Stock trading comes to Myanmar with first company share listing

Myanmar tycoon Serge Pun (centre) who runs First Myanmar Investment Co, speaking to bourse officials on the first day of stock trading in Yangon.
Myanmar tycoon Serge Pun (centre) who runs First Myanmar Investment Co, speaking to bourse officials on the first day of stock trading in Yangon.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (Bloomberg, Reuters) - After a delay of more than 20 years, Myanmar's stock exchange opened for its first day of business on Friday (March 25), with the trading of a single company.

First Myanmar Investment Co, a conglomerate controlled by local tycoon Serge Pun, made its stock debut at the Yangon Stock Exchange (YSX), ending a long wait caused by the Asian financial crisis, a wary military government and an underdeveloped financial system.

“For 50 years there has not been a stock exchange, today is a historic day,” said Pun, just before he rang the bell on trading at 11am (12:30pm Singapore time) inside a renovated colonial building that once housed the country’s central bank.

The exchange was a “farewell gesture” from President Thein Sein, said Deputy Finance Minister Maung Maung Thein. The outgoing government had emphasised the stock market as a way to catch up to more developed countries.  

The president will hand over to the government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in a ceremony on March 30, after the NLD won a landslide electoral victory in November.

The FMI listing involved no initial public offering, nor did it raise fresh capital. FMI has transferred shares to list on the YSX that it had already sold to the public through direct subscription.

FMI shares rose to 31,000 kyat (S$35.16) at the open on Friday, the upper limit for trading for the day after they were listed at 26,000 kyat.  A total volume of 112,845 shares changed hands, for a trading value of 3.498 billion kyat. FMI’s market cap was 727,880 million kyat ($603.55 million).

FMI’s sister company, Yoma Strategic Holdings Ltd, is listed in Singapore.

First Myanmar, Myanmar Citizens Bank and Myanmar Thilawa SEZ are among the initial batch of six companies approved for listing, Maung said in December. Maung said Thilawa SEZ Holdings, which controls a new industrial zone jointly run by the government and a Japanese consortium, would be the next company to join the exchange, but it is unclear as to when this will happen.

The move comes as the country's development accelerates with a democratic government being formed after an election victory in November, part of a political and economic transformation that's bringing an end to more than five decades of isolation.

"The debut is an important milestone because a stock market is a vital ingredient for economic development," Karine Hirn, a Hong Kong-based partner of East Capital Asset Management, which invests in emerging and frontier markets, said by e-mail.

"However, whether it will be successful or not depends on the willingness of the government to prioritise it."

Myanma Economic Bank owns 51 per cent of the exchange, presenting another potential problem if foreign investors should be allowed to invest in the future. For now, only Myanmar citizens can trade.

The bank is among several lenders on the US Department of Treasury’s list of sanctioned entities due to its ties to the former junta.  

Japan’s Daiwa Securities Group Inc and Japan Exchange Group Inc, which operates the Tokyo Stock Exchange, own the rest of the YSX.

Myanmar's equity-market journey began in the early 1990s, when executives from Daiwa Institute of Research Holdings, a unit of Japan's second-largest brokerage, met with the nation's military rulers in Yangon. Their initial target was to start a bourse by 2000.

The region's financial crisis soon derailed those ambitions and it wasn't until 2011, after the quasi- civilian government began opening up Myanmar's economy, that the exchange plan was revived.

As Myanmar emerges from economic isolation, it will need US$80 billion (S$110 billion) of power, transport, and technology projects through 2030 to modernise its economy, according to the Asian Development Bank. 

Buoyed by a flood of foreign direct investment, the ADB estimates the economy expanded about 8.3 per cent last year and will grow nearly the same pace in 2016. 

New Cabinet

On Thursday, Myanmar's parliament approved Aung San Suu Kyi and 17 other nominees to take positions in the incoming government's cabinet, following her National League for Democracy party's landslide victory in November's election.

Foreign investors will be able to trade on the exchange once Myanmar's new government, which takes office next week, passes revisions to the country's companies law, the Myanmar Times reported in December, citing SEC head Maung.

The SEC hasn't said whether foreign investors will face any investment restrictions.

"There are a lot of international investors looking at Myanmar right now but they were so far frustrated not to have the ability to invest in Myanmar equities with the exception of some stocks listed somewhere else," said Thomas Hugger, chief executive officer at Hong Kong-based Asia Frontier Capital Ltd., which oversees about US$40 million of assets.

"This is changing now finally."