Thai rate hikes to be gradual, weak baht impact small chief


Sees gradual rate hikes but ready to adjust pace if needed


Says recovery intact, to ensure 'smooth takeoff'


Weak baht not affecting economy much chief


Baht not 'unusually weak' but ready to act on excessive moves

By Orathai Sriring and Kitiphong Thaichareon

Sept 29 (Reuters) - Thailand will gradually raise interest rates to bring inflation back to target and ensure a continued recovery, the central bank chief said on Thursday, playing down the impact of a weak baht on the overall economy.

However, the Bank of Thailand (BOT) was ready to adjust the pace of tightening monetary policy and hold an off-cycle meeting if necessary, Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput told reporters.

"If we need to pause, we'll pause. If we need to hike more than 25 bps (basis points), such as 50 bps, we're ready to do it," he said.

But aggressive rate increases were not suitable for Thailand's economy, which is still in recovery, Sethaput said.

Raising rates too fast would disrupt the recovery and "we won't get as smooth a takeoff as we want", he said, adding the BOT did not need to match moves by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

On Wednesday, the BOT raised its key interest rate by a quarter point to 1.00% to curb inflation, and said policy mornalisation should be done in a "gradual and measured manner".

The BOT will review rates on Nov. 30, when most economists expect a quarter point rise.

The BOT sees economic growth of 3.3% this year and 3.8% for 2023. Last year's growth of 1.5% was among the slowest pace in Southeast Asia.

The BOT will use rates to bring inflation to its target range of 1-3%, but had no target level for rates, Sethaput said.

Headline inflation, at a 14-year high of 7.86% in August, is expected to return to target next year, he said, noting the core rate should peak in the fourth quarter of 2022.

The BOT forecast headline inflation of 6.3% this year and 2.6% next year, with the core rate seen at 2.6% and 2.4%, respectively.

Sethaput said a weak baht THB=TH was being driven by dollar strength and was not "unusually weak" and in line with regional peers, but the BOT was ready to act on excessive moves.

Even with the baht trading at a 16-year low, the governor said it had not significantly affected the overall economy.

Capital outflows were not a worry yet and Thailand's external stability remained strong, he said.

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Reporting by Orathai Sriring, Kitiphong Thaichareon and
Satawasin Staporncharnchai
Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor, Ed Davies

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