Human cost far outweighs economic impact of tsunami

Indeed, despite the tragic human toll of the disaster, the economic costs are expected by most to be minimal.

Thailand, the most economically developed of those countries hit by the tsunami, is most exposed through a potential fall in tourism, with the industry accounting for 12.2% of GDP.

Daniel Lian, an executive director in Morgan Stanley’s global economics team, says that based on its rough estimates, a 25-30% decline in tourist activity in Thailand could dent growth by 0.75-1%. But he adds the Thai economy has enough fiscal and domestic demand latitude to mitigate the impact of the disaster.

Mark Mobius, manager of the Templeton Global Emerging Markets fund, also estimates a 0.3% hit on Thai GDP growth. In a briefing paper he argues: “The impact of the tsunami was concentrated in a very small part of the overall tourist complex, which includes the largest and most populous city Bangkok in addition to northern Thailand.”

The region’s stockmarkets were unaffected by the tsunami. Indeed, from the time the tsunami hit on Boxing Day to January 4, the Jakarta stock exchange actually rose 3% and closed on January 5 at an all-time high. India’s stockmarket rose 3%, and stocks in Thailand were up 2%.

Ian Beattie, manager of the New Star Pacific Growth fund, notes that the prices of cement companies across the region have risen sharply. However, he says this is not an area he is interested in playing.

Beattie puts the recent surge in the region’s stockmarkets down to a number of factors. First, he points to the fact that the worst-affected areas, Aceh and Sri Lanka, have been zones of ongoing conflict. Consequently, he says, they have limited infrastructure and industry, resulting in few losses for local insurers. “One positive of the disaster may be that these once regions of conflict may be more peaceful going forward,” he adds.

In addition, Beattie says there are signs that foreign aid and fiscal help will assist in rebuilding industries and infrastructure. Overseas aid and the possibility of debt relief will support the Indonesian rupiah.