Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Myanmar will spearhead 20 years of ASEAN growth, says Manners

Myanmar will be the strongest growth story of the next 20 years in a booming ASEAN region, according to Prusik Asia manager Heather Manners.

Citywire + rated Manners said the opening up of the country for new investment and development will drive huge growth across the wider ASEAN region.

In addition, Manners, who runs the soft-closed Asian Smaller Companies fund, is also tipping the Philippines to grow strongly over the next few years.

Manners believes the time is right for a raft of financials services firms and local brands to expand across the wider ASEAN region, which is home to a population of 600 million.

Manners remains bullish on the whole ASEAN region and pointed out that ASEAN countries only made up 13% of the wider Asia Pacific index, and 8% of that 13% weighting was taken up by Hong Kong and Singapore-listed companies.

She told Citywire Global: 'The ASEAN region has a much younger population than either China or India, and it is rich in natural resources. The opening up of Myanmar has changed everything. There is also an agreement to take down trade barriers in 2015 in a landmass of 300 million.'

'If you add the Philippines and Indonesia that takes it to 600 million so there is massive potential for local companies to expand across borders.'
Looking more local

Manners cites local specialists, such as Vietnamese mooncake and confectionery maker Kinh Do Bakery, and Thai insurer Thai Re, as examples of companies which can take advantage of the strong secular growth story in the region.

'If investors are interested in an ASEAN index-like product, they are not getting much exposure to the wider region. If you go back a few years Myanmar and the Philippines were expected to grow the most but were stopped in their tracks by corrupt governments and political regimes.'

Manners pointed to the strong business culture which had developed in Myanmar prior to the country's closure to the outside world, and she expects it to start picking up pace again.

'Both Myanmar and the Philippines have a high calibre of business people and I think they will quickly become very important players in the region,' she said.

'This is because the culture of business success is there from the past and I think both will follow the classic emerging market model with strong growth in financial services and local consumer brands.'

Manners said Vietnam, where a third of the population have no bank accounts, contrasts strongly with Myanmar, where no one has a bank account, and the newest cars are at least 20 years old.

New Myanmar port

In particular, Manners is excited by the planned development of the Southern Myanmar port of Dawei, which was formerly a port and is about to be transformed into a regional transport hub once again.

'At the moment virtually all trade in the region goes via Singapore but Dawei will become a major port in the area again. It is only 250km from Bangkok and the Chinese are already building railroads down to link up with it.'

'It will bring 20 years of development to the region and will also bring Laos and Cambodia on stream. If India fulfills its promise from here that will also help and Bangkok will give new companies that financing and the organisational help.'

Over the three years to the end of April, the Prusik Asia fund has returned 10.9% compared to a 1.5% loss by the average manager in the Equity - Asia Pacific Excluding Japan sector in dollar terms.

source: CityWire Global
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