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Taking stock in Vientiane

Posted by pakin On July - 7 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

Having been open since October 2010, the slow-moving Lao Securities Exchange (LSX) is looking to raise the number of listed companies to about 25 by 2020 from the six that are now trading.

“Our aim is to have a least 25 companies listed by 2020 and we are looking at encouraging many state-owned enterprises and private-sector companies to be on the market,” Vanhkham Voravong, the LSX chief executive officer said during a recent seminar held by Post Publishing Plc and various partners.

The LSX and its counterpart in Cambodia have both struggled to attract companies to list their securities given the bourses’ lack of financial depth, and the strict disclosure requirements that many companies doing business in the two frontier markets are unable or unwilling to meet.

The LSX, said Mr Vanhkham, was also looking at ways to allow dual listings of companies that are operating in Laos and other countries, be it Thailand or others in the region.

Thailand, which has one of the most developed capital markets in the Mekong subregion, has been instrumental in helping develop the capital market in Laos. As a result, LSX hopes that some Thai companies operating in Laos, in electricity generation and other fields, would participate in the listing on the local bourse.

Tourism, conventional and alternative energy are the key sectors that LSX is looking to attract, apart from food and beverage producers including the growers of coffee for which Laos is becoming increasingly well known.

Laos has set a target to have 20% of its energy supply derived from alternative sources, such as solar or biomass. Currently, most of the electricity generated in the country that has branded itself the “Battery of Asia” comes from hydropower plants.

Mr Vanhkham says his aim is not just to increase the number of listed companies trading on the local bourse but also to increase the products offered, such as bonds or other financial instruments.

He along with other Lao officials agree there is a need to increase the country’s competitiveness and one way to do so would be to improve technology and know-how in the financial market.

In this regard, Thai companies and the Stock Exchange of Thailand, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, can help.

“We have to acknowledge that our weakness is the technology, and the product offerings we have. That is the reason why we have to expand the depth of the market,” he said.

One way is to offer incentives to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and allow them to look at listing as an option to gain greater access to financial markets and more credibility.

Laos as a country has great potential to attract investments from across the region as it provides a land link to China from the rest of Asean. This coupled with annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 7%, should make the capital market more attractive in the near future.

“We need to tap more foreign investors, especially Thai, and with the various tax breaks and incentives we offer it could be an attractive,” said Mr Vanhkham.

Currently, companies that list on the LSX receive a reduction in their corporate tax rate to 19% from the normal 24% for four years.

There are many more benefits than just the tax break, which pales in comparison to those of other countries, said Chanthone Sitthixay, a director at Petroleum Trading Lao, which listed on the LSX in December last year.

“When we listed there were many issues that we had to deal with, there were obstacles for sure such as disclosure and approvals. But think of it this way: earlier I had to get permission from my wife to do anything in the company but now that duty has shifted to seeking permission from the board of directors,” he said with a hearty laugh.

Mr Chanthone said his aim was to list his company from the day he started it because he wanted to prepare it to be a regional company. With the Asean Economic Community (AEC) around the corner, companies that have good transparency and are listed would have an edge, he said.

As well, he said, listing has helped his company get its cost of funding down as having the books audited by two large international auditors and listing on the bourse has brought down the interest burden to about 5-6% from the nearly 13-14% that non-listed companies pay.

“A lot of people think it is not good to list and it is scary to list on the stock market, but in my view it is something like thinking that if you switch off the light you will see a ghost but if the lights are on, the probability of that is very low,” he said. “What we need to do is switch on the lights in our brains to see the benefits.”

Chanitr Charnchainarong, the former head of Thailand’s Market for Alternative Investment and now offering advice to SMEs in Laos, has urged those that are ready to be courageous and take the step to list. Once listed, companies and their owners can capitalise on the value that is generated apart from being able to easily raise funds in case they need to do so, he said.

“A lot of the companies that you see in Thailand today that are big were once SMEs, be it the likes of Land & Houses or Banpu, who started off very small when they took to the markets in the initial stage,” he said.

Sanchi Stupa A HIDDEN GEM

Posted by pakin On June - 22 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS


LORD BUDDHA never honoured Sanchi Stupa with a visit but the World Heritage site is still regarded |as one of the outstanding Buddhism stupas in India.

The authorities in Madhya Pradesh designated the complex of stupas as a tourism site but it is not well known among Buddhists, notably ones from Thailand.

Some Buddhists from Southeast Asia countries such as Cambodia and Thailand have visited the site although very few of them made a second visit, according to a local tourist guide.

Besides monks and nuns from Sri Lanka who occasionally stay nearby and are isolated from the local community, there are no Buddhist religious activities in the area and there is no significant Buddhist population in Madya Pradesh state. Therefore, no Buddhist life or culture exists anywhere in the state, even at Sanchi.

Buddhists in Madya Pradesh are mostly neo-Buddhists, a sect established by BR Ambedkar in the 1950s, according to Anthony de Sa, chief secretary of the Madhya Pradesh government. “But they don’t believe and practice [in the same way] as people in the northeast of India who have practised the religion for more than 2,000 years or who are like what you see in Southeast Asia,” he said.

Sanchi Stupa has no religious function these days. It is a standalone Buddhist monument.

“Yes, people can come and worship here but neither flowers nor candles are allowed,” an official said.

People come here to see the architecture, as it is a masterpiece of Buddhist art and archaeological heritage, and not for religious purposes.

Originally built by the Mauryan Dynasty’s Emperor Asoka more than 300 years after the death of Lord Buddha, the stupa served a religious purpose until the 12th century.

Sanchi was not the home of Asoka, either, but the site was chosen since it was located on a hill or, as many have said, because it was the birthplace and home of his queen, Devi, who gave him a son, Mahindra, and a daughter, Sanghamitra. Asoka later commissioned his children as missionaries to Sri Lanka where they managed to convert the monarchy and others to Buddhism, and thus make Sri Lanka one of the Buddhism centres of the world today.

Unlike other Buddhism sites in India such Bodh Gaya and Savatthi, the Sanchi Stupa has a less direct connection to Lord Buddha because he never visited the area before or after becoming Lord Buddha.

It is believed that Asoka put Buddha’s relic in the Great Stupa, while the relic of two disciples of Buddha, Mandgalyayana and Sariputra, was found in the innermost chamber of stupa number three. The relic was sent to London during British colonial rule before it was returned to be kept in a modern temple built by the Mahabodhi Society of Sri Lanka, which is adjacent to stupa number three.

The temple is open to the public only once a year, on the last Sunday of November. “We are well aware that it is a relic of the two since Bali script records their names in stupa number three,” an official said.

If one misses the chance to see the relic, there are many other things to see in the Sanchi Stupa complex. The Great Stupa, also known as stupa number one, is regarded as the oldest stone structure in India – 36.5 metres in diameter and 16.4m high. At the four gateways, stories and symbols of Buddha and Buddhism are portrayed in sandstone.

Among many other things, the Asoka pillar lies close to the southern gateway of the Great Stupa. Emperor Asoka had a similar pillar elsewhere but this one is the finest. Unfortunately, it is said to have been broken down by a local landlord and the lion capital of the pillar is now kept in a museum. Four lions are the dominant feature on the Indian national emblem.

Adjacent to the western gate is a Buddhist Vihara, which was a place for monks to live and study. From the temple ruins, a path was paved to stupa number two, which stands at the edge of the hill. Its most striking feature is the stone balustrade that rings it.

For non-Buddhists and those not interested in the religious features of the stupas, the architecture reflects the close relationship between the Indian and Greek civilisations and is well worth viewing. Pillars and columns, as seen in many buildings in the stupa complex, were influenced by the Greeks. Even statues of Lord Buddha look like Greek’s gods, rather than the Indian native that he was.

Unlike many other attractive sites, Sanchi Stupa is rather quiet and calm as it is somewhat isolated from communities. No vendors can be found selling souvenirs outside the complex but it is still worth a look.

Japan ODA paper highlights ties with Asean

Posted by pakin On March - 11 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

TOKYO — A white paper on official development assistance highlights the importance of Japan’s cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the country’s national security, according to a copy of the document obtained Tuesday .

The ODA White Paper for 2014 to be released later this month states that “achieving growth and stability in this region has a great significance” not only to the region but to “Japan’s security as well.”

The white paper apparently emphasises the significance of ties with the 10-member Asean in reference to the growing influence of China on the region.

It comes after the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe adopted a foreign aid charter early last month that states that ODA can be used to support foreign armed forces in noncombat operations such as disaster relief, infrastructure building and coast guard activities.

The white paper also calls Asean an “extremely important market and place for investment for Japan” and notes that the distribution network for goods “underpinning the Japanese economy runs through the Asean region.”

Asean, which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, has a combined population of over 600 million people.

Mr Abe’s government sees the need to provide aid to countries near the sea lane from the Straits of Malacca to South China Sea, given its strategic importance to Japan in terms of the import of natural resources from the Middle East, Japanese officials said.

Noting how the ODA has been successfully utilised for the past 60 years, the document says the ODA is “not only contributing to recipient countries and international community but Japan’s peace, stability and prosperity too.”

Touching on China, the world’s second-largest economy, the document says Japan will disburse ODA in “limited” cases such as technical cooperation on food production in China.

Vietnam in rare note of ’79 China war

Posted by pakin On February - 18 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

HANOI – State media in Vietnam made a rare move of marking the anniversary of a border war with China Tuesday with a series of news articles describing the battles of Vietnamese guerrillas.

China invaded Vietnam’s northern provinces on February 17, 1979 after Vietnamese troops ousted the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. The short conflict claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides and ended with Chinese forces withdrawing and both Hanoi and Beijing claiming victory.

The topic of Vietnamese-China relations is highly sensitive in Vietnam and is usually censored in the mainstream media. Attempts by anti-China protesters to hold events to commemorate the anniversary are usually stopped by police.

China is a major trading partner, but the two countries often disagree over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. Their relationship reached a critical point last year when Beijing towed an oil rig into waters claimed by Vietnam.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung condemned China over the recent building of islands in the sea and vowed to protect Vietnam’s sovereignty.

“February 17 1979 is the painful day for our nation,” prominent economist Le Dang Doanh said on his Facebook page.

“When the two countries normalized relations in 1991, China asked Vietnam not to mention this date. That is why we have no official activities to celebrate this event today.”