BANGKOK -- Thailand’s largest retailer, Central Retail Corporation Pcl (CRC), plans to expand domestic online sales as well as its business in Vietnam, as the coronavirus outbreak slows economic growth at home, its top executive said on Thursday.
Shares of CRC, which went to market on Feb. 20 in the country’s largest initial public offer (IPO), were trading 22% below its IPO price, against an 8% decline in the benchmark index.
“We went into a perfect storm ... but (that) can be a perfect opportunity,” Chief Executive Yol Phokasub told Reuters, citing the virus outbreak, a prolonged drought and a delayed budget bill.
The Thai central bank has predicted that the coronavirus could cut growth to less than 2% this year amid a slowdown in exports and tourism. In 2019, the economy grew 2.4%
Thailand has 40 reported cases of the virus, and residents have been avoiding public places like department stores and movie theaters.
“These factors are creating new habits for consumers,” Yol said, expecting digital or online orders to contribute to 10% of sales, up from 5% last year.
This was helped by on-demand deliveries through a partnership with Singapore-based ride hailing startup, Grab.
China’s 11 million arrivals accounted for 28% of Thailand’s tourism revenue last year. The government expects the number of Chinese tourists to fall by 2 million this year due to the coronavirus outbreak, which originated in China.
Still, if the outbreak is contained by April, the company could recover due to its flexibility, he said, but if its spread continues beyond June, there would a larger impact on growth.
The retailer, which has businesses in food, fashion, electronics and furniture, was also concerned with how countries outside of China were handling the outbreak.
“The worry is if there is panic and other countries can’t contain it ... we have to plan for this,” he said.
When asked about a share repurchase, Yol said that markets were “panicking and the 42 baht price is reasonable,” referring to the company’s price at IPO.
Thai companies have been repurchasing shares as prices have fallen in February.
Last week, mall operator Central Pattana Pcl, also part of Central Group, said it would buy back shares worth up to 5 billion baht.
Central Retail, owned by the billionaire Chirathivat family, plans to add 7-10 GO! supermarket stores a year in Vietnam over ten years and transform the chain into a lifestyle mall.
“In Vietnam, we are growing the food business to draw in traffic and go beyond hypermarkets and also offer beauty, fashion products and space for tenants,” Yol said.
In five years, CRC expects to have 65% of its revenue from Thailand, 25% from Vietnam and the rest from Italy, not including acquisitions, Yol said.
Currently, Thailand accounts for 75% of revenue, with Vietnam making up 17%.