[BANGKOK] Thai exports fell less than expected in April, but the fourth straight month of declining shipments shows the country's key growth engine still cannot push the struggling economy ahead.
The army seized power last May to end months of street protests but has been unable to revive Southeast Asia's second-largest economy, which grew just 0.9 per cent last year.
Santitarn Sathirathai, senior economist at Credit Suisse in Singapore, said trade headwinds are "somewhat dissipating" and the April data showed tentative signs of an upturn of exports,"which is somewhat promising" though "it's too early to become optimistic".
He said he expects better numbers by July. The Commerce Ministry also said exports to improve in 1-2 months, helped by a weaker baht and higher global oil prices.
Exports, which equal more than 60 per cent of the economy, in April declined 1.7 per cent from a year earlier, the ministry said, less than the 3.2 per cent decline in a Reuters poll.
In April, exports to the US rose 8.4 per cent from a year earlier, and those to China edged up 1.1 per cent. But shipments to Japan fell 3.0 per cent and to Europe 3.5 per cent.
The ministry maintained its 2015 export growth target of 1.2 per cent, compared with an earlier 4 per cent.
Export of agricultural goods were off 3.9 per cent from the previous April, with rubber down 26 per cent.
The auto sector, which accounts for 10 per cent of GDP, saw exports up 7.3 per cent in April from a year earlier. Car sales in Thailand remain poor, tumbling 15.3 per cent in January-April from a year earlier.
Bank of Thailand Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul told Reuters this month that exports had been hit by "a perfect storm".
Exports were already weak before political tension rose in late 2013, while domestic demand remains sluggish, curbed by record-high household debt and shaky consumer confidence.
The Federation of Thai Industries said on Monday its Thai industries' sentiment index hit a seven-month low in April.
A poll by the Suan Dusit Rajabhat University found 81 per cent of respondents disappointed with the junta's management of the economy.
The government last week cut its economic growth target by 0.5 percentage points to 3.0-4.0 per cent for 2015, but the BOT governor called 3 per cent a "challenge".
The BOT next reviews policy on June 10, and economists expect no change following rate cuts in March and April.