Has the Bangkok shutdown lived up to its hype?

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for CNBC.com
Just how bad can Thai protests get?

Thailand's anti-government protestors are trying to "shut down" the capital until they oust the government, but it isn't clear their tactics are living up to the hype.

"We talked to a few (corporate clients) yesterday and they said depending on where the offices were located in Bangkok, it was business as usual," Dane Chamorro, director for global risk analysis at risk consultancy Control Risks, told CNBC. "If you were right at a protest site, then a number of the offices were closed. A number of the bank branches were closed, because they've been targets in the past."

The protestors failed to realize their threat today of preventing the stock exchange from opening, likely in part as the age of "open outcry" is long past. The SET index wavered between positive and negative in early trade.

(Read more: Thai unrest casts doubt on investment expansions)

"Operations are as normal," Charamporn Jotikasthira, president of the Stock Exchange of Thailand, told CNBC. But he noted protestors have said they plan to surround the building Wednesday. The number of broker connections would need to drop more than 30 percent before the exchange would stop trading, he said.

So far, the protests' impact on the exchange has been limited, with five IPOs proceeding in the last 10 days of trading, Charamporn noted. But he added, the exchange has been running with a skeleton crew, with many employees working from home or other locations due to issues with commuting during the protests.

"If they just gather around the stock exchange… it will have no disruption with the trading," said Sukit Udomsirikul, head of research at Maybank-Kim Eng in Thailand.

Reuters reported there was no special security outside the stock exchange Tuesday morning, with one group of protestors marching past without stopping on their way to the customs department.

Anti-government protestors cheer during the first day of a mass demonstration at a downtown intersection on January 13, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand.
Paula Bronstein | Getty Images

Chamorro believes this week's developments could be key to determining the immediate resolution to the near-two-month-long standoff between protestors and the government.

"The Election Commission and the government and the opposition are meeting. You never know, they might pull a rabbit out of a hat," Chamorro said.

"The thing that the opposition needs to keep in mind, (is) people have a limited – particularly the business community – has a limited tolerance for how much disruption they can stand," he noted. "It hurts their interest," he added.

It isn't clear yet how much of an effect the protests are having on the country's business.

(Read more: Thailand's 'Teflon' economy put to the test)

Some multinationals fear a worsening risk profile and indicate a reluctance to approve expansions and new projects, but foreign-owned factories have been spared the worst of the disruption as they're located in industrial complexes in provinces outside the Thai capital.

"If you're running a factory on the eastern seaboard, you're probably unaware of (the protests). As you are if you're sitting on the beach in Koh Samui or Phuket," Adrian Mowat, an emerging market equity strategist at JPMorgan, told CNBC. He expects a boost in global economic growth and trade will support Thailand's manufacturing economy.

"Political instability is almost the norm in Thailand," he said, recommending adding to positions in the country's stocks.

(Read more: In Thailand, rallying cry is against too much democracy)

Thai stock exchange: Remain resilient despite protests

To be sure, the protests have managed to dent some business interests.

While the export economy hasn't been affected much, the current high season for tourism has been badly hit, noted Chamorro.

The domestic economy has also been hard hit, he added.

"You just don't have the confidence-- consumer confidence or business confidence -- for people to invest," Chamorro said, adding the government also hasn't been able to get its plans for a $60 billion infrastructure expansion through parliament. While Thailand's economy grew 6.5 percent in 2012, it'll be lucky to hit 3 percent in 2013, he noted.

(Read more: Do Thai protestors have the government in checkmate?)

"They (the opposition) really want to make it as bad as it can possibly be so someone steps in and says enough," he said. "So they've been really provocative going back for the last six weeks."

But he noted, "the government has really managed itself pretty well over the last six weeks in terms of limiting the amount of violence and controlling the police."

Limiting the violence is likely to help persuade the military to stay on the sidelines and prevent another coup d'etat, he noted.

(Read more: Why you shouldn't pounce on Thai shares yet)

The protests, which began in late October, were triggered by parliament's consideration of a government-backed amnesty bill that could have allowed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup d'etat, to return home without facing time in prison for a 2008 graft sentence. The bill also would have granted immunity to politicians implicated in 2010 violent protests which killed about 90 people.

While that bill was dropped, the street protests have broadened out to an explicit call for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is Thaksin's sister, to step down.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter