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Politics won’t derail Thai markets: stock exchange

Leslie Shaffer | Writer for
SET: Thai market is up despite political crisis
SET: Thai market is up despite political crisis

Thailand's turbulent politics may have shaken investors' confidence in the country, but the uncertainty won't derail the economy or the stock market, the CFO of the Stock Exchange of Thailand told CNBC.

"If you look at Thailand during the past 20 years, you can notice that we have very short period" of political stability, Pakorn Peetathawatchai, the CFO of the Stock Exchange of Thailand, said. "However, during the past 20 years, you see Thailand-listed companies (and the) Thai economy growing," he said.

While the political issues will persist for now, Thai-listed companies are still seeing good earnings growth, Pakorn said.

Read More Once hardy Thai economy feeling the strain

The stock market is certainly shaking off some of the turmoil, with the SET index clocking an around 7 percent rise so far this year, outperforming the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index's 2.7 percent gain. Still, Thai shares are still down around 9 percent over the last 12 months and are trailing regional peers the Philippines and Indonesia, which have seen their markets tack on more than 12 percent each so far in 2014.

However, economic growth has stumbled in the wake of the sometimes violent political protests, which began in late October, with gross domestic product (GDP) rising 2.9 percent in 2013, well below 2012's 6.5 percent as Thailand rebuilt after the previous year's catastrophic floods. Some economists believe the country may slip into a recession.

Anti-government protesters march through central Bangkok on March 29.
Rufus Cox | Getty Images

But Pakorn remains somewhat optimistic on the country's trajectory.

Read More Thai court declares February general election void

"The picture of Thailand is not that bad" compared with developed markets and regional economies, he said. He expects global economic growth will help support Thailand's exports.

While the political turmoil has derailed the government's plan for a massive, around $60 billion infrastructure build out, which would have supported economic growth, it's only delayed, not cancelled, he noted.

It isn't clear when the current burst of political turmoil might end. Protestors disrupted an election held in February, leaving the country with a pre-election interim "caretaker" government and constitutional uncertainty over seating a parliament.

Read More Thai tourism bane becoming a boon for rivals

Since then, the anti-corruption body announced charges against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra over the state rice-buying program and the Constitutional Court has opened a case over her administration's firing of the security chief in 2011.

More than 20 companies delayed plans for initial public offerings amid the turmoil, the SET said in February.

So far this year, foreign investors have pulled out around $491 million worth of funds from stocks and domestic investors have sold around $716 million, although foreign investors have bought around $404 million over the last two weeks, according to data from Jefferies. Last year, foreign investors yanked around $6 billion out of Thai shares, equivalent to the inflows over the previous four years.

But while things are looking tough at home, Thailand's stock exchange has been working to extend its reach in the region, seeking listings from foreign companies, Pakorn said.

Read MoreThai unrest casts doubt on investment expansions

"We are certainly concentrated on companies in Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and others who are interested to list in more active market or to list in a more developed market," he said. "We are pursuing a strategy to develop this whole region."

It may be a tough sell for now. In February, Malaysia's CIMB Group abandoned plans for a dual listing in Thailand amid rough market conditions.

In an effort to preserve corporate governance standards, the exchange is looking to start by seeking listings from Thai companies with operations in these countries, he said.

Read More Thai rice subsidies: damned if you do, and don't

"Once they are listed on the Thai stock exchange, they have to comply with the all the Thai rules and governance. That would be the starting point for any investor who would like to have an exposure in all these countries," he said.

"Our exchange has been working a lot and extensively and continuously with the Lao, Cambodia and Myanmar regulators, intermediaries and investors to try to educate all these stakeholders, so there is some learning and rule of the play for the financial markets."

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1