There is some irony in the re-entry of BAT to Myanmar, to pick up where it left off more than a decade ago in producing and distributing cigarettes. But back then, Myanmar was a pariah state and BAT was widely condemned for its links to a brutal military regime. Now, with a rapidly expanding economy and growing foreign interest, investing in Myanmar is a feel-good story – despite growing concerns about the spread of racial and ethnic violence. Read more

A $5.7bn offer by Japan’s MUFG bank for up to 75 per cent of Thailand’s Bank of Ayudhya, confirmed on Wednesday, has ended more than a year of speculation about possible bidders for Thailand’s fifth largest bank.

A bid for at least part of Ayudhya has long been in the works, with rumours of the Japanese bank’s interest flying around since General Electric indicated in early 2012 that it wanted to sell its 25 per cent stake. What did surprise the market was the extent of MUFG’s offer, for all but 25 per cent that the bank’s founding Rataranak family will retain. Read more

The decision by Myanmar’s government to award two fiercely contested national mobile communications licenses to Qatar’s Ooredoo and Norway’s Telenor Mobile Communications on Thursday raised as many questions as answers among Yangon-based analysts – not least due to an eleventh-hour effort by the country’s parliament to block news of the winning bids.

At the same time, conclusion of the contest reassured a growing number of investors eyeing Myanmar that the country is capable of conducting a transparent, fair and efficient public tender. Read more

One of the most visible symbols so far of Myanmar’s opening to the west was the recent launch of Coca-Cola’s new bottling operations at its joint-venture plant on the outskirts of Yangon. Less visible was the changing dynamic around the seemingly unstoppable surge of foreign investment interest in the previously secretive country. Read more

While some of the world’s biggest professional services firms have rushed into Myanmar to set up shop, the big management consultants have been conspicuously absent from the rush – at least, so it has seemed.

But, what do you know? McKinsey & Co, in typically discreet style, has trumped them all with a comprehensive report on the country’s prospects and policy suggestions, to be formally presented – gratis – to the government of President Thein Sein. Read more

It was one of those moments that investors and analysts in Thailand have been waiting for: insight into the government’s massive Bt2,000bn ($68bn) infrastructure spending plan.

But rather than a big press conference, it came in a little-publicised lunch talk by Chadchart Sittipunt, Thailand’s transport minister, to members of the Japan-Thailand Association last Friday. Read more

Tens of millions of Thai baht worth of stock trades later, the shoe has finally dropped: the Stock Exchange of Thailand is launching a probe into share price movements of cash-and-carry retailer Siam Makro ahead of Monday’s $6.6bn takeover offer by CP All, the country’s biggest convenience store operator.

As beyondbrics noted, the market was buzzing with rumours for weeks before the announcement. Read more

The biggest domestic M&A deal in Thai history – a $6.6bn takeover by convenience store giant CP All of Siam Makro, a cash-and-carry bulk retailer with just 62 outlets in Thailand – made headlines on Tuesday.

But as one analyst asked on Wednesday, who is kidding who? Read more

With boisterous growth and strong investment, southeast Asia may be looking more vibrant than ever amid the woes besetting the US and European economies. But those very woes are beginning to take a toll on the region’s hitherto robust growth, warns the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

In its hefty Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2013, issued on Thursday, Escap called on regional governments to consider a “paradigm shift” in their macroeconomic policies. Read more

As beyondbrics reported yesterday, Myanmar’s new trasparency zeal could be a nightmare for China, given the close relationship between the two nations on various projects.

So how are China’s investments in the country going? And which other countries are waiting in the wings? Read more

You're signing what?

It’s hardly a move to please China. Myanmar, up to recently a loyal neighbour with seemingly endless willingness to open up its abundant natural resources to Chinese companies, is preparing to sign the awkwardly-named Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Norway-based EITI, which comprises governments, civil society, international organisations and resources companies, oversees a voluntary regime for the natural resources industry that has struck fear in the boardrooms of multinationals around the world. Read more

Sometimes the most radical changes come from the most unlikely quarters. Take Myanmar, where some of the boldest reforms are emerging from government agencies, parliamentary committees and taskforces with underwhelming names such as Myanmar Microfinance Supervisory Enterprise, the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, and the Government Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee.

Now comes the Public Services Performance Appraisal Task Force – a powerful body recently created by President Thein Sein to slash government red tape, eliminate duplication and reduce fees and streamline bureaucracy across the gamut of public services. Read more

Yangon Economy Expands As Reforms Allow Business GrowthYou know that a country’s tourism industry is really taking off when a Hilton hotel moves in – particularly when that country has faced years of US sanctions. The buzz on the sidelines of Myanmar’s first tourism industry conference this week in Yangon was about Hilton Worldwide’s landmark deal to manage a 300-room hotel in the tallest building in central Yangon: Centrepoint TowersRead more

The US has taken further steps to ease restrictions on US corporate investment and business activities in Myanmar, following intense debate within the US Treasury and the State department after Washington softened sanctions against the country last July.

The move frees US citizens and companies to conduct business with four of the country’s biggest banks, of a total 19 banks. All four banks have faced US sanctions and at least two of the institutions are controlled by people who have been on so-called US “blacklists”, naming individuals with close business and financial links to the former military regime. Read more

The hoardes of tourists flocking to Bangkok’s temples and bars and to island resorts beyond tell the story of Thailand’s remarkable comeback from the impact of devastating floods in 2011 and violent street clashes in 2010.

So, too, does the charmed performance of Thailand’s stock market, among the best performing markets in Asia last year, as well as record inward foreign investment, roaring bond market and robust economic growth after a miserable zero per cent growth in 2011. Read more

While some investors have gone sour on Vietnam amid a string of financial upheavals, stock market slides and poor economic data, one group which seems more optimistic than ever is KKR – at least on Vietnam’s manufacturing sector and the market for pungent fish sauce, chilli and soya sauces, instant coffee and noodles.

The US buyout group on Tuesday agreed to invest a further $200m in one of Vietnam’s largest food companies, Masan Consumer. The deal amounts to the biggest single private equity investment in Vietnam and follows KKR’s initial investment of $159m in Masan Consumer in 2011. Read more

Surprise, surprise. When it comes to words and actions of big companies, yet again we find that rhetoric belies reality – this time courtesy of The Economist Corporate Network.

The Economist group’s emerging markets advisory arm compiles an annual survey of leading corporate executives on their attitudes and investment patterns in Asia. In its report, Investing in an Accelerating Asia?, the group found that investment in Asia by global multinational corporations is lagging the expectations, forecasts and optimism voiced by their top executives. Read more

A trader gestures in front of the electronic display at the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) in Manila on June 18, 2012.It is hardly surprising to see mixed economic views of a country or region. But these days, Asia has become a forecasters’ chop-suey of tasty and unpalatable tidbits.

While it boasts growing internal markets, strong capital inflows and still-impressive annual growth among some economies, the region remains vulnerable to global slowdowns, the whims of western central banks, natural disasters and inadequate regional co-operation. Among the growing stream of mixed messages on the region’s trajectory came the United Nations Economic and Social commission for Asia and the Pacific, launched on Friday in Bangkok. Read more

For months, residents in an affluent part of Pattaya, a seaside resort town near Bangkok, assumed that the three foreign men who lived in a nearby luxury villa ran an import-export business, because, as one resident told local media, people “who looked like businessmen” came and went throughout the day.

It was not the sort of export-import the locals envisaged, as they learned when the villa became the target of one of Thailand’s biggest-ever drug busts in late November. Read more

business district, Yangon

Photo: Bloomberg

Australia’s ANZ has become the first western bank to gain approval from Myanmar’s authorities to open a representative office since the easing of western sanctions earlier this year.

ANZ, which plans to open its doors early in 2013, will likely be followed by Standard Chartered Bank, which is not far behind with its preparations, having secured in-principle approval. HSBC is also pressing for permission for a representative office, beyondbrics has learned. Read more