Crowds gathered Wednesday outside the elegant newly restored colonial-era building in the heart of Yangon to witness the stock market’s official launch. Since Western sanctions were lifted in 2013, foreign direct investment hit a record $8B during the 2014-2015 fiscal year as multinationals bet on an emerging consumer boom.
Daiwa’s persistence is finally about to pay off. After 22 years of delays caused by the Asian financial crisis, a wary military government and an underdeveloped financial system, Myanmar – the biggest Asian economy without a stock market – officially opened its exchange in Yangon on Wednesday. Back in 1990, the NLD also won a landslide election but the military annulled the results.
“YSE is a market that would provide an impetus to the effective development of the economy by encouraging and supporting the capital market necessary for the emergence of the national economy and its sustainable development”, Finance Minister Win Shein said in his opening speech, speaking in English. “Having never had a stock exchange before, they didn’t understand the importance of it”‘. JPX, which sees the Myanmar bourse as a way to promote its market-structure expertise across Asia, moved four executives to Yangon to oversee the project. It is unclear whether or not this over-the-counter market will still operate once the new exchange starts trading. “Several areas in Myanmar still remain nebulous; there aren’t any rules on disclosures, shareholder voting or annual general meetings (AGMs)”.
The YSX will technically be the second bourse after the barely known Myanmar Securities Exchange Center, for which share prices of the two listed firms were hand-written on a whiteboard for most of its 19 years of operation. There needs to be greater clarity on the listing process, including transparency and corporate governance requirements, echoed Nyantha Maw Lin, managing director at the Myanmar office of corporate advisory firm Vriens & Partners. Capitalised at 32 billion kyats (over $32 million), the Yangon Stock Exchange is being operated under joint venture between Myanmar and Japan with the Myanmar Economic Bank (MEB) sharing 51 percent. Serge Pun, who returned to Myanmar as an investor more than two decades ago after fleeing a military coup in 1965, says he wants his conglomerate, First Myanmar, to be the nation’s first exchange-traded company. Both markets remain largely off the radar for investors due to their lack of liquidity.
Maung Maung Thein, the charismatic deputy finance minister in charge of the new bourse, described it as a “monumental achievement” that would help firms expand, and insisted Myanmar was not jumping the gun in launching the exchange on Wednesday. When trading begins, foreigners won’t be allowed to participate.
The bourse had been decades in the making in Myanmar, one of only a handful of nations without a modern stock exchange. Myanmar now suffers from a mismatch between expectations and reality, according to Jarczyk.