Bloomberg News

HSBC Chief Readies for Thai Floods as Expats Flee Bangkok

October 27, 2011

(Updates stock performance in 10th paragraph.)

Oct. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Matthew Lobner, head of Thai operations for HSBC Holdings Plc, lugged his furniture upstairs and moved his wife and three children near his office in downtown Bangkok to escape floodwaters on the city’s outskirts.

Lobner, drawing on his eight years as a naval submarine officer, stored enough food and water to last a month, along with a Nintendo Wii to keep his kids entertained. Europe’s biggest bank is giving all local employees the option of moving their families from areas threatened by flooding, he said.

“We will stick it out,” Lobner said of his family, which moved to Thailand in January from Hong Kong. “It becomes harder because it’s not a single impact. It’s like you’re on station. Sustaining the alertness is important.”

Thailand’s worst floods in half a century, which have swamped about 10,000 factories north of Bangkok, now threaten to course through the capital’s downtown, imperiling businesses, shopping malls and apartment blocks, and forcing foreign executives to consider leaving the city. Companies including Toyota Motor Co. and Hitachi Ltd. have begun implementing evacuation plans in the capital as the waters, which have affected factories with an investment value of 800 billion baht ($26 billion) and may cut growth by one percentage point this year, swell on the outskirts of the city.

Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota, which has seen the deluge disrupt its supply chain, said yesterday it will evacuate expatriates with school-aged children. Families of employees at Tokyo-based Hitachi were moved to dry areas in Thailand and flown out to Japan this week, spokesman Yuichi Izumisawa said by phone. Cable maker Fujikura Ltd., which halted production at six Thai plants in its group due to flooding, is also sending families to Japan, according to spokesman Akira Yutani.

‘Stuck in a Condo’

“If Bangkok is flooded, I have to be stuck in a condo with the kids,” said Masayo Imai, 35, whose husband works for a Japanese manufacturer that has had its factory in Ayutthaya province hit by flooding. “It’s better for us to leave and stay in Japan until we know Bangkok is safe,” said Imai, who plans to head back to Japan today with her two children.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday there was a “50-50” chance that inner Bangkok would be hit by flooding. On the outskirts of the city, television images showed residents with plastic bags over their heads wading through waist-deep water.

Dams Full

Rainfall about 25 percent more than the 30-year average filled upstream dams to capacity, prompting authorities to release large amounts of water earlier this month down a flood plain the size of Florida, with Bangkok at its bottom tip. Water as deep as 3 meters in some places is leaking through levees north of the capital and Yingluck has warned it may take up to a month before the water drains into the Gulf of Thailand, to the south of the capital.

Hundreds of supermarkets and convenience stores in downtown areas have sold out of bottled water, eggs and milk formula, prompting the government to speed up imports to replenish supplies. Yingluck declared a public holiday starting today until Oct. 31 to coincide with a high tide that will raise water levels in the Chao Phraya River that runs through Bangkok and which reached a record high this week.

Banks and the stock exchange remain open. Thailand’s benchmark SET Index gained 2.3 percent today and the baht was unchanged at 30.55 per dollar at 6:11 p.m. local time.

Flood Damage

Thailand’s economy will grow less than 3 percent this year because of the impact of flooding, central bank Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said Oct. 25. The floods may cause about 140 billion baht of financial damage to manufacturers in seven industrial estates, Chantra Purnariksha, secretary-general of the Office of Insurance Commission, told reporters in Bangkok yesterday. The manufacturers have insurance coverage totaling about 457 billion baht, Chantra said.

Sanofi, Europe’s largest pharmaceuticals company, with more than 400 employees in Thailand, is urging staff in threatened areas to move to hotels near the office in downtown Bangkok, General Manager Bernard Dragon said. The company, which has offered vaccines to Thailand’s government to help combat flood- related diseases, is also distributing instant noodles and medical kits to employees, he said.

“We have a water supply of just another day or two at the office,” he said by phone. “We’re trying through personal contacts to get as much help as possible from wholesalers. That’s obviously a cause of concern.”

Sandbags have been stacked more than a meter high and covered in plastic sheets in an effort to protect office buildings, shops and restaurants in downtown Bangkok, including Citigroup Inc.’s headquarters on Sukhumvit road where the city’s elevated rail and subway systems intersect. Some residents and shop owners have built brick walls to protect their businesses and homes.

Cardboard Toilets

“I am preparing in my mind for my house to get flooded,” Kan Trakulhoon, chief executive officer of Siam Cement Pcl, the Thai stock exchange’s third-most valuable company which has donated cardboard portable toilets to flood victims, told reporters yesterday. “I’m starting to look at catalogs of my company’s ceramic tiles to replace my wooden floor.”

More than 100,000 people who already fled the floodwaters are living in government evacuation centers. Rows of tents lined a terminal building at Don Mueang Airport housing about 4,000 people before it was evacuated yesterday due to flooding. Laundry hung from railings as evacuees queued for food, diapers and kits with necessities like toilet paper and instant noodles.

The backup office for Asia Plus Securities Pcl, a local partner of Royal Bank of Scotland Pcl and Thailand’s third- biggest brokerage, is near a flooded area, said Robert Lacey, head of institutional equities.

“I have a pick-up truck parked downstairs that can drive through 1.2 meters of water,” Lacey said. “That’s our emergency evacuation plan.”

--With assistance from Supunnabul Suwannakij and Anuchit Nguyen in Bangkok. Editors: Peter Hirschberg, Tony Jordan

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net; Yumi Teso in Bangkok at yteso1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net -0- Oct/26/2011 17:00 GMT


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