For the past twenty years, the author has divided his metropolitan time between London and Bangkok. London is the location of the office and Bangkok is the jumping off center to the business bit. Most western people have a greater familiarity with London than Bangkok and certainly with all of the press coverage of what may be the looming potential Brexit Armageddon. To say the least, the real estate outlook of London will be very much an unknown until the Brexit path is clarified in the next few weeks ahead. Bangkok has a much murkier outlook as past financial crises have caused the central bank to monitor consumer spending. Recently, The Bangkok Post published an article entitled Of Debt, Cars and Condos.
Prior to reading the Bangkok Post article on a commuter flight from Bangkok to Vietnam, an advertisement for the fifty-storied Marque Condominium Tower in Bangkok caught my attention. First of all, it was near my former Bangkok residence of fifty years ago in the suburbs. Second was the range of prices from $1.5 to $2.5 million per condo unit. That might not sound like much compared to London flats in Cadogan Square but it is in a non-central area of Bangkok. However, the shocker was the notation in the advertisement that credit cards would be accepted up to 5% of the purchase price. If you can make a down payment on a house with a credit card, there is a problem in consumer spending in Thailand. However, even a one-month stay before the bill came due would be pleasant as shown below. Nonetheless, the neighborhood is not recognizable compared to the old days when water buffalos wandered around.
What is becoming clear is increasing consumer debt is beginning to impact Thai households. As indicated below, the ratio of consumer debt to GDP is relatively constant but the total value of household debt is up some 20% in four years. Any hiccup in the economy could cause a rapid flashback to the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 which turned much of the world upside down.
The Nation, another daily Thai newspaper, published an article entitled Economy to Grow By 4% which is propelled by private and public investments, the upcoming election and private consumption according to a forecast by the National Economic and Social Development Council. For those of you not familiar with Thai politics, there was a general election March 24 following five years of military rule following a coup. The official election results have yet to be announced. However, the Thai economic outlook is based on Thai people living on themselves since exports which generate hard foreign currency are predicted to be just over half those of 2018.
To make matters worse, El Nino weather patterns or just global warming - which is denied in some circles - have destroyed the air quality in Bangkok which in turn is having a massive impact on the tourism Thailand needs to sustain its economy. However, difficulty in breathing has created an explosive demand for face masks and air purifiers. Unfortunately, the more expensive, sophisticated versions are imported. The government is taking some meaningful steps in suggesting that Buddhist worshippers refrain from lighting their incense sticks when praying in the temple.
Despite all of the adversities of an uncertain political, economic and environmental outlook, Bangkok remains one of the author’s favorite places in the world. When we are at home at The Siam Hotel, in the old Dusit section of Bangkok on the Chao Phraya River, we sit in a world reminiscent of fifty years ago with no nearby wars going on. That is not nostalgia speaking, but it just reflects a remarkable setting in a remarkable city. Moreover, it is better to use your credit card to live well with friends and wonderful room service.