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Thais hoard goods, fret over deposits after IMF rescue

August 6, 1997

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh urged Thais not to panic Wednesday after the government shut down more than half of the nation’s remaining finance companies under a plan to rescue the ailing economy.

But ordinary people withdrew deposits, hoarded food, canceled credit cards and weighed buying gold as a hedge against further woes as they took stock of the drastic International Monetary Fund plan.

Thailand agreed Tuesday to overhaul its financial system _ closing 42 finance companies and increasing taxes _ in return for a loan of at least $10 billion from the IMF.

Rampant rumors spread Wednesday that commercial banks would be the next to close.

``I’ve got a headache,″ said Duangkaew Chanruang, 36, a civil servant. ``I can’t believe Thailand faces a situation like this. Many people will lose their jobs and crime will go up.″

Duangkaew was buying all the breakfast cereal and imported powdered milk she could carry at a Bangkok supermarket, fearing that prices could shoot up.

Chavalit’s future hangs on whether the IMF plan can succeed in saving a foundering economy where his 9-month-old government has failed.

``We ask all Thais to be united in order to get through these obstacles,″ Chavalit said. ``Don’t panic about the rumors.″

Share prices fell in moderate trading as investors rushed to sell finance and banking stocks. The Stock Exchange of Thailand index slipped 13.15 points, or 2.0 percent, to 635.32.

The Thai baht recovered against the U.S. dollar on hopes that the IMF can rescue the economy. At the close of Asian trading, the dollar was at 31.60 baht, down from 31.85 baht Tuesday.

After a decade of spectacular growth, the economy has been falling since 1996, the victim of a slump in exports, bad loans during a building boom and heavy borrowing in foreign currencies.

The devaluation of the baht last month triggered speculation against other currencies in Southeast Asia. Regional leaders hope the IMF can clean up Thailand’s mess before it spreads.

The finance companies were badly overexposed to bad loans made to developers who overbuilt during the boom. Sixteen were shut earlier this year. With Tuesday’s closures, only 33 finance companies remain open.

Regulators rushed Wednesday to avert a run on deposits throughout the system. One commercial bank, Siam City Bank, said consumers had withdrawn 600 million baht, about $20 million, since Tuesday.

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