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Opening up the frontiers in Myanmar

Most news about Myanmar over the past few years has been negative: focused on the tragedy of the Rohingya genocide and the apparent unwillingness of the country's government to even acknowledge there is a problem. Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader and Nobel laureate, has lost much of her credibility, at least in the west.

But terrible though this affair is, it should not blind long-term investors to the opportunities of a country rapidly emerging from decades of isolation. Myanmar has a sizeable population of more than 50m people and a well-educated workforce. Growth is already the highest among the ASEAN nations at around 7% a year -- pipping even Vietnam -- and set to remain around that level for years to come. While still catching up on many fronts, the government is steadily opening up the economy to investment, reducing regulations and pitching for investment. The needs, from basic infrastructure to modernising or creating consumer and financial services and, eventually, technological networks, are huge. Multi-national companies who are willing to take some risk and also, generally, to partner with locals stand to make high returns in the coming years.

With this in mind, scoutAsia has this week expanded its coverage of Burmese companies. From having virtually none (just 20-odd) in our database, we now have almost 2,000. Securing accurate and reliable corporate data from Myanmar remains a challenge and our profiles still lack financial information since local companies are not required to disclose any. However, our profiles include company names, descriptions and contact details as well as basic facts and a sector classification. That should allow users to start building Target Lists of the sectors they are interested in and to start being alerted to news on these companies as and when we have any.

In terms of the sectors, our enlarged list of companies is much as you might expect: basic materials (such as paper, metals, mining, chemicals) and industrials (construction, industrial transport, materials) predominate; but there are also food producers, retailers, media companies and, perhaps surprisingly, a decent-sized pharma & biotech industry. And a wide range of financials. Worth noting is that many Burmese companies are conglomerates that, as in other frontier economies, are moving from industrial goods into consumer services. In addition, many are run by entrepreneurs, usually with strong government connections and sometimes with explicit backing from the state or the military. Only 11 of the companies are listed on the stock market.

FWP, the data provider that has helped us extend our coverage, has been active in the country for several years and updates its corporate information on at least an annual basis. It also compiles profiles of leading business people and entrepreneurs, which we hope to add to scoutAsia in due course. We hope you will find this additional data useful.

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