BANGKOK, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Thailand's economy grew by 3.6 percent in the final quarter of 2012 from the previous three months and by 6.4 percent in 2012 as a whole, suggesting solid momentum that does not require further interest rate cuts, economists said.
A Reuters poll of economists had forecast quarter-on-quarter growth of just 0.2 percent, although there was a wide range of estimates.
Most economists think the Bank of Thailand's monetary policy committee will hold the benchmark rate at 2.75 percent on Wednesday despite government pressure to ease policy to slow capital inflows that have pushed up the baht.
The baht strengthened slightly after the data to 29.85/89 per dollar from 29.88/91 earlier.
The economy grew 18.9 percent compared with the final quarter of 2011, when floods devastated several parts of the country, including huge industrial zones.
The NESDB planning agency that compiles the data forecast growth in the economy of between 4.5 and 5.5 percent in 2013, around its potential, put by the central bank at 5 percent.
Q4 GDP q/q SA +3.6 pct (vs +0.2 pct in Reuters poll)
Q4 GDP y/y +18.9 pct (vs +15.4 pct in Reuters poll)
2012 GDP +6.4 pct vs +0.1 pct in 2011
For a graphic: http://link.reuters.com/vab36s
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EUGENE LEOW, ECONOMIST, DBS BANK, SINGAPORE
'Domestic demand momentum is certainly picking up and this will spill over into 2013. The rate cut cycle is probably over despite pressure from the government.
'In fact, the focus will likely turn towards inflation, especially considering the robust growth numbers.'
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KAMPON ADIREKSOMBAT, SENIOR ECONOMIST, TISCO SECURITIES
'Fourth quarter GDP was not just the effect of the low base in 2011 but also government stimulus, leading to double-digit growth in both consumption and investment.
'It's clear from the number that we have less downside risk on growth. We need to monitor price pressures because we've seen some cost push pressure from higher oil prices as well as more signs of demand-pull inflation.
'The MPC may not cut the policy rate on Wednesday because the strenthening of the baht has somewhat stalled.
'We expect more inflationary pressure in the second half, leading to two rate hikes in the fourth quarter to 3.25 pct.'
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GUNDY CAHYADI, ECONOMIST, OCBC BANK IN SINGAPORE:
'The most crucial thing is to monitor how growth in exports will fare in Q1 because this is crucial for sentiment among manufacturers locally.
'It will be interesting to see what the Bank of Thailand will say this week: political pressures are still strong to push for further easing by the central bank, but today's strong GDP number and the fact that 2013 headline inflation is now seen slightly higher at 3.2 percent are risks to watch out for.
'We note that the central bank has been extremely accommodative in 2012, with the surprise 25 bps rate cut back in October a clear example of this.
'The central bank has been broadly sanguine on its assessment of growth prospects in the longer term and in fact has shown some concern about the pace of loan growth in the economy amidst the expansionary fiscal policies adopted by the current government (but less so on this in recent months, though).'
- The baht was at 29.86/88 to the U.S. dollar after the data, against 29.88/91 in early trade. It has risen close to 3 percent against the dollar this year because of capital inflows into Southeast Asia's resilient economies.
- The stock market had not opened when the data came out.
For details, see NESDB website:
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- Economists had forecast that Southeast Asia's second-largest economy would grow 0.2 percent in October-December from the previous three months. They projected a surge of 15.4 percent year-on-year due to a low, flood-hit base in 2011.
- The floods swamped industrial zones, badly hitting car and electronics firms, many of them big exporters. As a result, the economy grew a scant 0.1 percent in 2011, with a sharp contraction in that year's final quarter.
- The affected firms are back to normal capacity but sluggish exports are keeping some firms running at weak operating levels. Industrial goods account for 65 percent of total shipments.
- But strong domestic demand is likely to continue supporting the economy this year along with an expected recovery in exports in the second half as the global economy improves.
- On Jan. 18, the Bank of Thailand (BOT) raised its 2013 economic growth forecast to 4.9 percent from 4.7 percent, citing stronger-than-expected private investment.
- The BOT's monetary policy committee (MPC) left the benchmark interest rate unchanged at 2.75 percent for a second consecutive meeting on Jan. 9, betting on improved economic trends.
- Most economists expect the rate to stay on hold at the MPC's policy review on Feb. 20, despite government pressure for a lower rate to stem capital inflows that have strengthened the baht, hurting exporters.
(Reporting by Bangkok Newsroom; Editing by Alan Raybould) Keywords: THAILAND ECONOMY/GDP
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