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Will Optical Suffer From Thailand's Political Unrest?

Carolyn Mathas
News Analysis
Carolyn Mathas
1/28/2014
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When the government of Thailand imposes a 60-days state of emergency, grenades begin to explode, and a general election faces a possible delay due to social unrest, one expects there might be jitters within the optical components industry, which still relies on facilities in the Southeast Asia country for some of its manufacturing capacity.

It seems any concerns about delivery delays, transportation woes, and component shortages from Fabrinet, which manufactures, assembles, and tests products on behalf of companies such as Finisar Corp. (Nasdaq: FNSR) and JDSU (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU), are unwarranted -- at least so far. But a key Fabrinet plant sits only 30 miles from the Thai capital, so companies that rely on a smooth global optical supply chain will be keeping a close eye on events in the country.

The anti-government protest that started four months ago is now heating up. Protesters have occupied Bangkok since mid-January in an attempt to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign.

Component company representatives, fearing the effects on their own customers, would not talk on the record about the impact of the unrest. But comments from individuals who spoke with Light Reading include:

  • If you went outside of the neighborhoods where the demonstrations are taking place, you wouldn't even know there's a problem.
  • It's like Occupy Wall Street, which had little impact on those not in the financial district.
  • So far, there has been no effect on the optical component supply chain and transportation -- we don't expect there to be any.
  • Thailand has been through this before with both political strife and natural disasters. The latter were more disruptive.
  • It's really business as usual.

Political instability has plagued Thailand for the past 85 years. According to a Human Rights Watch count, the country has had "18 coups, 23 military governments, and 9 military-dominated governments" since 1932. Also, in 2010, the country was hit by its worst flooding in more than 50 years. Total economic losses in excess of $45 billion and a multi-year recovery period ensued. (See Thailand's Floods Will Affect Optical Sales and Optical Industry Adjusting After Thai Floods.)

The protests are likely to have an economic impact. Tourism and Bangkok businesses are set to feel it the most. Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota have reported drops in Bangkok showroom sales. Tourism will suffer the most. This month, 45 countries issued travel warnings, but they are solely for rally sites.

In response to the upheaval, the Finance Ministry lowered economic growth projections for 2014 to 3.1% (versus 6.4% in 2012), primarily due to lower tourism revenue.

Moody's Investors Service called the protests a "key credit-negative feature for the sovereign state" and said they will "weigh on an already fragile growth outlook for 2014." So far, though, investment activity has not suffered.

For now, there appears to be little reason for the optical sector to fret.

Carolyn Mathas, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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