Myanmar investment

By Dan Gallucci

The economic modernisation of Myanmar continues at a rapid clip. In the critical sectors of telecommunications and banking, a combination of government and private sector efforts have set the foundation for the country’s next stage of growth. Nevertheless, significant challenges lie ahead.

Earlier this month Qatari telecom Ooredoo (ORDS:DSM), launched mobile phone and 3G internet services in greater Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw. According to the company, the initial networks reach 7.8m people, about 15 per cent of the population. Norway’s Telenor (TEL:OSL) will open similar coverage in September. Read more

Last week Italy’s government hosted a high-level delegation from Myanmar promoting foreign investment in their rapidly changing “new Asian frontier” of some 60m people where, for example, only about five per cent own mobile phones.

All were wearing civilian clothes but their listed CVs revealed that the entire delegation, all men and including foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin, were former members of the military that ruled the country for nearly 50 years until quasi-civilian rule was introduced in 2011.

“It is much easier to change clothes than the mindset,” commented Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s opposition leader and Nobel peace prize winner who arrived in Rome several days later and gave a news conference on Monday. Read more

By Richard Dobbs and Michael Spence

President Thein Sein of Myanmar (pictured) is making his first visit to Britain this week. He will be holding talks in London at a critical moment in Myanmar’s emergence from isolation.

Politics and ethnic tensions continue to cast a shadow over the broad sense of optimism about the business opportunity. But developing its economy is probably the major challenge facing Myanmar. Read more

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

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

Companies from Norway and Qatar have won the race for telecommunications licences in Myanmar, which foreign investors view as one of the final frontiers of mobile communications, as FastFT reports.

Groups led by Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo, the renamed Qatar Telecom, beat big name bidders including France Telecom and a consortium involving Digicel and George Soros to the licences, according to a statement from the government on Thursday. 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

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

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

Myanmar’s government on Tuesday took its first big step towards promised liberalisation of the country’s long closed telecommunications market, with a surprise announcement inviting foreign tenders for two national telecoms service licenses. Read more

By Sarah Mishkin and Gwen Robinson

HTC, the Taiwanese smartphone maker, is the latest foreign investor lured to Myanmar and the potential of its growing consumer base.

What edge does HTC think it has against Samsung, its much larger competitor that already has big operations in the country? Perhaps the fact that, as it has done most notably in China, HTC’s phones are designed specifically for the local market, with an operating system capable of handling Myanmar’s alphabet, not something supported by most software. 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

A year ago, who would have thought Myanmar would be in the spotlight on the private equity stage? It turns out that those PE funds with an eye on geopolitics, are also seeing potential in the Middle East and north Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring . Read more

Myanmar has undergone significant reforms in the last year, putting it firmly on the tourism and business agenda. But aside from economic and political changes, merely providing the means for foreigners to visit is a significant challenge, even as Myanmar begins to receive considerable international investment.

This has not escaped the attention of major airlines, who are scrambling to meet demand. Read more

Despite glowing predictions of becoming a “rising star” in Asia, Myanmar has generated more uncertainty than optimism when it comes to its much-delayed foreign investment code.

The saga has dragged on for more than eight months, since president Thein Sein promised a liberal new foreign investment regime late last year, and his industry minister (who also heads the Myanmar Investment Commission, the body overseeing foreign investment) just weeks later announced key points at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Read more

By Udayan Chattopadhyay of Ergo

The US’s decision to suspend some key sanctions against Myanmar is the latest and perhaps most prominent endorsement received by that country’s new quasi-civilian regime.

Global interest has surged, due to Myanmar’s vast untapped natural resources, underexploited agricultural sector and huge underemployed labor force. While there is justifiable excitement – the IMF expects 6 per cent economic growth this year – those new to Myanmar will find that it is hardly virgin territory. Read more

Moves by western governments to suspend – rather than remove – sanctions against Myanmar will do little to encourage badly needed investment in the country, according to Myanmar’s president Thein Sein. In one of his first interviews since being elected 18 months ago, Thein Sein told the Financial Times that foreign investment was crucial to the country’s rapid democratisation, but that any “major” western investment depended on removal rather than temporary suspension of sanctions. Read more

After the debt, the deluge? Three months after Japan agreed to waive much of the money owed to it by Myanmar, clearing the way for normalised economic relations after a 25-year lending freeze, Japanese companies are beginning to make up for lost time.

On Tuesday Marubeni, Japan’s fifth largest trading house, said it had been awarded a contract to overhaul a gas-fired power plant it built seven years ago, before tighter Western sanctions took hold. Read more