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Thailand's currency falls to 6-year low as foreign investors dump stocks while economy lags

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BANGKOK — Thailand's currency fell to a six-year low against the dollar Wednesday, as foreign investors continue to dump stocks while waiting for the country's economy to pick up.

The baht dropped to 35.18 to the dollar in afternoon trading, its lowest level since 2009.

Analysts say the sinking baht has resulted in increasing portfolio outflows. Monthly outflows in the past six months averaged around $1 billion, a decade high.

Foreign investors sold $774 million of shares last month, leading the Stock Exchange of Thailand Index to drop 4.3 percent in July.

Thailand has been going through a slow and painful economic recovery since last year's military coup. The central bank has cut its target rate twice this year, which caused the currency to depreciate.

Another rate cut is unlikely in the short run given the baht's fall in recent months but still possible before the end of the year, Supavud Saicheua and Thanomsri Fongarunrung, economists at Phatra Securities, explained recently.

The central bank's Monetary Policy Committee held on to its benchmark interest rate of 1.5 percent this month after its meeting on Wednesday.

June manufacturing and export data showed contraction, which aggravated the country's growth outlook. The government already last month lowered growth expectations for the year from 3.7% to 3%.

A weak currency was supposed to help exporters, but whether exporters benefited is still debatable. Amid the global slowdown, export industries in Thailand generally faced weak demand from the U.S., Europe and China.

The government has been painting a rosy picture of the economy, but major fiscal project delays have been holding back recovery.

Bank of Thailand Macroeconomics Office Director Don Nakornthab said recently that investors would have a firmer idea of when things might pick up once they see actual bidding and contract signing. If stimulus measures are successful, some economists believe that government spending would offset lagging areas such as exports.

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