Myanmar's fledgling stock exchange is officially launched - but with no stocks to trade

Members of the media report on the opening ceremony at the Yangon Stock Exchange centre in Yangon on Dec 9, 2015.
Members of the media report on the opening ceremony at the Yangon Stock Exchange centre in Yangon on Dec 9, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar officially launched its first modern stock exchange on Wednesday (Dec 9), but without a single stock to trade, as the nation's latest drive for economic revitalisation struggles to take flight.

Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party swept elections last month, boosting confidence in the former junta-run nation's reforms.

Myanmar's launch of a bourse of its own marks an ambitious new stage in efforts to ignite investment.

Crowds gathered on Wednesday outside the elegant newly restored colonial-era building in the heart of Yangon to witness the stock market's official launch.

But they were not listening for the toll of a trading bell because the exchange has yet to list a single firm.

Delays in confirming underwriting companies have pushed back the timeframe for initial public offerings.

"It will take time to be up and running, maybe two or three months," said Mr Tin May Oo of Myanmar's Securities and Exchange Commission, lauding the benefits of a transparent trading system.

Officials expect a clutch of local firms to kick-start the stock exchange when it is fully operational.

Businesses, stifled for years under the economic mismanagement of the former junta, have welcomed the chance to raise funding through the market.

"I can save money from my salary at the end of the month but it's not enough to run my own business so the stock exchange will be my hope," said graphic designer Lin Aung.

"I will watch their transactions and processes for a few months to learn about stock markets, and then I hope I will have a chance to participate," he told AFP.

The bourse has been decades in the making in Myanmar, one of only a handful of nations without a modern stock exchange.

"Every country needs a capital market and ours will bring new investment opportunities," Aung Tun Thet, an advisor to the president's office, told AFP recently.

In 1996 Japanese firm Daiwa Securities and a state bank set up the Myanmar Securities Exchange Centre, but this allowed over-the-counter sales of shares in just two firms, a Myanmar timber company and bank.

Official media has said state-owned Myanma Economic Bank will own a controlling 51 per cent stake in the Yangon Stock Exchange (YSX), with the remainder divided between Japanese partners the Japan Exchange Group and Daiwa Institute of Research, the research arm of Daiwa Securities Group.

Myanmar was under the thumb of the military for more than 50 years.

A once-buoyant economy was dismantled by bungled state-controlled policy and heavy sanctions imposed by western nations for major human rights abuses.

But reforms since 2011 have seen the door creak open to a potential consumer market of 51-million people.

The nation still faces major challenges including rampant corruption, poor legal protections for businesses and dismal infrastructure.