Buddhist extremists! Surely an oxymoron. Yet according to an article by Reuters titled “After Violence, Myanmar Moves To Curb Religious Extremism”, that’s exactly what has been happening in Myanmar. We all, at least I do, associate Buddhism with peace and tranquility, not with the burning down of mosques or injuring people in the name of religion. However, earlier this month a large group of ‘peaceful’ Buddhists burnt down a prayer hall belonging to a Muslim community, causing the occupants to flee for their lives. I never thought I would live to see the day when the world’s most peaceful religion embraces violence.
There has always been tension between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Myanmar over the decades, but only after the military pulled back from governing the country a few years ago has violence escalated. As a foreign investor, and one who has been very bullish on Myanmar, I sincerely hope that the government of Aung San Suu Kyi puts an end to the tension immediately. If not, the economy will surely suffer.
And on that subject, the Myanmar government also needs to articulate an economic policy so that foreign investors can use it as a blueprint, before they jump in with both feet. At an economic conference in mid-June the Myanmar Minister for Planning and Finance met with the Chamber of Commerce, but when asked by reporters about the economic blueprint, replied that he couldn’t comment on it because it hadn’t been officially approved. The promise is that it will be unveiled later this month. I hope they keep their word.
Myanmar has incredible potential to become an economic powerhouse in Southeast Asia, rising from its present position of being the poorest nation in the region. Major companies from Japan have been opening facilities in special economic zones set up in 2014 and as a result the largest such park, Thawa, has attracted approximately $760 million in investments.
According to the Nikkei, which has helped Myanmar set up the Yangon Stock Exchange together with Daiwoo, 73 companies from 16 countries have decided to open operations there, of which 50% are Japanese such as Sumitomo, and Mitsubishi. According to the Myanmar Times the country intends to pass a securities law, which would allow foreign investors to purchase the publicly listed equities on the exchange. However, for those investors looking for exposure to this fast growing and dynamic economy they can look to a major conglomerate based in London and traded on the LSE, Myanmar Investments (MIL:LSE). For those looking for more targeted exposure, Myanmar-focused social media group MySQUAR (LON:MYSQ) continues to attract attention following its debut on the LSE in July 2015. As chief executive Eric Schaer says, “MySQUAR’s vision is to connect the people of Myanmar after almost 50 years of isolation.” We’ll soon find out if the country’s new economic blueprint will do the same.
Peter Kohli, CEO of emerging market specialist DMS Funds