Monday, January 21, 2008

Thailand's Fortune Tellers

Will fortune smile?

Local seers foresee a challenging year ahead, possibly even with more political change

SRIWIPA SIRIPUNYAWIT


Fortune telling is not solely the refuge of the poor or the poorly educated, who are considered more prone to superstition in the eyes of many people. Noted astrologer Pinyo Pongcharoen says that about sixty percent of his clients are politicians and businesspeople.

Everyone is captivated by the future. Will my business be successful? Should I invest in the stock market? Will I earn more if I invest my money elsewhere? Maybe in real estate?

No one is absolutely sure about the answers, yet some people seem to have uncanny ability when it comes to predicting the future.

It's customary for business and finance writers to turn to strategists, analysts and specialists for forecasts about the future, usually based on facts, figures, statistics and other historical data.

But it's also a fact that many people in Thailand place a high value on the predictions of fortune tellers, and those with good track records can earn considerable public esteem as well as wealth.

Fortune telling is a thriving business. Even when economic times are tough, the reasoning goes, people are more in need of inspirational predictions that can put them at ease psychologically.

According to Kasikorn Research Center, last year Thai people spent 1.8 billion baht on different kinds of fortune-tellers, be they palm readers, Tarot readers, psychics, astrologers or feng shui specialists. The figure rose by 6% from 2006.

Pinyo Pongcharoen, a president of the International Astrological Association, says that 60% of his clients are politicians while the remainder are businesspeople and academics. Most feel insecure about the future and believe his expertise can at least give them a place to start.

Many come to him to discuss their businesses, some need advice on their political career paths, some want suggestions on relationships, and others simply seek guidance before making key life decisions, says Mr Pinyo, 52.

So where does he see the country heading this year?

For a start, he says, the economy will remain sluggish. Key factors that will have a great impact include the new government's competence in running the country, the relationship of Thailand with other trading partners, and the enforcement of constitution and other laws.

Mr Pinyo counsels business owners to hold off on expansion plans since the economic outlook will continue to be rough. Public and household debts will continue to increase.

Businesses that will have a tendency to slow down, he says, will include any children-related ventures including toys and schools. The entertainment sector will also face tougher times this year.

In the stock market, energy, chemicals, tourism, shipping and telecommunication should still hold attractiveness.

''However, one thing is that investors should prudently invest with an eye for long-term results,'' he says, adding that there should be some political changes in May and another major change in Feburary 2009.

Chachaval Thaveechote, another well-known fortune teller, predicts that the economy will remain poor until the end of April or June, when political changes will occur, after which the economy is likely to become less stressed.

He foresees that businesses in telecommunications, food and other daily-use products should still do well this year _ as long as the prices are cheap. Inbound tourism should remain stable, particularly if the government taps visitors from the Middle East. He also believes low-priced property developments will continue to prosper this year.

Businesses and the general public, Mr Chachaval continues, will face even tougher financial difficulties caused by oil prices. Activities dependent on taxes are likely to encounter hardship since many industries will continue in the doldrums, generating less profit and therefore less tax. The stock market, meanwhile, will be highly volatile, though with some easing after April.

Phatchanee Tusayadej, a well-known palm reader, also suggests that business owners delay expansion plans as this year will be another rough one, particularly in the second half, with economic difficulties persisting into next year.

''However, things should start to pick up by 2010,'' she predicts, adding that she foresees yet more political changes within the next six months.

In terms of careers, she says, specialists tend to do far better than generalists. So, people should try to expand their knowledge and skills in specialised areas to make themselves more marketable.

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