Thailand lifts rates again to curb inflation

BANGKOK, April 20, 2011 (AFP) - Thailand's central bank raised its official interest rate Wednesday for the sixth time in less than a year in an attempt to contain inflation.

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted six to one to increase the official cost of borrowing to 2.75 percent, up from 2.50 percent previously, and said in a statement it was ready to take further action if needed.

The central Bank of Thailand has lifted its key rate by a total of 150 basis points since July 2010.

The latest move came just hours after official figures showed exports jumped almost 31 percent in March from a year earlier, hitting an all-time high in a boost to the economy's recovery from a soft patch in mid-2010.

"The Thai economy continued to expand well in the first quarter, supported by internal and external demand," the bank's assistant governor Paiboon Kittisrikangwan said in a statement.

A slowdown in the production and export of automobiles and electronics was expected as a result of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami, but at the same time the impact of the flood in southern Thailand was limited, he said.

"Going forward, the Thai economy is expected to maintain its growth momentum," Paiboon predicted.

Stubbornly high oil and commodity prices, coupled with the gradual end of official measures to control prices, would add to inflationary pressures, he said.

Thailand's consumer price inflation accelerated to 3.14 percent in March, from 2.87 percent in February, the government reported earlier this month.

The Commerce Ministry said Wednesday that the value of Thai exports surged to $21.3 billion in March, up from $16.2 billion in the same month of 2010, helped by strong overseas demand for products such as rice and rubber.

The strong performance eased worries that Thai exports would suffer from the impact of the March 11 quake-tsunami in Japan.

Thailand posted a March trade surplus of $1.8 billion, slightly higher than the previous month.

The Thai economy returned to growth in the fourth quarter of 2010, snapping out of a brief technical recession on the back of solid exports and private consumption.

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