Yoma Boosts Myanamr Telco Tower Stake to 25pc

Singapore-based conglomerate Yoma Strategic Holdings (YSH) said it has ramped up its stake in its Myanmar telecoms tower venture firm from 8 percent to 25 percent.

YSH Finance Ltd, a subsidiary of Yoma, will now hold a quarter stake in Digicel Asian Holdings Pte Ltd while the rest will be held by Digicel Group – a telecoms firm that operates in 31 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and Asia Pacific and is backed by Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien.

YSH Finance Ltd is 80 percent owned by Yoma Strategic and 20 percent by First Myanmar Investment Co Ltd (FMI), an affiliate of Yoma Strategic.

YSH Finance had subscribed for an additional 420,000 new shares – representing 17 percent interest – in Digicel Asian Holdings for $427,333. This was funded in cash from Yo-ma’s placement proceeds raised in November 2012.

Yoma said it would benefit from partnering Digicel Group, given the latter’s experience and investment in the telco tower company business.

The telco tower firm said it intends to roll out telecommunications towers across Myanmar as the country seeks to rapidly increase mobile phone penetration following the award of two mobile telecommunications licences to international telecommunications operators.

Digicel Asian Holdings announced in December last year that it had been awarded a contract to provide telecommunications towers to Ooredoo Myanmar, one of the two international telecoms operators in Myanmar.

It is intended that these telecommunications towers will also be made available to other operators,” Yoma said in a statement.

Mobile subscriptions in Myanmar are projected to increase strongly within the next few years, from 1.3 million in 2014 to an estimated 30 million in 2015.

This significant growth in mobile users is expected to drive 20 percent of all foreign direct investment to the Myanmar telecommunications industry, an industry with an estimated $1 billion in FDI in 2014, and is on track to be the FDI leader in 2015.

Yoma Strategic posted a 44.9 percent drop in net profit to shareholders to $5.1 million for its fourth quarter ended March 31, 2014, down from $9.16 million a year ago.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Google BuildingSelf-Driving Cars with No Driver Seat, Steering Wheeling

Google Inc is building cars that don’t have steering wheels, accelerator pedals or brake pedals, in an ambitious expansion of the internet company’s efforts to develop self-driving cars.

The small electric cars, which seat two passengers, are currently prototypes that Google has been building through partnerships with automotive suppliers and manufacturers, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said at the Code conference in Southern California.

Google aims to build up to 200 such cars in the near term and hopes the vehicles will be available in various cities within a couple of years, he said.

Google has been testing self-driving cars since 2009, incorporating laser sensors and radars into standard automobiles such as the Prius from Toyota Motor Corp and sport-utility vehicles from Toyota luxury car division Lexus.

While those vehicles require a human to remain in the driver’s seat and to take over in certain situations, the new cars operate completely autonomously.

Brin said the cars could operate as a service, picking up passengers when summoned, and potentially even operate as fleets of interconnected “trains”.

“Ten seconds after getting in I was doing my email, I had forgotten I was there,” Brin said of his experience riding in one of the pod-like vehicles, which resemble a cross between a Smart car and Volkswagen Beetle. “It ultimately reminded me of catching a chairlift.”

Brin declined to specify whether Google intended to build and sell the cars itself, saying only that the company would “work with partners”.

The driverless cars are currently limited to a maximum speed of 25 miles (40 km) an hour, but Brin said there was no reason the cars could not go as fast as 100 miles an hour or more once they had been proven to be safe.

The front of the cars contains about 2 feet (61 cm) of foam and the windshield is made out of plastic instead of glass to make the cars safer, he said.

“Within a couple of years I hope we will surpass the safety metrics we’ve put in place, which is to be significantly safer than a human driver, and we will start testing them without drivers and hopefully you’ll be able to utilise them at some limited cities,” Brin said. A handful of US states, including California and Nevada, have passed legislation to allow testing of self-driving cars on public roads. Brin said he was optimistic that the new, passenger-only self-driving cars would be approved for testing in the US and overseas in the future.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Car Battery Maker LG Chem to Decide on Capacity Expansion in 3 Months

South Korea’s LG Chem Ltd plans to make a decision on expanding production capacity for electric vehicle (EV) batteries in three to four months, expecting EV demand to take off in 2016.

“We are seriously considering investing in expanding (our EV battery production),” President Kwon Young-soo, who oversees LG Chem’s battery division, said on Thursday at the Busan Motor Show.

He did not elaborate on where it plans to expand capacity. LG Chem, which supplies batteries for cars from General Motors Co and Renault SA, has one EV battery plant in Korea and another in the United States.

In February, Chief Executive Park Jin-soo said the company was considering building an EV battery plant in China, expecting the Chinese government’s efforts to tackle air pollution would drive demand.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

GM Engineer Said He Forget Change to Switch in Recalled Cars

A suspended General Motors Co engineer who worked on the defective ignition switch at the heart of a massive recall told congressional investigators that he had forgotten ordering a change to the switch, when he testified in a deposition last year, the New York Times reported.

GM engineer Ray DeGiorgio did not say anything to the congressional investigators to suggest that Chief Executive Mary Barra knew about the defective switch before she took the top job at the company this year, the Times said, quoting people familiar with the session.

DeGiorgio, who was suspended by GM on April lo, designed the switch for the 2003 Saturn Ion and other models, including the Chevrolet Cobalt, which have been recalled. GM has linked 13 deaths to accidents related to the switch.

The defective switch was redesigned in 2006 without a change to the part number, which later confused investigators looking into crashes of the now-recalled cars. Congressional investigators produced an internal GM document showing DeGiorgio had signed off on the change in April 2006.

In a deposition last year for a lawsuit related to a fatal 2010 crash in Georgia, DeGiorgio denied that he knew of the change. The New York Times reported that he told congressional investigators recently that at the time of the deposition, he had forgotten about the change, because it was part of a package of changes.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Chinese-made Spare Parts Rule Auto Market

Cheap Chinese-made spare parts for Japanese automobiles have flooded Yangon’s auto market, beating out their pricier yet genuine counterparts, industry sources say.

The price gap between Chinese-made and Japanese-made spare parts could be tenfold, sometimes as high as 100 times, spare parts shop owners at Yangon’s Bayintnaung car market told Myanmar Business Today.

“A new Japanese-made engine oil filter is K30,000-50,000 ($3152) but a Chinese one is K3,000- 5,000,” a spare parts shop owner at Bayintnaung said.

“The users usually opt for the cheaper one.”

Following the relaxation of import regulations three years ago and slash in custom taxes and duties, Japanese automobiles flooded Yangon’s roads. As many as 250,000 cars came into the country since mid-2011, according Road Transport Authority’s statistics.

Some businessmen still import Japanese-made accessories but customers prefer cheaper Chinese-made parts. “Most of the Japanese spare parts in the market are old as imports have slowed down,” another shop owner said.

However, traders say Japanese spare parts imports will eventually pick up as there will be a big gap to fill in terms of supply and demand amid an increasing number of Japanese car imports. “Currently, there’s little import [of Japanese parts] but the market will soon have a big demand. Also, using cheap spare parts and body accessories is bad for a car, and cars become prone to more accidents if the owners use substandard parts,” an automobile engineer said.

Drivers using Chinese-made car spare parts often face car malfunction and accidents, a spokesperson from Eaitsarthaya Automobile spare parts shop said.

Besides Chinese-made auto spare parts, accessories from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and India are also common, automobile market sources say.

Authorities also advise using genuine automobile parts to increase road safety. Vehicles from Aung Mingalar Highway Express station are currently being checked for authentic spare parts by concerned officers, a source from Aung Mingalar Highway Vehicle Control Department said.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Mercedes Allows Chinese to Peek Under Hood in Asia Growth Push

Battling to catch up with German rivals in China, luxury carmaker Daimler is shifting gears, giving local authorities unprecedented access to new Mercedes models and even tailoring engines destined for its home market to Chinese regulations.

For years, Daimler has lagged Audi and BMW in the world’s biggest car market. Last year, Mercedes-Benz, the company’s premier luxury brand, sold 228,000 cars there, compared to nearly 492,000 for Audi and over 362,000 for BMW.

For years, Daimler harboured doubts over the sustainability of growth in China. German labour union resistance to shifting production out of Daimler’s main factory in Sindelfingen also played a role.

Another key factor has been Daimler’s more cautious approach to sharing technological know-how due to fears of piracy. This prevented the company from deepening its footprint in China, where foreign automakers are required to work with local companies, at a time when its rivals were going all-in China 2014.

Now this is changing — in part because the Chinese have taken steps to crack down on copyright violations, but also because Daimler executives have realised there is no alternative to closer cooperation if they are to make up lost ground in a market that continues to post impressive growth rates.

This year, Daimler is starting production of its newest C-Class in China as well as Germany, a step-change for a manufacturer that had previously delayed local Chinese production of new models by months.

Beijing Benz Automotive Co, the joint venture company Daimler runs with Chinese partner Beijing Automotive Group Co, is also constructing a new production line for the compact GLA model.

Tranferring know-how

To get permission to build both cars locally, they need to undergo a 160,000 kilometre emission durability test and a regulation test with Chinese authorities. These can take up to a year.

As part of this process, Mercedes is allowing Chinese officials to take samples of components and make detailed measurements of its newest cars.

“To put it bluntly, we are transferring know-how,” said Rene Reif, head of engineering and manufacturing at Beijing Benz.

Key battleground

Daimler only started making Mercedes-Benz cars in China in 2006, reaching production capacity of 120,000 vehicles last year. Audi, which has been making cars there since 1988, surpassed that level in 2007.

Asia remains the key battleground in Daimler’s fight to reclaim the crown of the top-selling maker of luxury cars in the world. The last time Mercedes held the title was in 2004.

Last year, BMW led the pack with 1.65 million units sold worldwide. Audi was next at 1.57 million and Daimler in third place, with 1.47 million Mercedes-Benz branded cars sold.

Concerns that closer cooperation might open the door to piracy by Chinese manufacturers have been mitigated by better protections, says Thomas Weber, the Daimler board member in charge of research and development.

“Innovations that are introduced late, are of no use,” said Weber.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Patience, Logistics And Law in Yangon: Why Fortune Will Favour The Brave in Asia’s Final Real Estate Frontier

Following three years of constant chatter and speculation about Myanmar being the final frontier in Asian real estate, I finally made it to Yangon to attend the second Real Estate and Urban Build Platform conference.

There was plenty of talk at the two-day conference about the potential of property investment in Yangon and elsewhere, although it is clear there is still a long way to go for foreign investors. The key presentation on day one was from a member of the government on the new condominium law — until this is passed, there is literally no way for foreigners to legally own property in the country.

The Ministry of Construction representative who gave the presentation was admirably open to suggestions from the delegates on fine-tuning the bill, primarily inspired by the Singapore condo law, but this would suggest it is still some way off and the chance of anything emerging this year is rather remote.

One key aspect of the bill will be the restrictions on foreigners buying anything below the fifth floor. Whilst this seem perplexing to some, my host in the country, Brett Miller, managing director of Scipio Services, reckoned it was to prevent locals from being pushed out of Yangon’s many low-rise properties should a boom come to town.

Years ago, Phnom Penh was considered to be the next gold rush town for ASEAN property. Yet this never really materialised; primarily due to the lack of strong economic fundamentals, foreign interest and enough locals with cash to transform Cambodia from an aid-dependent economy. Whilst superficially similar to the Cambodian capital with its downtown colonial relics (it will be interesting to see if all the talk of renovation rather than replacement comes to pass in the former British colony), Yangon is a completely different proposition. There’s plenty of cash around, although most of it is currently in the hands of a tiny
minority, and the massive demand has already pushed rents and land prices up to astronomical levels.

Miller and Scipio are currently renovating the York Centre — a 70s block, which previously acted as the headquarters of Daewoo — into a contemporary space with 100 square metre offices going for a minimum of $3,500 per month. With many multinationals currently camping out in dilapidated condo units, demand will inevitably be high for such office space. Unlike Phnom Penh, and other frontier markets, it takes more than a pocket full of cash and a sharp suit to get into Myanmar’s real estate industry. It would appear that a keen understanding of the finer points of logistics is essential.

Brett and his partners worked together previously in security in East Timor, while his facility management guy is an ex-marine, fresh from running logistics and supply chains in Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. They are all young, smart, enthusiastic and extremely patient. Yangon is not the wild east and the mantra of anything goes and anything can be bought at a price does not play well here. Try buying property through a proxy and you’ll most likely lose it or certainly be stuck with it indefinitely when the condo law comes in. Building anything, selling anything and servicing anything is a tricky business and requires lots of contacts, planning and patience. Hence Timor and Afghanistan, rather than Singapore and Hong Kong, are better places to cut your teeth if you want to get into business in Myanmar.

In Miller’s case, as a US citizen, it also means not doing business with the hundred or so ex-generals and drug lords that are still on the US sanction list, several of whom have now moved into real estate. If he does, he’ll risk going to prison back home. Small details like that probably help to keep the focus on playing by the rules.

Things happen fast in Southeast Asia. Desirable areas emerge almost overnight and entire neighbourhoods can be transformed. Take Bangkok’s hippest neighbourhood, Thong Lor. Ten years ago it was on nobody’s radar, but is now one of the city’s most sophisticated drinking and dining spots. Areas of Yangon are sure to undergo similar transformations and those, like Miller and his partners, who were willing to take the plunge, are clearly on the cusp of something big. Fortune will definitely favour the brave in Myanmar.

Terry Blackburn is CEO of Ensign Media and publisher of Property Report. The article first appeared in Property Report web-site.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Lawyers Plan to Sue Govt, Firm for Turning Heritage Building in Hotel

Myanmar Lawyers’ Network (MLN) is planning to sue the government and a private company for developing a hotel project at a heritage building in downtown Yangon, MLN executive Soe Tint Yi said at a protest last week.

About 200 lawyers took part in the protest.

Criticising the government for lack of transparency, U Soe Tint Yi, said the network will file a lawsuit against the Chairman of the Myanmar Investment Commission and the private company.

Located at the heart of the commercial city and overlooking the Yangon River, the 90-year old building used to house the Yangon Division Court and township courts till 2012. The Second Parliament Meeting was held in that building after Myanmar won independence from the British in 1948.

Negotiating with Minister at the President’s Office U Soe Thane, the network demanded preservation of the historical building rather than leasing it as a hotel in order to maintain the integrity of the country, saying that “the architecture of the building is just for a court”.

Township courts and the Yangon Divisional Court were a reportedly forced to vacate the building in early 2012.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Investing in Myanmar: Balancing Risk and Reward (Part II)

In Part I of this article, we reviewed the Myanmar investment considerations of a US investor as they are impacted by US legislation and practice. This article continues the analysis by examining the “on-the-ground” investment considerations in Myanmar, including its Foreign Direct Investment Law of 2012 (FDI) and Foreign Direct Investment Rules of January 2013 (FIR), banking issues, and other aspects of investment.

Investment security

The FDI has specific provisions that protect foreign investment from nationalization and guarantees repatriation of profits and security of invested capital. These protections are in addition to the guarantees an investor may find in the seven bilateral treaties Myanmar has with other countries (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Philippines, China, Kuwait and India). Similar investor protection provisions can be found in the newly enacted Myanmar Special Economic Zones Law, which is applicable in the three Special Economic Zones (Dawei, Thilawa and Kyauk Phyu).

Additionally, Myanmar recently became a full member of World Bank’s MICA, which makes direct foreign investment into Myanmar eligible for the agency’s investment guarantees (e.g. covered risks include expropriation, breach of contract, transfer restriction, failure to honor financial obligations, or war/civil disturbance). Furthermore, American businesses which desire to make investments in Myanmar sourced with US manufactured goods or services can also avail themselves of limited facilities extended by the US ExIm Bank, including limited short and medium term lending and investment insurance. Additionally, it is expected that OPIC will soon start a program for Myanmar-bound US investors.

Form and function

Once the issue of security of its investment is resolved, a US investor must choose the right corporate form for its investment vehicle. A number of questions need to be asked: How will the Myanmar entity (public or private limited liability company, or a branch) relate to the investor’s other investments? Is 100 percent foreign ownership the only means of investment, or is seeking a suitable local partner an option?

Legal barriers contained in the FDI and the FIR will require that the foreign investor petition the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) for a permit and for an exemption from the FIR limitations that prohibit, for example, the operation of foreign-controlled businesses in certain business activities reserved to either state-owned enterprises, or to Myanmar citizens. The MIC Permit will allow the newly formed Myanmar subsidiary to import duty-free foreign raw and finished materials for its project, will exempt it for up to five years of income taxes, and allow it to lease land for at least 50 years (as of today, foreign entities, or their Myanmar subsidiaries, are otherwise prohibited from owning or leasing long-term land or buildings, a very distinctive disadvantage to foreign investment). Foreign-controlled Myanmar businesses have to project what areas of business they intend to operate in at the outset, thus a clear outline of their intended activities has to be provided to the MIC as well as to the Ministry of Planning’s Department of Investments and Corporations Administration (DICA) in seeking exceptions from the FIR prohibitions, as well as petitioning for the grant of an MIC Permit and a Permit to Trade, respectively.

A local partner and a capable bank

Assuming that a Myanmar partner is required, the US investor has to do three things before starting any registration process: conduct a thorough due diligence investigation into the background of the potential Myanmar partner; submit a prospective name of the Myanmar business for preliminary approval by the Companies Registration Office (CRO); and discuss with its U.S. bank the prospective investment in Myanmar.

Doing the preliminary investigation of the Myanmar partner is a critical step in order to reduce any chance that the partner has OFAC SDN connections (see Part 1 of this article, which was published last week, for a more in-depth discussion of this aspect). Choosing the name is an important factor, as registrations of trademarks and trade-names in Myanmar are essential to protect oneself from copycats. Although the country does not yet have a comprehensive IPR legal system, it does have a procedure for registering trademarks. Talking with your banker is a prudent initial step because very few US bankers will conduct business with Myanmar or its banks or companies. The ability to repatriate profits would be of limited value without a banking relationship capable of undertaking such transactions … or without knowledge of available offshore solutions. It goes without saying that due diligence should also be performed on any local Myanmar bank to be used. The local banks may or not be on the SDN list, and/or have the sophistication and capital to be able to assist the US investor.

Eric Rose is the Lead Director of Herzfeld Rubin Meyer & Rose, the first US law firm in Myanmar. He focuses on the global aspects of business development, specifically including mergers, acquisitions, privatisations, technology transfers, compliance counselling, and international commercial transactions. His experience in Myanmar spans over twenty years.

Nina Dunn, who is an adviser to Herzfeld Rubin Meyer &Rose, has more than twenty-five years of experience in international trade and investment, securities and defence and national security matters. She has advised domestic and international corporations with respect to a wide range of corporate issues, achieving favourable results from government agencies, including the US DOS, DOD, DOJ and SEC.

The article was originally published on InsideCounsel.com and has been republished with the authors’ and publication’s permission.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014

Malaysia’s IHH Aims to Expand in Myanmar, Vietnam and China

Malaysia’s IHH Healthcare Bhd, the world’s second-largest hospital operator by market value, is looking to make its first foray into Myanmar as well as expand further in China and Vietnam, its chief executive said.

IHH’s primary focus of expansion is emerging markets, CEO Tan See Leng told Reuters in an interview, as it looks to replicate the success it has had in India and Turkey.

IHH, the healthcare arm of Malaysian state investor Khazanah , has expanded aggressively since its July 2012 listing and counts Singapore hospital operator Parkway Holdings, Turkish hospital group Acibadem AS and India’s Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd among its overseas assets.

The company has added over 3,000 beds since its listing in and now has nearly 9,000, said Tan.

Strong growth potential, improved cash flows and lowered debt levels have sent its stock soaring nearly 50 percent since its market debut. It now has a market value of around $10.5 billion, lagging only US firm HCA Holdings Inc among hospital operators.

But high labour and other running costs for the business have weighed on profits and in the first quarter it made just 159 million ringgit ($49 million), though that was up 25 percent from the same period a year earlier.

Tan added that other key markets for expansion include Myanmar and Vietnam and that the company will explore both organic growth and acquisition opportunities.

“We are looking at Myanmar… we are looking at sites in Hanoi and in Myanmar itself, we look at Yangon, Mandalay,” he said.

“The other thing that we are starting to now explore potentially would be Cambodia, but I think Cambodia still a bit early for us.”

He added that Indonesia’s economic growth was also attractive and that the company may look at opportunities in some of the country’s bigger cities, although attracting qualified staff in Indonesia was not that easy.

He declined to comment on reports that the company had been interested but had now turned cool on bidding for Australian hospital operator Healthscope.

One particular focus will be China now that Beijing is moving to ease curbs on foreign investment in joint-venture hospitals in a bid to improve its healthcare system, he said.

With almost eight years of operating in China, Tan said IHH is well poised to capture growth in the industry, for which annual healthcare spending is expected to triple to $1 trillion by 2020, according to consulting firm McKinsey.

“We have also built ‘guan xi’ or relationship and networks with different municipalities, authorities, and understand the licensing of their approvals,” said Tan, who took the helm of IHH in January.

Source from Myanmar First Bilingual Business Journal Jun 5-11,2014