• Thailand’s business leaders embrace a cautiously optimistic outlook amid global enthusiasm

* Business optimism across ASEAN up to net 61% while Asia Pacific down to net 52% in Q1 2018

* Global optimism reaches net 61% in Q1 – highest in 15 years of research

* Thailand’s forecast remains uncertain compared to its neighbors, but trends are positive

* Some markers indicate prospects for growth, but businesses prefer a ‘wait and see’ approach

Bangkok – Business optimism across Asia Pacific is down from its recent peak in the first part of 2018, according to global research from Grant Thornton’s International Business Report (IBR). However, the findings also reveal a split in outlook. Optimism is down in the established economies of China and Japan, while it is up in the emerging ASEAN region including Thailand. At a global level, business optimism stands at an all-time high during the first quarter of this year.

The IBR finds that economic optimism across ASEAN is up to net 61% in Q1, the joint highest quarterly figure ever recorded. Since Q4 2017, optimism increased substantially in Malaysia (28%, up 22pp), Singapore (34%, up 12pp) and Thailand (16%, up 6pp). These findings are in line with global trends which show optimism surging up to the same figure of 61% – the highest figure recorded in 15 years of research.

However, Asia Pacific showed an overall decrease in optimism, as declines in China and Japan brought the regional average down to net 52%. In China, business optimism is down from an all-time high of net 78% in Q4 to 65% in Q1. In Japan, businesses reached positive territory for optimism in Q4 (net 3%) but have since slipped back to net -8%. It seems the continued transfer of low-cost manufacturing sectors from China to neighbouring countries is driving business confidence across ASEAN.

The data used in the report is the result of over 10,000 surveys with businesses worldwide. While the final numbers for Thailand average above zero on every question, indicating more positive responses than negative ones, the trends are only slightly positive in a region where the data shows a terrific outlook among business leaders in nearly every other country. Some areas of the survey show improvement in expectations over previous quarters, but a similar amount reveal decline.

While general economic predictions have increased in optimism within Thailand since Q4 2017, reports on businesses’ own revenue expectations show a decrease of 10pp, from 36% to 26%. Expectations for rising exports improved significantly over the previous quarter, from -6% to 8%, although the same period saw a drop in expectations for increased selling prices, from 14% to 8%.

“Thailand’s economy rests in large part on its political stability,” said Ian Pascoe, CEO and Managing Partner at Grant Thornton Thailand, commenting on the report’s findings. “The political status in recent years has been uncertain at best, with instability and upheaval interfering with growth far too often. The opportunity is still there for business to succeed; the country just needs to prove its dependability over the longer term.”

“The current government has implemented a string of reforms to make life easier for business, but with long-awaited elections tentatively scheduled for next year, a new administration will need to follow through on them, and in the current atmosphere there’s no guarantee that calmer voices will prevail.”

While many sections of the report showed improvement over the previous quarter, the overall numbers remain modest compared to recent actual growth figures for Thailand. The country’s economy grew by 3.9% in 2017, according to the World Bank. This represents the country’s best economic performance since 2012, with similar figures widely expected for the current year. A thriving manufacturing sector has boosted high-tech production in industrial estates, with government making clear commitments to solidify these gains through its ‘Thailand 4.0’ initiative. Chinese giant Alibaba recently announced its own investment in upgrading the country’s digital sector.

“The barriers to ambitious growth in Thailand seem to be mostly internal,” Ian Pascoe explained, reviewing the survey data. “There has been much talk about a potential trade war between the US and China, disrupting the flow of business. But US firms’ own optimism ratings are at 89%, an all-time high. Thailand’s numbers, while improving, are still far behind.”

“Simply put, the missing ingredient in Thailand is confidence. The basic indicators have the country on the right track, but recent political crises have scared away some investors. The better the election period plays out, the more of a surge we are likely to see among companies that bet on success.”

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Notes to editors:

The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR), launched in 1992 initially in nine European countries, now provides insight into the views and expectations of more than 10,000 businesses per year across 36 economies. More information: https://www.grantthornton.co.th/insights/articles/About-IBR

Questionnaires are translated into local languages with each participating country having the option to ask a small number of country specific questions in addition to the core questionnaire. Fieldwork is undertaken on a quarterly basis, primarily by telephone. IBR is a survey of both listed and privately held businesses. The data for this release are drawn from interviews with more than 2,500 chief executive officers, managing directors, chairmen or other senior executives from all industry sectors conducted in February and March 2018.

About Grant Thornton Thailand

Grant Thornton (Thailand) is a leading advisory firm with more than 270 experts who provide professional business consultancy on audit, tax, advisory, business consulting, talent acquisition management and other services enhancing our clients’ success. We provide integrated knowledge and skills, including the linkage and access to our global Grant Thornton network. We focus on our clients’ goals and achievement, including value added services, good relationship and teams, marking Grant Thornton as the leading consultancy firm for truly business growth. For further information, please visit www.grantthornton.co.th