said.

Mr Somchai said low-income earners who sign up for the government subsidy and welfare under the national e-payment plan will be eligible to take out an insurance policy for 99 baht, under which they will receive daily compensation of 300 baht if they are hospitalised for 20-30 days.

He said the Finance Ministry will have to wait for completion of the registration process before estimating the budget for the compensation insurance programme. Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong will decide whether the plan is carried out.

Registration will run from April 3 to May 15 at Krungthai Bank, Government Savings Bank and the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives.

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