Monday, January 28, 2008

Carnarvon Petroleum Signs L20/50 Concession Onshore Thailand

Monday, January 28, 2008

Executives of Carnarvon Petroleum attended an official signing with the Minister of Energy and Government officials for the newly awarded L20/50 concession in the southern Phitsanulok Basin. This was part of an extensive bidding round for oil and gas concessions by the Thailand Government intended to significantly expand the search for oil and gas.

Thailand is a net oil importer of oil and has embarked on a programme to encourage foreign investment in oil as well as gas exploration. A total of 13 onshore and offshore oil and gas blocks were awarded at the ceremony which would see total investments in petroleum exploration and production of up to US$118mm. These oil and gas blocks are part of 56 onshore and nine offshore blocks spanning 235,606 sq kms which have been put up for bidding over a 12 month period. Carnarvon now has substantial interests in three onshore exploration concessions being the existing blocks L33/43, L44/43 and the new L20/50. This is in addition to the production licenses at Wichian Buri, Si Thep and Na Sanun which are currently producing oil at almost 8,000 bopd gross to the joint venture (3,600 bopd net to Carnarvon).

Carnarvon believes Thailand is a very favourable country in which to explore for oil and gas and is currently reviewing other opportunities in Thailand.

The L20/50 concession is situated approximately 30 kms to the southeast and on trend with the largest onshore oil field in Thailand at Sirikit. Previous work has demonstrated that oil has been generated within the L20/50 concession. One previously drilled well at Nong Bua-1 in 1982 intersected significant oil shows which Carnarvon believes were not fully tested. Over the next 12 months, Carnarvon as operator will reprocess all seismic data within the permit and record a high resolution aeromagnetic survey which together will provide a 3 dimensional view of the subsurface. This will enable the recording of new seismic in the most prospective part of the concession and the drilling of at least one well within the first three year obligation period.

L20/50 Concession
Carnarvon Petroleum Ltd (Operator) 50%
Sun Resources NL 50%

Thai business sets out urgent tasks to fire up economy

FINANCIAL RECOVERY
New PM told 'get moving'

Published on January 29, 2008

Business sets out urgent tasks to fire up economy

Thai business leaders have called for newly-elected Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to jump-start the economy by restoring investor confidence and stimulating domestic demand.

They said they are anxious to see the line-up of Samak's economic team.

Pramon Sutivong, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (TCC) and the Board of Trade of Thailand (BoT), said Samak had little experience in economic and international affairs.

"As an old politician, the new premier should seek a strong team specialising in economics to increase business confidence. It will also take some time to boost the Kingdom's economic growth," he said.

He pointed out the urgent task was to stimulate domestic consumption and investment.

BoT secretary-general Pornsilp Patcharintanakul said he was surprised by the House decision to name Samak as PM. However, he said Samak's government should be able to produce results within four months, otherwise investor confidence will not return.

Pornsilp gave a 50 per cent "confidence score" for the new premier, but if his economic team does not have respectable and qualified members, the score would plunge to 30 per cent.

Priority tasks that businessmen want to see include a cut in the rising cost of living by increasing incomes and concrete measures to solve the fuel price hikes as a result of skyrocketing world oil prices. They also want a better environment for increasing trade and investor confidence.

Vallop Vitanakorn, vice president of the Thai Garment Manufacturers Association, believed consumer confidence, particular among foreigners, should increase now that a prime minister has been elected via the democratic system.

He urged the new government to immediately start mega project investments but added that the Bank of Thailand's capital control requirement should continue to be imposed to help stabilise the baht.

Bodi Chunnananda, a director of TMB Bank, said the PM vote was expected. "I want the government to solve the economic problems and if the government can cut the interest rate, that will be good for business," he said.

Bodi said the new government should also use the fiscal deficit to stimulate the economy.

Sigve Brekke, chief executive of Total Access Communication Plc (DTAC), said he hoped the new government would quickly get the economy back on track through a stimulus package and investment in large infrastructure projects.

"I would also like to see the new government put more focus on the development of the telecom industry. According to numerous studies, mobile-internet penetration rates have a significant impact on a nation's economic and social development. I don't see why Thailand has to be left behind by other countries in this area," Brekke said.

"I therefore urge policymakers to pay serious attention to the following issues to pave way for the industry's liberalisation."

One of the issues is speeding up the decision on wireless broadband 3G. Thailand is one the few countries in the region that still hasn't got 3G.

He hoped the government ensured that mobile number portability can be implemented within this year.

Wichian Mektrakarn, president of Advanced Info Service Plc, said the government should focus on promoting the availability of new telecom licences as a means to further liberalise the telecom industry.

Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand also urged his successors not to subsidise the oil price again.

"A lesson has been learned, as the intervention by the Thaksin government resulted in losses of over Bt90 billion, and in the end consumers had to shoulder the loss as oil prices in the following period could not be reduced," he said.

Arthit Vechakit, managing director of Excellent Energy International, said Samak was neither a good nor a bad choice because ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was still popular in the country.

"I think businessmen would rather know who will become Finance minister rather than prime minister. If the Finance minister is really good, the private sector's confidence will recover," he said.

Poj Aramwattananont, chairman of the Thai Frozen Foods Association said: "We should see what the Cabinet looks like. The position of prime minister has no significant importance on its own," he said.

Kongkrit Hiranyakit, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT), said the council was not worried about the new prime minister because he was elected by the majority. He said the council would meet with the government after the Cabinet is announced to discuss how to rebuild tourist confidence.

The TCT has claimed that negative news reported by foreign news agencies had destroyed the industry so the council wanted the government to take responsibility for the problem.

Business Desk

The Nation

Thailand Picks New Prime Minister After 15 Months of Military-Backed Rule




28 January 2008


Thailand's governing coalition in parliament has chosen former Bangkok governor Samak Sundaravej as the country's new prime minister. Mr. Sundaravej is a close ally of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Bangkok.

Samak Sundaravej, center, is surrounded by aides as he leaves parliament Monday, 28 Jan. 2008 after being voted as the country's new PM in Bangkok
Samak Sundaravej, center, is surrounded by aides as he leaves parliament Monday, 28 Jan. 2008 after being voted as the country's new PM in Bangkok
Seventy-two-year-old Samak Sundaravej is controversial for many people in Thailand. They accuse him of running in general elections last month as a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Despite being forced from office, exiled, and banned from politics, Mr. Thaksin remains popular, especially among Thailand's poor.

Mr. Samak's People Power Party fought election fraud charges in the Thai Supreme Court this month and won, clearing the way for the party to form a coalition government with five other parties. Made up of Mr. Thaksin's allies, the PPP won the most seats in the lower house of parliament. On Monday, parliament voted to select Mr. Samak as the new Prime Minister.

Mr. Samak says that having served five times as a cabinet minister and three times as a deputy minister, he has the political credentials to lead the country. He is known for being gruff and outspoken. He tells VOA he is not Mr. Thaksin's puppet.

"Somebody would want to put that on me, but you see it's not that," Samak said. "The media asked me, 'are you a nominee of Mr. Thaksin?' I asked back the reporter, 'is the word nominee a bad word?' In this country 'nominee' is a good word."

The new prime minister says he is in regular contact with Mr. Thaksin, who has been watching events closely from Hong Kong. Mr. Samak has said he wants to bring the former Prime Minister back within the next few months.

Analysts say that for now, whether Mr. Thaksin returns is a relatively minor question to many people. Thailand's economy has stagnated since the military coup under an interim government that analysts say is widely regarded as inept. Political science professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak says many people are now looking to Mr. Samak to work quickly to jumpstart the economy before his coalition government falls apart.

"There are a lot of expectations right now in Thailand," Thitinan said. "People are fed up with the military, with the coup. People want answers. They want their expectations to be met. Some people want to go back to the policies under Thaksin. But overall, we want some performance."

Thitinan notes that Thailand has never had a coalition government that lived out its full term. He says the biggest danger now for the Samak-led coalition is to move the economy forward in ways that will not lead to another coup.

Thailand has had 18 military coups since it transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

The latest, in September 2006, came after months of protests against Thaksin Shinawatra's government, which critics accused of corruption and abuse of power. His populist policies, however, drew the support of Thailand's urban and rural poor who now want to see that agenda resumed.


Pattaya Property Guide: Buying in Thailand

Property guides for anyone looking to invest in Pattaya, Thailand. Plus, find property in the rest of Thailand.

Pattaya is a city in Thailand and is located around 165 kilometres from Bangkok.

It is found on the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand and its name means 'south-west monsoon wind' in the local language.

The city officially has 101,378 registered inhabitants, but some have suggested that its true population could be far higher - perhaps as many as 500,000 might live in Pattaya during busy months.

Pattaya enjoys a tropical wet and dry climate with a pronounced hot and humid season between March and May. Between June and October the weather is usually hot and very wet.

To find property in Pattaya and more property in Thailand, visit: www.justoverseas.co.uk/propertyinthailand

In recent years, the city has emerged as one of the most successful beach resorts in the world. In fact, 5.4 million visitors travelled to the city during 2005. What's more, the resort has become increasingly popular with people from the former Soviet Union and other Asian countries.

As a result of its popularity, there has been significant development and building work in the city. Pattaya is second only to Bangkok in Thailand in terms of numbers of high rise buildings. Worryingly, several developments have ignored planning rules and this has caused some problems in the recent past.

Despite this, the area remains popular with tourists. It boasts two principal beaches: Pattaya and Jomtien. However, Pattaya Beach itself has become rather polluted as a result of overdevelopment nearby.

In contrast to Pattaya Beach, Jomtien a popular spot for family vacationers and water sports enthusiasts. The area around the beach is full of beachside hotels, bungalow complexes, condominiums and restaurants.

As well as the usual beach-type activities, Pattaya has strived to develop itself as a destination for golfers.

Website thai-realestate.net noted: "Pattaya being ideally placed as the gateway to some of the best courses in the world."

It added that there are "at least 24 courses alone within a 45 minute drive of the seaside".

Finally, the city has a reputation as a good destination for shoppers and people seeking exciting nightlife. Pattaya has a vast number of shopping centres, especially around the Beach Road area. Some of the most famous bars in the city include Tonys, Marine Disco, X-Zyte, Lucifer and Hammer.

Pros of Buying Property in Pattaya

As a result, Pattaya is a popular spot for people thinking about second or holiday homes in Thailand.

The propertyshowrooms.com website pointed out that "property in Pattaya is an exciting hi-end prospect for homebuyers looking for prestigious properties in one of Thailand's greatest property and tourist hotspots".

It added: "Gated communities, luxury apartments, villas, and related commercial and recreational facilities are all going up in Pattaya, offering homebuyers and investors a perfect investment climate in which to purchase their holiday homes or buy-to-let properties."

It is still possible to pick up bargain properties in the city. The portal rightmove.co.uk currently lists several studio apartments for under £10,000. For twice as much, it is possible to find a one-bed bungalow of a "low-floor" studio condo.

Typical holiday properties cost in the region of £40,000 to £60,000. However, it is possible to spend far more. The site currently lists a "four-bedroom detached" home near the beach for £662,000. A "superb Thai-Bali style property with a lake side setting & still within 25 minutes of central Pattaya" is also on the market for £870,000.

For those with even more cash to spend, a three-bed penthouse, or a 16-room hotel complex could be picked up for something over £1.5 million.

Cons of Buying Property in Pattaya

There are some problems investing in Pattaya. The city has traditionally been known for its high crime rate and associations with the sex trade. Recent government crack downs have addressed the problem somewhat, but concerns still remain.

Furthermore, overdevelopment is a serious problem in parts of the city, as is the pollution associated with it.

However, many experts expect Thai property to perform particularly well in the coming years. Finance website internationalhorizons.co.uk noted that "blossoming demand for good properties has generated exceptional increases in house and land values".

The site added: "It is quite within the realms of reality to expect to make 70 per cent, 100 per cent or in certain cases 200 per cent gains within something close to three or four years."

What you need to know when buying property in Thailand

Property laws in Thailand are complex and foreigners are generally not allowed to buy land, but can own the property on it. This is complicated by the fact that non-Thai residents can buy property and also lease land for a period of 30 years.

Many experts have suggested that renting could be more sensible than purchasing in the country. Those who do opt to buy should seek impartial local legal advice before making any firm decisions.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Thailand's economic growth forecast to be 4.5% to 6%

Growth on target but US risk is rising

PARISTA YUTHAMANOP

The Bank of Thailand maintained its 2008 economic growth forecast in a range of 4.5% to 6% yesterday, but cautioned that downside risk had increased due to the slowing US economy.

The central bank also kept unchanged its 2009 growth forecast, which is the same as for this year.

But headline inflation projections for this year were revised upward to 2.8-4% from 1.5-2.8%. Inflation is projected at 1.8-3.3% in 2009.

Core inflation, which excludes energy and fresh food prices, was projected at 1.3-2.3% this year, up from 1-2% in earlier forecasts. Core inflation next year is projected at 1.5-2.5%.

Duangmanee Vongpradhip, an assistant governor of the central bank, discusses economic trends at a briefing yesterday. — KITJA APICHONROJAREK

Duangmanee Vongpradhip, an assistant governor, said the central bank had revised down its forecast for US economic growth to 1.8% this year from 2.3%.

In a worse-case scenario, if losses were to continue to increase due to the sub-prime mortgage crisis, US economic growth could drop to just 1% this year, with the Federal Reserve cutting rates to 2.5% from 3.5% now.

''We have maintained [Thai economic] forecasts in light of many uncertainties. There are greater downside risks on economic growth. But 4.5% growth should prove attainable,'' Ms Duangmanee said.

''The 4.5-6% economic growth forecast represents a 91.7% possibility. Growth of less than less than 4.5% this year has less than a 5% probability.''

Ms Duangmanee said the existing US growth forecast did not factor in the Fed's 0.75 percentage point interest rate cut on Tuesday, a move that could help shore up the US economy this year.

She said the economic trends in the third quarter and two months of the fourth quarter of 2007 reflected stronger trends for domestic consumption and investment, offsetting weakening exports.

The central bank estimated that economic growth in 2007 should reach 4.8%, with fourth-quarter growth expected to have exceeded 5%.

The National Economic and Social Development Board will announce official fourth-quarter figures in March.

The central bank also raised its 2008 forecast for domestic consumption growth to a range of 4.5% to 5.5% from 4-5% due to improved trends in the second half of last year. Private investment forecasts were increased by a percentage point to between 9% and 10%.

''Indicators for private consumption like consumption goods, value-added tax revenues and oil and electricity usage have steadily recovered in the third and fourth quarter of last year,'' Ms Duangmanee said.

''The momentum is likely to be sustained into 2008.''

Export value this year in dollars is projected to grow 9-12%, up from earlier projections of 6.5-9% and well short of the 17.5% growth posted for 2007.

The export volume growth forecast was cut to 3.5-6.5% from 4-7% in the central bank's earlier forecast.

Assumptions for fiscal spending are unchanged, but do not include the possibility of a mid-year supplementary budget by the new government.

Ms Duangmanee said that Dubai oil prices were estimated to average $85.50 per barrel this year, compared with $65 in the last forecast and $64 for 2007.

The current account surplus was expected to drop to between $4.5 billion and $7.5 billion this year, down from $14.5 billion to $15.5 billion last year.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Thailand's Bualuang platform up and running

Filed from Singapore 1/25/2008 5:46:26 AM GMT

THAILAND: EOC Ltd.'s first heavy-lift accommodation and pipelaying barge, Lewek Champion, has completed the installation of Greenfields International Oil and Gas' (GFI) platform in the Bualuang field located in the Gulf of Thailand. The entire installation project took about two months to complete, with DP-2 enabled Lewek Champion first arriving in the field in December of last year. The project was completed within schedule and to specification.

GFI is now ready to begin development drilling of six wells using ENSCO International jackup ENSCO 51 now that the jacket, topsides, pipelines and floating production, storage and offloading vessel (FPSO) moorings have been safely installed. First oil from Bualuang field is expected to flow in late March, with the arrival of FPSO Rubicon Vantage scheduled for February. The Bualuang field holds in excess of 19 million barrels of proved and probable reserves of medium gravity oil (26 degree API) in depths of about 3,800 feet (1,158 m) in shallow waters of 210 feet (64 m).

Sweden to sell 6 jets to Thailand

The Swedish government has approved a deal to sell six Gripen-JAS fighter jets to Thailand, replacing some of that country's aging U.S. warplanes.

The deal, to be handled by the Swedish Defense Material Administration, is valued at 3.8 billion kronor ($588 million), and includes the radar surveillance system Erieye, the Swedish government said in a statement.

The administration is an independent, civil authority that provides Sweden's armed forces with material and systems and represents the government in certain international deals.

Delivery of the JAS 39 fighter jets is planned for the beginning of 2011, when Thailand winds up its current fleet of U.S. F-5 warplanes that have been in its arsenal for three decades.

Thailand has made a number of military purchases recently, including armored personnel carriers from Ukraine, assault rifles from Israel and surface-to-surface missiles from China.

Swedish Defense Minister Sten Tolgfors said he was pleased about the deal, adding that "the Gripen system is very cost-efficient and I can happily confirm an increased international interest for acquisition."

The sale still needs approval from the Swedish Inspectorate of Strategic Products.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Thailand's Honda predicts zero growth for 2008 year

WORANUJ MANEERUNGSEE


Zenjiro Sakurai (left), president of AP Honda, and Surachai Chetchotisak, the president of RS Plc, announce a joint sponsorship agreement for Euro 2008 at a briefing yesterday.

Market leader AP Honda Co predicts zero local sales growth of motorcycles this year, said president Zenjiro Sakurai.

Mr Sakurai expected total sales for 2008 to reach 1.6 million units _ the same as in 2007, which were down 17% from the year before. Although Thai politics seemed to be back on track, there still have been setbacks for the Thai economy.

For instance, he said the strong baht and expensive oil could weaken the Thai economy.

He added that the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the United States would affect Thailand.

Fortunately, he said, the country's fundamentals were still strong.

''The overall market is unlikely to improve significantly this year. However, it would be better than last year, which had a shrinking market. Hopefully, the new government will stimulate local consumption, so sales can expand,'' said Mr Sakurai.

He said that AP Honda aimed to maintain its market share at 70% _ the same as last year. The company neither had plans to cut its marketing budget nor scale down its staff.

Last year, the company posted a 14% fall in volume to 1.12 million units.He said the company decided to spend 70 million baht to sponsor live broadcasts of the Euro 2008 football tournament in June. It is joining with RS International Broadcasting and Sports Management Co (RSbs), which holds al the broadcasting rights for the tournament in Thailand.

He said AP Honda did not expect the marketing campaign would boost sales, but it would help strengthen the brand.

The tournament takes place from June 7-29 in Austria and Switzerland.

Vorawoot Rojanaparnich, chief executive officer of RSbs, said that in addition to AP Honda, Chang Beer would be major sponsor of the tournament. Mr Vorawoot said the partners in Euro 2008 would also sponsor the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Surachai Chetchotisak, the president of RS Plc, said the company would begin Euro 2008 activities in April with three sports programmes on Channel 9. In May, five programmes would air on Channels 7 and 9, the major broadcasting partners.

RS, the SET-listed sports and entertainment company, expects that Euro 2008 would be a key driver for its business this year with 500 million baht in revenues or one-sixth of the company's total.

Thai business leaders back nuclear plants

Rapid action urged to stay competitive

NAREERAT WIRIYAPONG

Business leaders yesterday called on the new government to push ahead with the $4 billion nuclear power programme, saying nuclear energy was vital to strengthen economic competitiveness against regional rivals. Boonyasith Chokewattana, chairman of the consumer goods conglomerate Saha Group, said Thailand should speed up the construction of the first nuclear plant to complete the project ahead of Vietnam and Indonesia.

Thailand and the two neighbouring countries are in various stages of developing nuclear plants, aiming to start operations around 2020.

Vietnam has already sent personnel to France for nuclear training.

''Even though we started the project later than those countries, we should speed up our development to be the first one in the Southeast Asia,'' said Mr Boonyasith.

''The faster the better, otherwise we will be left behind regional competitors.''

He said nuclear energy would help the private sector save energy, and boost exporters' competitiveness.

Despite its high investment cost, energy officials said nuclear is cheaper and greener than coal, gas and oil-fired plants.

''As oil prices keep rising, our products might not be able to compete in export markets in the future without nuclear plants,'' said Mr Boonyasith. ''Meanwhile, foreign investors are keen to know whether Thailand has secure energy supplies, otherwise, they would invest in Vietnam and Indonesia instead.''

Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, deputy secretary-general of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and head of its energy committee, also urged the government to hasten development of nuclear fuel, saying it was critical to the nation's energy security in the future.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) has embarked on a detailed three-year study that is expected to be ready for government approval by 2011.

The Saha Group is understood to be interested in investing in the nuclear power-plant business.

''Nowadays, we see a rise in fuel prices. In the future, energy supply could insufficient to serve our demand. No matter how much the energy we can save, consumption in China and India would continue the growth substantially,'' said Ms Kobkarn, who is also the chairwoman of Toshiba Thailand.

For example, fuel costs were only 30% of the total production cost for fluorescent light tubes, but they have risen to 40-50%, she added.

''If the government is too worried about activists and criticism, the project will not go ahead in three years.''

Ms Kobkarn said all parties needed to promote understanding among the public especially about the safety of nuclear energy.

''If we prepare the project in advance, we will have enough time to make sure the safety measures are well in place and also we will have time to make the public understand why we need this project,'' she said.

''Drawing public support must take place as soon as possible. The government needs to take action right now.''

Thailand set gas pipeline rental fees for PTT

Thu Jan 24, 2008 6:30am EST

(Adds details)

BANGKOK, Jan 24 (Reuters) - PTT PTT.BK, Thailand's biggest energy firm, said on Thursday it would pay the government 2-3 billion baht ($60.50-$90.74 million) in retroactive rental fees for use of gas pipelines between 2001 to 2006.

The government would charge PTT no more than 550 million baht per year to rent pipelines the firm was ordered to return to the state, Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amaranandtold reporters.

"The rental fees charged to PTT will be similar to income tax calculation," Piyasvasti said of tax rates ranging from 5-35 percent.

Last month, a top court rejected a lawsuit by activists seeking to reverse the 2001 partial privatisation of PTT, of which the government still owns about 69 percent.

But it ordered PTT, the country's largest listed firm, to return the pipelines and some land, together accounting for 10 percent of PTT's assets, to the state.

PTT shares fell 2.04 percent to 288 baht on Thursday, when the main Thai stock index .SETI dropped 1.63 percent. ($1=33.06 Baht) (Reporting by Trisanat Kongkhunthian; Writing by Viparat Jantraprap; Editing by Michael Battye)

Wife of Thailand's Ousted PM Says Husband Will Return in May



23 January 2008


Ousted Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is pictured with his wife, Pojaman, in this 21 Oct. 2004 file photo in Bangkok, Thailand
Ousted Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is pictured with his wife, Pojaman in Bangkok, Thailand (2004 File)
The wife of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says her husband will return to Thailand in May to face corruption charges, after more than a year of living in exile.

Mr. Thaksin's wife, Pojaman Shinawatra, made the announcement Wednesday as she faced corruption charges of her own at the Thai Supreme Court.

Mr. Thaksin and his wife have been accused of illegally influencing a real estate deal in 2003 to buy land from a government agency at a below-market price.

In a statement read during her first hearing today, Pojaman denied those charges. Her next trial date is in late April.

Pojaman returned to Thailand earlier this month to face corruption charges and clear her family's name.

The prospect of Mr. Thaksin's return to Thailand has been increasing, following the victory of his allies in last month's parliamentary elections.

Mr. Thaksin has been living in exile, mostly in London, since a bloodless coup ousted him from office in September 2006.

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.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Thailand's Koh Phi Phi shows serenity in tsunami's wake

Cherilyn Parsons, Special to The Chronicle

Friday, January 18, 2008

A visitor savors the attentions of a masseuse in a massag...Warning signs like this are one of the few visible legaci...Longtail boats are a common form of transportation around...Koh Phi Phi's pristine beaches show little sign of the de...More...

(01-18) 04:00 PST Koh Phi Phi, Thailand -- It doesn't take long to find bliss - and at $10 an hour, no less.

Within a few hours of reaching Koh Phi Phi Don island, off Thailand's west coast, I was lying prone in a massage pavilion beside a turquoise sea. The skilled hands of a Thai masseuse in a long, fitted silk skirt kneaded an elixir of warm coconut oil into my back. When I deigned to open my eyes, I could see a white-sand beach fringed with lush umbrella trees and tall palms.

Work? Troubles? Banish the thoughts! Only one notion lazed across my mind, a wisp of bewilderment: Hadn't a tsunami devastated this lotus-land only three years ago?

Yes. I'd watched it on the news: The day after Christmas in 2004, waves up to 30 feet tall had hammered mainland resorts and the islands. In Khao Lak, the waves roared almost 2 miles inland, and more than 4,000 people died. Phuket's west coast resorts, including the party capital of Patong, were seriously damaged.

Little Phi Phi, though, had the most dramatic story: The waves swept all the way across this low-lying isle. Two thousand people, a quarter of everyone on the island, died. Resorts and trees were smashed into toothpicks.

So how, then, I wondered, as I gazed at the mature trees and my nearby beachfront bungalow, had this place recovered so well?

Guidebooks often call Phi Phi Thailand's most beautiful island (or "koh" in Thai), and I had to agree. Was the entire place as flawless as this particular beach, Hat Yao? And were all the hotels as functional and friendly as the place I was staying on this beach, the charming, aptly named Paradise Resort?

Most strangely, all the Thais I'd seen so far, from ferry operators to this masseuse smiling over me now, seemed so serene, even happy. Maybe great chicken satay and a bath-temperature ocean work like Prozac, but still: How had the locals managed to move past their tragedy to welcome tourists with such grace?

Tentatively I asked my masseuse if she'd been on the island during the tsunami.

"Yes," she said and smiled afresh, her gaze warm but not betraying anything - though no doubt she'd lost family and friends.

"Well ... what happened to this beach?"

"No tsunami here." She explained that the waves had crossed Phi Phi only at the center, where the harbor, Ton Sai village, most of the resorts and the locals' homes lay - a 10-minute putt-putt on a longboat from Hat Yao. Other beaches had been spared.

This was good news. I'd thought the entire coastline had been flattened.

The next morning I hailed a longboat, the only motorized transport on roadless Phi Phi, for the 80-baht ($2.50) taxi ride to Ton Sai to check out the situation there.

The geography of Phi Phi is remarkable: two high, vegetation-covered limestone masses connected by a short, low isthmus - really just a sandbar. From the air the island looks like an emerald butterfly floating in a turquoise sea. At the nexus of the wings lies the village.

At the shore I took off my sandals and hopped out into foot-deep water and gritty sand. A few strides up the beach, and I was on the main lane of Ton Sai town.

I'd known this village well, right before the tsunami. In the closest I've come to dying in a disaster, I stayed in one of the adjacent resorts here just three weeks before the waves hit. (See Departures, D4).

But now I had to wonder: Had a tsunami really hit? Ton Sai was a carbon copy of its former self, a cluster of food stands, restaurants, bars, open-air tourist agencies and shops. I recognized the exact same shops selling the exact same stuff: sarongs, jewelry, T-shirts with sassy sayings. One proclaimed, "Same Same" on one side, "But Different" on the other.

Not much was different, though. Le Grand Bleu restaurant, the fanciest in Ton Sai, was even more upscale, but still inexpensive: The dinner special of fish filet with curry coconut and basil leaves was only $6.25. And there was a new, 500-square-foot bookstore. I bought two publications on the tsunami, the large-format, glossy "Back to Koh Phi Phi" and a magazine, "26.12.04: Wrath of the Tsunami," of local newspaper photos.

Over passionfruit gelato, I read that the tsunami on Phi Phi had consisted of two main waves. The first, 15 feet high, had slammed the isthmus from the north, tearing out the resorts and shops in its path and ending up in the opposite bay. Then a new wave roared from that other bay - from the south - smashing the pier and the rest of the village.

Everything was churned. The photographs showed the isthmus as a two-story-high pile of debris tangled with corpses. For 180 days, the island had been uninhabitable. Even the parts that hadn't been directly touched lacked fresh water and other services.

Desperate for dollars

When Phi Phi reopened for tourists, it was desperate for dollars. But for the first year no one came except backpackers who helped with additional clean-up and rebuilding. Divers journeyed here from around the world to hand-dredge the bays. Most of the town - walls, woks, the wallets of the dead - had ended up strewn for miles in the sea.

I finished my gelato and headed toward one of the tourist agencies. The island seemed fully back in business. Whiteboards listed hotels and advertised snorkeling trips, kayaking, scuba diving, rock climbing and boat tours of nearby Phi Phi Leh island, including uninhabited Maya Bay, where "The Beach" was filmed in 1999, making Phi Phi famous.

A female employee wore the island office uniform of T-shirt and shorts.

I asked, "How are you doing now in terms of tourism, compared to before the tsunami? Are all parts of the island ready?"

"All is good but Phi Phi full tonight! No more rooms. Tomorrow OK."

Okay, tourists were back. Good. I tried my more delicate question. "How have the people here, the locals who were here during the tsunami, recovered?"

She was brisk: "How many nights you want stay Phi Phi?"

In other words, "Why should I dwell on my past when I can sell a room to help my future?" That attitude was an answer.

I headed up the formerly ravaged Loh Dalum beach, on the other side of the isthmus from the dock. Pristine white sand was lined with rebuilt bungalows, beach bars, fruit stands, sun umbrellas and hordes of tourists.

The only reminder of the tragedy were "Tsunami Hazard Zone" signs (with the insightful advice, "In case of earthquake, go to high ground") and a few acres that hadn't been rebuilt - yet.

Nearby, workers were slapping up concrete for a resort with a Vegas-style fountain facing the beach: a wall of cascading water. So there, tsunami.

I asked a group of Thai men hanging out in a bar if they'd been here then.

"Yeah," a shirtless one answered. From his shorts pocket he pulled a couple of mini postcards that showed Phi Phi before and after the tsunami. Then he asked if I was single.

I guess he didn't want to talk about the trauma, either.

Reef madness

Next I tried one of the dozens of scuba shops. Maybe I could find a diver who'd helped dredge the bays and also could tell me about the damage to the reefs.

Marcus Bérubé, the Canadian manager of Princess Divers, had been in one of Phi Phi's safest spots during the tsunami - in the water, but far offshore, diving with clients. He'd felt the current but didn't realize what had happened until he was back on the boat, looked toward the island and could see straight over the isthmus. No more buildings to block the view.

"It was surreal," was all he would say about the arrival on shore. "You get to your bungalow and you think, well, I guess it would have been about here, but you have no reference."

After a short trip home to get a new passport, he'd returned to Phi Phi to help clean up the bays, which, he said, now were back to normal. He waxed philosophical about how the reefs had survived.

"Humans can't stand up to it, but Mother Nature builds herself to withstand her own fury. Real fragile coral that humans break easily? A tsunami comes through and the coral's still there."

Coral might remain, but as I popped my head into various accommodation options, I saw that the cheap backpacker beachfront digs were gone. They never were plentiful here, but Phi Phi now totally lacks the $5-a-night huts where guests can swat mosquitos all evening.

Maybe that makes this island expensive in Thailand terms, but I call it a lotus land for the middle class. You can get a decent, air-conditioned room near Ton Sai starting at $65 a night. Granted, at that rate the furniture is lacquered and the bathroom isn't spa-style. But you're kept comfortable in a tropical wonderland.

Heading upmarket

I did hear complaints that Meuh-la-Pauh ("Mom-and-Pop" in Thai) establishments were being squeezed out. One impassioned former small resort owner asked to remain anonymous, though she couldn't stop pouring out her tale. She'd been kicked off the bungalow property that she and her staff had operated for decades and rebuilt with love. Tragedy always brings out sharks, and now that business was strong again, their long lease had been challenged.

"It's like a second tsunami for us," she lamented.

There were other signs that Phi Phi is at risk of homogenization. The island is still funky - palm-roof architecture and hand-painted signs for mango sticky rice - but some rebuilding is mass-market style. I spotted an eye-level billboard for "Charlie's Plaza," a planned hotel for Loh Dalum beach, near the village. In the rendering, the Plaza resembled a three-story, 1990s Silicon Valley mixed- use office building.

As I explored the island over the next few days, I found farther-flung resorts. On the upper right (northeastern) butterfly wingtip of the island is the truly paradisiacal Loh Bakao. The tsunami didn't touch this spot, occupied solely by the island's most upscale lodging, Phi Phi Island Resort. A half-hour boat ride from Ton Sai, this spot is for lovers of solitude, though water sports are available, plus a spa.

It's possible to make a day-trip of Loh Bakao. A longboat and driver ($50 for a half-day) can take you to your choice of beaches and outlying islands.

The outer islands

Most notable among the nearby islands is Phi Phi Leh, a dramatic limestone karst outcropping. It features Monkey Beach (with real monkeys ready to steal your belongings) and the famous Maya Bay. A bit farther out are Bamboo Island and Mosquito Island, where the shallow reefs and drop-offs make for spectacular snorkeling.

Even without snorkeling equipment, you can see languorous, yellow-and-white butterfly fish, angelfish and parrotfish of rainbow hues. Buy a raft and just look down.

A new option offered by tour agencies is a small-group camping trip in Maya Bay - a great way to avoid the daytime crowds, as long as you're comfortable in a tent.

On my last day, I took a late afternoon tour of Phi Phi Leh. The stunning red karst cliffs glowed in the sunset. I felt sad to be leaving, and even sadder for all the suffering this place had endured.

Suddenly I called to the boat driver. "Is there a memorial for the tsunami?"

"It's under the water in Ton Sai bay" - a small monument marked only by a pontoon.

How appropriate, I thought as we motored to shore. Phi Phi remembers its tragedy, but keeps it beneath a surface of shimmering beauty, ready to offer to us.

FINDING THE BEACH OF YOUR FANTASIES

Sometimes you light upon a place that's exactly like a dream you've had: a protected turquoise bay with a white-sand beach surrounded by craggy cliffs, lush palms and jungle. The only way to get there is by canoe. It's your secret cove.

It's called West Railay Beach, and it's on the west coast of Thailand. Your dream is right: You can get there only by a little boat (see "If you go"). You have to jump onto it from a ferry that runs from Krabi, the nearest town. When the bottom of the Thai canoe (called a longboat) hits the shore, you have to grab your bag - you don't need much luggage in this warm climate - and wade the rest of the way.

Once on land, you stay barefoot as you check into your villa. Yes, other people are here, but not many. (The backpackers and young rock climbers - this is the best climbing region in Thailand - are mostly on the other side of the peninsula, at East Railay Beach, fronted with mangroves instead of your white sand.)

Maybe you'll choose the Railay Bay Resort and Spa (www.krabi-railaybay.com), at only $130 a night (high season) for a large, elegant room and the pleasure of an infinity pool right on the beach.

From there you can walk a rocky path or, better, paddle a kayak for 15 sublime minutes around the promontory to reach yet another beach, Phra Nang, uninhabited except for a silent, well-guarded resort (the expensive Rayavadee) and a cavern. Fringed with stalactites, this "Princess Cave" is a shrine to the fertility goddess of the sea, and she is supplicated by phallus images that fisherman leave at her feet.

Tell me this place isn't a Freudian dream fantasy.

Wade in the emerald waters. Lie in the sun on sugar-sand and open your eyes to the psychedelic display of red-hued karst drippings of rock overhead. Wake up; it's real.

- Cherilyn Parsons

If you go

WHEN TO GO

Thailand's high season is November through April. Other seasons offer big discounts but also heat or monsoon.

GETTING THERE

There are no flights to Koh Phi Phi. From Bangkok, Thai Airways and Bangkok Air fly to Phuket or Krabi; from there, ferries go daily to the island.

WHERE TO STAY

If you want nightlife and shops nearby, choose accommodations on Ton Sai or Loh Dalum beach.

For more quiet - but still only a 10-minute longboat taxi ride from the village - Hat Yao is a good choice. I can recommend the Paradise Resort, www.paradiseresort.co.th, $88 in high season for a beachfront bungalow with a/c and breakfast.

For the most solitude and reasonably priced luxury, try the upscale Phi Phi Island Resort, www.ppisland.com, starting at $240/night. Take a mini-vacation from your desk by clicking on the site's icon for "360 Virtual Tour," then the "Beach" section. You'll weep that you're not there right now.

For other choices, visit www.phi-phi.com or www.phiphi.phuket.com for a variety of hotels.

WORD TO THE WISE

Be sure to reserve ahead in high season: The island fills up. If the ferry's left and you're without a reservation, you're stuck.

GETTING TO RAILAY BEACH

Railay is on the Thai mainland between Krabi and Ao Nang beach, on a roadless isthmus. You can get there by boat one of three ways - all of which first involve getting to Krabi or Phuket.

From Krabi, all boats (a shared longtail is $10 per person and takes half an hour) go only to East Railay beach, the mangrove side. You'll then have to hoof it 10 minutes on a paved, flat path to West Railay. It's more fun to go straight to dramatic West Railay, and you can do that via Ao Nang, Phi Phi, Phuket or Koh Lanta. A 10-minute longtail goes straight from Ao Nang, $3. Or, take a ferry that goes via Railay to Ao Nang from Phi Phi, Phuket or Ko Lanta. All these gorgeous rides (under $20 per person) last 2 to 3 hours and stop deep in West Railay bay, where you transfer to a longtail for the ride to shore.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Tourism Authority of Thailand, (800) 842-4526, www.tourismthailand.org.

Cherilyn Parsons last wrote for Travel about Nepal. To comment on this story online, visit sfgate.com/travel and follow the links.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

U.S., Thailand, Singapore prepare for Exercise Cope Tiger

1/17/2008 - HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii (AFPN) -- Aviation and ground units from the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps, Royal Thai Air Force and Army, and Royal Singapore Air Force will participate in the Exercise Cope Tiger 2008 field training exercise in Thailand Jan. 26 to Feb. 5.

Cope Tiger is an annual, multilateral large force exercise conducted in the Asia-Pacific region and is the only multilateral field training exercise held in Thailand. It takes place at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base near the city of Nakhom Ratchasima (commonly called Korat), 110 miles northeast of Bangkok, and Udon Thani Royal Thai Air Force Base.

More than 1,400 people will participate in the exercise, including approximately 700 U.S. servicemembers and 700 servicemembers from Thailand and Singapore forces. The exercise includes 121 aircraft and air defense units: 35 aircraft and 11 air defense artillery weapons and sensors from RTAF; 10 ADA weapons and sensors from RTA; 22 aircraft and 11 ADA weapons and sensors from RSAF; and 28 aircraft from the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps.

Participating U.S. Air Force units include the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Wainwright, Alaska; 3rd Wing's 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska; the 51st Fighter Wing's 25th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, South Korea; the 18th Wing's 909th Air Refueling Squadron, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron, and 18th Communication Squadron, Kadena AB, Japan; the 15th Airlift Wing's 535th Airlift Squadron, Hickam AFB, Hawaii; the 374th Airlift Wing's 36th Airlift Squadron, Yokota AB, Japan. Participating U.S. Marine Corps units include Marine Air Group 12, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 212, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan; and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, MCAS Futenma, Okinawa.

U.S. aircraft participating in Cope Tiger 2008 include A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, E-3B Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems, KC-135 Stratotankers, C-130 and KC-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster IIIs, and F/A-18C Hornets.

Cope Tiger 2008 is a Thai- and U.S.-sponsored multilateral joint and combined field training exercise, and humanitarian/civic assistance exercise. Cope Tiger enhances combined readiness and interoperability, reinforces U.S. commitment to the Southeast Asian region, and demonstrates our capability to project combined and joint forces strategically in a multilateral environment.

Thailand's Booming Energy Demand

Thailand’s Booming Energy Demand Over the next 15 years, Thailand expects its electric power demand to increase by almost two and a half times. And as its power consumption grows, planners hope to use increasing amounts of nuclear and hydropower to lessen Thailand’s dependence on natural-gas fired generation.

The booming demand for power is evident from the recent numbers. In 2005, the nation’s peak power demand was about 20,500 megawatts, which grew by the relatively leisurely rate of 2.6 percent to about 21,000 MW in 2006. In 2007, however, demand jumped by 7.2 percent to about 22,600 MW. To keep pace with expected demand, Thailand is planning to more than double its current installed capacity of roughly 27,800 MW, to just over 58,000 MW by 2021.

The fuel mix will evolve over that period. Natural gas took a majority share at about 66 percent of fuel consumed in 2007 with lignite a distant second (about 12 percent), followed by imported coal (8 percent), hydro power (6 percent), fuel oil (5 percent), and renewables (1.5 percent). If the government’s current infrastructure plans are carried out, by 2021 natural gas will have shrunk to 63 percent and lignite to 5 percent. Meantime, picking up the slack will be hydro power (to reach about 10 percent), imported coal (10 percent), and additional purchases from small power producers, who will shift from a zero share to about 2.4 percent of fuel consumed. The standout increase, however, will be nuclear sources. They will go from zero to 9 percent, a jump that is scheduled to take place at lightning speed, between 2015 and 2021.

Thailand's "Gem walking street"

The gem trade in Thailand’s Tak province bordering Myanmar is still bustling in spite of political problems in Myanmar and economic recession in Thailand.

Both Thais and foreigners are flocking to the gem market in Mae Sod district to appraise various kinds of gems and buy them to resell and make a profit.

This famous market is called the “gem walking street”. The decade-old market is testimonial to a hundred years of the gem trade at the Thai- Myanmar border.

All gems sold here come from a gem mine about 200 kilometers north of Mandalay. It’s the world’s biggest such mine, famous for the high quality jade and ruby it yields.

About 90 per cent of rubies on the world market come from the mines owned by the Myanmar military government. Western countries which try to sanction Myanmar, call rubies from these mines the “Bloody Rubies” referring to the mistreatment and their poor condition of labourers at the mines.

Still, vividly shining gems from Myanmar remain in high demand.

Although Thailand is believed to have no more gems to mine, the Thais’ skill in cutting and polishing gems help the kingdom earn more than 140 billion baht a year from gem exports. This ‘gem walking street’ has the potential to be the centre of Asia’s gem market, according to the province’s governor.

Regardless of the notorious nickname of “Bloody Rubies”, the colourful precious stones will continue to attract more gem traders to this walking street as well as remain a good source of income for Myanmar.

Archives

Gem walking street
Traditional Thai Puppet Theatre under royal patronage of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana
Vivid exhibition
World's biggest wickerwork community in Chonburi
Demonstrative organic farm is open-air learning centre
Anti-drug community
The Prosthesis Foundation under the royal patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Western Digital to invest $179m in Thailand

NAREERAT WIRIYAPONG

US-based Western Digital (WD), the world's second largest hard-disk drive (HDD) maker, plans to invest $170 million (5.6 billion baht) to expand capacity in Thailand by 20% this year. Rajisr Bunya-ananta, vice-president for HDD operations, said the expanded capacity would serve increasing demand that has grown at an average of 15% annually for every category, including 2.5- and 3.5-inch drives.

WD, second to Seagate Technology in the global market but bigger than its rival in Thailand, operates HDD facilities in Thailand and Malaysia. Its manufacturing capacity in Thailand is substantially larger than its factory in Kuala Lumpur, he said.

Once the expansion is completed, WD's annual output in Thailand would rise by 20% this year from last year. Production in Thailand is exported, with one-third each going to Asia, North America and Europe, Mr Rajisr said.

WD owns two factories in Thailand: one in Bang Pa-in Industrial Estate in Ayutthaya, and the other in Navanakorn Industrial Estate in Pathum Thani.

Currently, Thailand produces more than 100 million drives for WD, accounting for roughly 80% of its annual output globally.

''We will continue enlarging our manufacturing capacity of HDDs in Thailand as long as Thailand provides a competitive production cost,'' he said.

''Over the past few years, the Thai government has provided strong support for the HDD industry in addition to tax incentives.''

Mr Rajisr said that support provided by Thailand's National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) helped establish an HDD cluster that to assist the industry with financial support, research and development (R&D), and human resources.

''That means that if any of our parts suppliers require any kind of assistance, they could approach this entity for help,'' said Mr Rajisr. ''While other countries provide only tax incentives, Thailand gives us more.''

More than 80% of the parts for WD's drive assembly in Thailand are sourced locally. Only head wafers and media are imported from the parent company in the United States, he said.

WD now employs about 30,000 people in Thailand. The company opened its first manufacturing plant here in 2002.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thai Stock Market Likely To Turn Bullish If New Govt Formed Smoothly

BANGKOK, Jan 15 (Bernama) -- The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) is likely to turn bullish if the formation of the new government is achieved without hindrance and its economic policy is clear, Thailand News Agency (TNA) quoted a top Bangkok- based fund manager as saying.

Ladawan Charoenrajapark, Managing Director of Asset Plus Fund Management Co. ,LTD said she believed the SET will rally if the new government has a clear-cut policy to stimulate the economy.

She said the country's overall economy is expected to pick up due to the recovery of local consumption and investment.

Ladawan suggested investors weigh their investment in stocks in sectors with growth potential such as energy and banking.

The property sector is another growth potential one since it would benefit from an implementation of mega-projects, which is one of main policies to stimulate the economy.

However, she warned the investment in the stock market this year should be made with caution.

Investors should closely monitor factors that have impacts on investment, particularly the local political situation, sub- prime lending woes in the United States, and global oil price hike.

She conceded the investment in the stock market last year was rather demanding because there were many internal and external factors that caused the market to fluctuate rather heavily.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thai exports suffer on two fronts in US market

WORANUJ MANEERUNGSEE

Many Thai exporters to the United States are beginning to feel the impact of a double blow from the baht's appreciation and the sub-prime mortgage crisis, which has hurt US demand.

A few months ago, when the mortgage crisis that began in the US first hit global financial markets, Thai exporters said they had seen no signs that the meltdown would affect their shipments.

But now Thai shrimp exporters are reporting slower growth in their biggest market, primarily because of the strong baht rather than the US credit problems.

Somsak Paneetatyasai, the president of the Thai Shrimp Association, estimated that Thai shrimp exports to the US in 2007 would rise by less than 5% in volume, compared to the double-digit growth that had been the norm. Values would likely shrink.

The Commerce Ministry said frozen shrimp shipments to the US dropped by 1.65% year-on-year to US$563.1 million in the first 11 months of last year.

''I don't think the decline was the result of the sub-prime crisis but rather the strong baht. Washington's requirement for bonds against shipments has also discouraged small and medium-sized exporters,'' said Mr Somsak.

The US has demanded the placement of continuous bonds (C-bonds) on shrimp exports from countries subject to its anti-dumping duties as a guarantee to cover the estimated penalties.

Investment in Thailand breaks record despite political uncertainty

Bangkok - Investment applications in Thailand hit a record 644.8 billion baht (19.5 billion dollars) in 2007, up 32 per cent on the previous year, even in the face of great political uncertainty, the Bangkok Post reported Friday.

The Board of Investment also approved - gave tax breaks - to a 744.5 billion baht in investments, almost double the year previously.

The board's secretary-general, Satit Chanjavanakul, said that investors clearly feel comfortable with the forward momentum of the Thai economy even as politics goes through a period of turmoil unusual even by Thai standards, according to the report.

Foreign investors' applications climbed 63 per cent to 502.73 billion baht. The outgoing caretaker administration and its military sponsors have ruffled foreign investors by flirting with tougher anti-foreigner regulations, as well as being widely perceived as being generally poor at boosting the economy. The political future remains uncertain even though the military claims it will respect the outcome of a December 23 election that will likely produce a coalition government dominated by a proxy party for the controversial former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a coup in September 2006.

Thaksin's People Power Party has accused the Election Commission of bowing to military pressure by ejecting some of its winning candidates for electoral fraud so as to weaken its ability to put together a coalition with minor parties. The top foreign investors in Thailand were Japanese with applications totalling 149.07 billion baht, up from 110.47 billion baht in 2006. US and European investors were second and third, at 85.75 billion baht and 75.93 billion baht respectively. German investors showed the highest growth, from 1.28 billion baht in 2006 to 37.08 billion baht last year. Korean and Chinese investments also jumped 121 per cent and 38 per cent to 11.56 billion baht and 17.17 billion baht respectively.

Favourite investment projects were in the service sector, followed by automobile, parts manufacturing, chemicals and plastic operations. Satit said that a further positive sign was the interest of developers in creating new industrial estates. No new industrial estates have been built in Thailand since the 1997 financial crisis.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

India's Tata Motors unveils $2,500 car, bringing car ownership into millions' reach

By GAVIN RABINOWITZ,
Associated Press Writer.

India's Tata Motors on Thursday unveiled its much anticipated US$2,500 (€1,700) car, an ultra-cheap price tag that brings car ownership into the reach of tens of millions of people. But critics worry the car could overwhelm the country's roads and create an environmental nightmare.

Company Chairman Ratan Tata, introducing the Nano _ the world's cheapest car _ during India's main auto show, drove onto a stage in a white version of the tiny four-door subcompact, his head nearly touching the roof.

With a snub nose and a sloping roof, it can fit five people _ if they squeeze. And the basic version is spare: there's no radio, no passenger-side mirror and only one windshield wiper. If you want air conditioning to cope with India's brutal summers, you need to get the deluxe version.

But it's definitely cheap. The Nano's closest competitor here is the Maruti 800, a plain-looking four-door that sells for nearly US$5,000 (€3,400).

Tata, though, is aiming more at people moving upward from the lower ends of India's transportation spectrum, where two-wheeled scooters selling for as little as US$900 (€613) are often crammed with entire families.

While the price has created a buzz, critics say the Nano could lead to possibly millions more automobiles hitting already clogged Indian roads, adding to mounting air and noise pollution problems. Others have said Tata will have to sacrifice quality and safety standards to meet the target price.

The chairman, though, insists the car will meet safety standards and pollute even less than motorcycles, passing domestic and European emission standards and averaging about 50 miles per gallon (20 kilometers per liter).

Chief U.N. climate scientist Rajendra Pachauri, who shared last year's Nobel Peace Prize, said last month that "I am having nightmares" about the prospect of the low-cost car.

"Dr. Pachauri need not have nightmares," Ratan Tata said at the unveiling. "For us it's a milestone and I hope we can make a contribution to the country."

The basic model will sell for 100,000 rupees _ US$2,500 _ but analysts estimate that customers could pay 20-30 percent more than that to cover taxes, delivery and other charges.

Tata has long promised that he'd create a 100,000-rupee car, a vow that was much-derided in the global industry but created a frenzy of attention in India. On Thursday, nearly every news station covered the unveiling live.

"A promise is a promise," Tata told the crowd.

The company has said they expect the car to revolutionize the auto industry, and analysts believe the Nano may force other manufacturers to lower their own pricing. French auto maker Renault SA and its Japanese partner, Nissan Motor Co., are trying to determine if they can sell a compact car for less than $3,000.

For now, the car will be sold only in India, but Tata has said it eventually hopes to export it. The Nano could become the basis for other similar super-cheap models in developing markets around the world.

As rising middle class incomes drive demand for cars in India, automakers expect the ranks of car owners in the country to expand dramatically in coming years.

But for some, a huge influx of cars is a terrifying prospect of traffic jams at midnight, hours-long commutes and increasing pollution.

"If you're talking about urban environment, it will cause serious problems," said Jamie Leather, a transport specialist with the Asian Development Bank. "It's a major concern."

In 2005, Indian vehicles released 219 million tons of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.

By 2035, that number is projected to increase to 1,467 million tons, due largely to the expanding middle-class and the expected rise of low-cost cars, according to the Asian Development Bank.

"The cheaper and cheaper vehicles become, the quicker those pollution levels will increase," Leather said.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Former Premier’s Wife Arrested on Return to Thailand


January 9, 2008

BANGKOK — The wife of the ousted Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, returned from exile Tuesday to face charges of corruption and an uncertain future for her family and its political allies.

The wife, Pojaman Shinawatra, was met by the police soon after her flight arrived from Hong Kong and was arrested and charged with conflict of interest in a property deal and false disclosure in a company listed on the stock market. She was released on bail totaling six million baht, or $182,000, a small amount for the wife of a billionaire. She is also barred from leaving the country without court permission.

The Shinawatra family lawyer, Noppadol Pattama, told reporters that Mrs. Pojaman made the decision to return from abroad, where the couple had been living in exile, mostly in London and Hong Kong, “a couple of days ago” and that she was now ready to fight the charges against her.

“This is the proper time,” Mr. Noppadol said. “The country is back to democracy.”

Political analysts said the return of Mrs. Pojaman signaled her family’s confidence that the Thai political situation, still unsettled after a victory by Mr. Thaksin’s allies in elections last month, would turn in their favor once a new government was formed.

The political party that represents Mr. Thaksin’s interests in the country, the People Power Party, or P.P.P., won the most votes in the Dec. 23 election and claims to have reached agreements with enough coalition partners to be able to form a government. But it also faces a growing number of obstacles.

Last week, the Thai Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the party should be dissolved for serving as a proxy for Mr. Thaksin, who was banned from politics for five years after he was overthrown in a military coup on Sept. 19, 2006.

The Election Commission is also withholding final certification of the victories of more than 60 People Power Party candidates while it investigates fraud.

“We’re still in the political turmoil caused by the conflict between pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin groups in society,” said Jon Ungpakorn, a former senator and a prominent political commentator.

“There are a lot of very politically powerful forces that will do anything to keep P.P.P. out of any coalition,” Mr. Jon said.

Mr. Jon called Mrs. Pojaman’s return “bold” on the part of the Shinawatra family, but speculated that “maybe some deal has been made” between the government and the family.

Mr. Noppadol, the family lawyer, said Monday that Mr. Thaksin planned to return to Thailand by mid-April and was also prepared to defend himself in court.

Mr. Thaksin faces charges in the same cases as his wife. Both cases were brought after investigations by a special committee formed by the junta that removed Mr. Thaksin from power.

Mr. Thaksin said in a prepared statement on Tuesday that in addition to fighting the charges, Mrs. Pojaman returned to attend the funeral rites of a Thai princess, Galyani Vadhana, who died last week.

The government has declared two weeks of mourning for Princess Galyani, who was the sister of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Concerts and other forms of entertainment have been postponed or canceled and official announcements relating to the formation of a new government have been suspended.

Thailand’s controversial capital controls

BANGKOK: The Bank of Thailand (BoT) has gradually relaxed capital controls imposed in December 2006 to curb speculation in the baht, whose appreciation threatened the country’s export-driven economy.

The controls required that 30% of all currency inflows without underlying business deals should be deposited with the central bank, interest free, for a year. However, the baht has continued to rise despite market intervention, five interest rate cuts and the BoT’s tinkering with the measures to encourage capital outflows.

The baht, which has evolved into a two-tier market, rose about 7% against the dollar last year after a rise of nearly 14% in 2006. Here are more details on the controls and exemptions:

2007

Dec 17: Bank of Thailand scraps $100 million limit on overseas investments by Thai-listed companies. Raises limit on parent companies investing or lending to overseas subsidiaries or related firms to $100 million from $50 million.

* Exempts foreign currency loans if they are fully hedged in the form of swaps contracts covering the entire loan amounts and maturities. Loans to Thai firms for up to $1 million and a maturity of at least one year are also exempt.

* Exempts investments in newly issued units of existing property funds by unit holders, whose names appear on the unit holder registration as of the book closing date.

July 24: BoT moves to slow baht’s rise by allowing exporters to hold foreign currency onshore indefinitely, scrapping a 15-day limit.

* Exporters are also allowed to hold foreign currency offshore for up to 360 days. The previous limit was 120 days.

March 15: Foreign funds destined for bonds, treasury bills, bills of exchange, promissory notes, mutual funds and property funds are exempt if they are fully hedged for up to one year.

* BoT lifts requirement that non-residents hold government and central bonds and treasury bills beyond 3 months.

Jan 15: BoT raises annual limit for Thais investing offshore to $50 million from $10 million. Institutional investors must keep outstanding foreign investments at $50 million.

2006

Dec 19: Bank of Thailand backtracks on currency controls, exempting equity investments after a near-15% stock market plunge, the biggest one-day fall in Thailand.

Dec 18: Bank of Thailand announces new measures to force speculators to keep their money in the country for at least one year or face stiff financial penalties.

* Thirty% of non-trade-related foreign exchange sold for baht must be deposited with the central bank for a year. The measure takes effect on transactions worth more than $20,000.

* Customers seeking to repatriate funds earlier than a year would get back only two-thirds of the money put aside.

* The reserve requirement does not affect trade in goods and services or residents repatriating investments from abroad.

Among other exemptions:

* Foreign direct investments, including long-term investments by non residents — both personal and corporate — if they own at least 10% of the business and help manage it. This includes the purchase of property, such as land and condominiums.

* Foreign currencies bought from customers or authorised dealers in the form of travellers cheques and notes.

* Foreign currencies bought from foreign exchange rollover swap transactions made with the same financial institutions.

* Foreign currency bought or exchanged against baht amounting to less than $20,000.

* Foreign currencies bought from Thai embassies and consulates outside Thailand, as well as foreign embassies, consulates or international organisations in Thailand.

* Foreign currencies bought from government agencies.

* Foreign currencies bought from Thais holding foreign currency deposit accounts and wanting to exchange them into baht if they can prove the deposits are exempted, such as foreign currencies paid for goods and services.

source: bank of thailand. reuters

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Twinza Oil acquires two onshore blocks, Thailand

Kyaw Thu
January 6, 2008


TWINZA Oil Ltd signed a Concession Agreement with Thailand’s Department of Mineral Fuels, under the Ministry of Energy, for exploration of oil and gas in two onshore blocks in the northern part of Thailand on December 19.

Twinza is the operator of the large Yetagun East offshore block in the Gulf of Mottama.

According to the agreement, Twinza will explore the L7/50 and L13/50 onshore blocks in Thailand.

Christopher Drew, Twinza’s Myanmar country manager, said the company has high hopes for the two onshore blocks because they are geologically similar to the nearby Phu Horm gas field, which has reserves of 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

“Due to the block’s proximity and geological similarity to the very large Phu Horm gas discovery, the prospects look rather exciting,” he said.

“Some of the Twinza team members were involved in the Phu Horm discovery so we intend to deploy those insights in the exploration of the L7/50 and L13/50 blocks,” he said.

According to Mr Drew, the company acquired the two onshore at the 20th bidding round in August 2007, which attracted interest from international and regional players.

Under the agreement the company will make an environmental impact assessment, conduct geotechnical studies and acquire seismic data within the blocks. Mr Drew said an exploratory drilling program would follow if merited.

The onshore blocks in Thailand mark Twinza’s second acquisition of blocks in the ASEAN region. The company signed a production sharing contract with Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise to explore the Yetagun East block in Myanmar last year. That block is adjacent to the Yetagun gas field that exports 400 million cubic feet of gas a day to Thailand.

Mr Drew said Twinza’s objective is to become a successful junior exploration company through further acquisitions and by leveraging the company’s advanced technical abilities and experience in the region.

Source: The MM Times

Friday, January 4, 2008

Touring through northern Thailand

Some random musings post-vacation about northern Thailand:

In lots of places in Asia, you flick on the hotel TV and have a choice of two English-language news channels: CNN or BBC. But in several hotels in Thailand, we got neither.

Instead, hotel guests were offered Al Jazeera in English, and in one case a channel called Russia Today. In one hotel that had both Al Jazeera and CNN, we found ourselves turning from CNN’s endless U.S. election coverage to a wide array of foreign dispatches and debate programs on Al Jazeera.

I was impressed with the level of guests and interview subjects they were getting in this part of the world. One Al Jazeera segment on moderate Islam in Indonesia offered a panel that included Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, one of the brightest lights on Indonesia.
***
Foreign tourists aren’t coming to northern Thailand like they used to. We found the once-bustling night market half empty in Chiang Mai, with many booths shuttered.

I heard two explanations. One Italian vendor of antiques said tourists appeared to be frightened by martial law in Thailand, which has been in effect since a military coup 14 months ago or so.

Img_3922 Others cited a different reason, saying that like Laos and Cambodia have turned into big, new tourist draws, and Thai tourism-related businesses are suffering because of it. That may be right. Our family had originally planned to visit northern Laos. We couldn’t find a hotel that had availability, and an illness prevented the trip in the end.

So as we rented scooters and putted around the area, we had much of the place to ourselves.
***
If you are thinking of visiting northern Thailand, consider going to Pai, a mountain artists’ community and haven for backpackers and adventurers. It is a four-hour drive northwest of Chiang Mai. We found it a delightful place. The road there has something like 1,000 curves and hairpin turns. There are lots of spectacular views and jungle along the way, as well as numerous hotsprings.

Img_4011 Pronounced “pie,” or maybe more like “bpai,” we made lots of puns en route, figuring that maybe there would be a lot of pilots and pythons and pious people there, and that a Pai pie shop ought to be there, too.

During a one-day raft trip, we saw nary a soul along a huge stretch of river. I got a brief dunking in one set of rapids when the raft seemed to drop out from under me. It was worth every glorious minute.
***
Lots of people marvel at the infrastructure of China. But I must say how impressed I am with Thailand’s development. The roads are fantastic. The national parks are first rate (although they charge foreigners about 10 times more than nationals). We found national parks with camping areas, rental bungalows, nicely marked trails and tidy visitors' centers. Thai medical care is also quite good. My 84-year-old mother was along for the trip, and Chiang Mai (where our family lived for 10 years many decades ago, and where I was born) offered excellent medical care when she suddenly felt under the weather.

Unlike the “first world,” doctors in places like Thailand have time to talk with the patients.
***
On the way to Thailand, we stopped in Kunming in southern China’s Yunnan Province. We spent a day at the Stone Forest, an amazing area of jutting geological formations. The region used to be under sea millions of years ago. Now the karst formations poke into the air like, well, like trees. I highly recommend a visit. Unlike Thailand, though, the place was thronged with tourists -- all Chinese.

Img_4046

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