To the list of speculative market bubbles popping around the world, add this: Thai religious talismans.
Last year, prices for the small discs inscribed with an ancient mythological figure soared as ordinary Thais -- some hoping for good luck, others looking to make a fast baht -- forked over big-time. In this southern fishing town that is the center of the talisman industry, Saranya Nimitsomsakul supplemented her income from trading second-hand fridges, clothes and washing machines by buying up batches and selling them at a profit to her neighbors. Late last year, the 36-year-old mother of two raised $13,000 to reserve a new lot. "For a time we did well," she says, sitting on a bench in her backyard as her husband, Mungkorn Nimitsomsakul, tends to their collection of song birds. "But then it all went wrong."
In a pattern now painfully familiar to investors the world over, the boom was so great -- some amulets sold for as much as $75,000 -- that the bust could only be close behind. A glut, combined with growing suspicions that many amulets hadn't been properly blessed by Buddhist monks, has blown the bottom out of the market in the past few weeks. Most of the little clay objects, part of a billion-dollar-plus industry just a few months ago, are now practically worthless.