Thai stocks, bath jump on optimism for smooth royal transition
BANGKOK, Oct 14 — Thai stocks jumped the most since 2013 and the baht strengthened on prospects for a smooth transition following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch.
The benchmark SET Index surged 4.1 per cent to 1,470.59 as of 11:24 a.m. in Bangkok and the baht advanced 1 per cent to 35.265 a dollar after gaining as much as 1.6 per cent earlier. The share gauge is still down 2.2 per cent for the week, and the measure’s 12-month price-to-earnings ratio is trading near the cheapest level since February.
“The selling looks overdone,” said Song Seng Wun, a regional economist at CIMB Private Banking in Singapore. “With the military firmly in charge, the market should stabilize. You won’t have chaos when the generals are in charge.”
Thailand’s government called on the nation to avoid “joyful events” for 30 days, to dress in mourning for a year and pray for the king’s soul to protect the nation. It also signaled the 88-year-old king’s only son will take the throne. Bhumibol was a symbol of unity in a country rocked by 10 coups during his seven-decade reign, but had been ill for years, making limited public appearances and spending most of his time in the hospital. Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, doesn’t enjoy the same adulation.
The iShares MSCI Thailand Capped ETF jumped 2.7 per cent, the most since February, to US$68.54 (RM288) in the US overnight. The SET Index lost 6.5 per cent in the first three days of the week after the royal palace said Sunday the king’s condition was unstable.
“The key will be to see a smooth transition of power to the new king,” Tony Hann, the head of equities at Blackfriars Asset Management in London, said after the death was announced yesterday evening in Bangkok. Hann holds a greater share of Thai stocks in his portfolio than in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. “If that occurs, then I think the recent setbacks provide a good entry.”
The baht has declined 1.1 per cent this week. The cost to insure the nation’s debt rose five basis points to 106 basis points yesterday in New York, completing a 23 basis-point increase in three days that was the steepest in more than three years, according to CMA data.
“The Thai baht will probably be a little more volatile for a few weeks,” said Vishnu Varathan, a senior economist at Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Singapore. “There are more questions than answers with regards to the political outlook.”
The 30-day volatility on the SET Index climbed on Wednesday to the highest level since January. The baht slid to the lowest since January and at one stage was heading for its worst week in a decade.
The SET rose 15 per cent in the first nine months of the year, the most among Southeast Asia’s major gauges after the Jakarta Composite Index. Stocks entered a bull market in July and reached the highest level in 15 months in August as economic growth accelerated and emerging-market assets rallied.
Equities had also been aided as stimulus measures to help shield the country from China’s economic slowdown made the nation’s shares a haven for overseas funds. Global funds have poured US$3.8 billion into Thai equities this year, the biggest inflow in Southeast Asia, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“Thailand’s economic fundamentals remain unaffected, which should help it to weather this storm,” Jingyi Pan, a Singapore-based strategist at IG Asia Pte, said by e-mail before the announcement. “The military government which has overseen the economy during a period of increasing GDP growth, could help to guide the country through the period.”
Global funds pulled more than US$950 million from Thai bonds in four straight days of selling, heading for the largest weekly outflows since May 2013. The nation’s 10-year government bonds rose today, pushing the yield down four basis points to 2.26 per cent. That pared its weekly increase to five basis points.
The nation’s bond market had been struggling even before the king’s health spurred further declines, as higher oil prices threatened to spur inflation and prompting traders to price in chances for a Bank of Thailand interest-rate increase. Thailand’s sovereign notes have slumped 2.1 per cent in the past six months, compared with gains of more than 6 per cent in India and Indonesia and a 2.6 per cent advance in Malaysia.
Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy may grow as much as 3.5 per cent in 2016 from 3.2 per cent last year on the government’s accelerating spending, according to the National Economic and Social Development Board. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, who took power in a May 2014 military coup, has issued a series of economic stimulus measures valued at more than 645 billion baht since September 2015 to help shore up local demand.
There’s now a potential buying opportunity, according to Soo Hai Lim, investment director at Baring Asset Management (Asia) Ltd. in Hong Kong.
“A lot of people are nervous about the situation,” he said. “It is something that investors cannot dismiss outright but with the military in charge, the situation in Thailand should be manageable. Quite a number of companies are still delivering quite good growth despite the challenging macro economic environment. This incident is unfortunate but it’s something we’re aware of. The king has been sick for a while.” — Bloomberg