‘Staggering fortunes’ possible in Myanmar: Rogers
Volume 32, No. 636
July 23 - 29, 2012
INVESTOR Jim Rogers, Chairman of Rogers Holdings, Beeland Interests Inc and co-founder of the Quantum Fund, is bullish on Myanmar’s growth, dubbing it, “probably the best investment opportunity in the world right now”.
Mr Rogers, a fan of long-haul cross-continent journeys, first visited Myanmar in 2001 where he says he fell in love with the country and realised its tremendous untapped potential.
“I saw a disciplined, educated, ambitious workforce,” said Rogers, in a telephone interview, “and vast, vast mineral resources.”
With the easing of Western economic sanctions against Myanmar following from the government’s steps towards democratisation and economic reform, Myanmar has quickly found itself the focus of investors who see it and its 60 million people one of the world’s last unexplored markets.
The money Mr Rogers believes can be made in the near future is rooted in the success the country found before being largely shut-off from the rest of the world.
“In 1962, Burma was the richest country in Asia. Then they closed and [now] it is the poorest. They are doing the same thing China did. In 1978 China, which had been closed, said, ‘Look, this isn’t working’. I have seen this many times in many countries.”
Mr Rogers said the lack of telecommunications, only 4 percent of the population owns a mobile phone and SIM cards cost more than US$250, an outdated and underfunded healthcare system and a shortage of sufficient hotels for tourists, represent just a fraction of the possibilities.
“Everything,” said Mr Rogers when asked about which sectors appeared prime for investment, “everything has opportunity, you name it. There are staggering opportunities in anything you can think of.”
China is Myanmar’s largest source of foreign investment and has never applied sanctions on its southern neighbour.
Despite these close ties and signs of a cooling Chinese economy, Mr Rogers is not worried about the impact it may have. He cites Myanmar’s position on the economic ground floor as a reason that upward movement is the only direction possible.
“It is starting from ground zero. I can’t think of a better neighbour to have in the 21st century than China,” he said, “I wouldn’t worry about what happens to the rest of the world.”
Mr Rogers, a long time proponent of the agricultural sector, again points to Myanmar’s past success as a reason to be excited for the future. In 1934 it led the world by exporting 3.3 million tonnes of rice.
“Fifty years ago it was the rice basket of Asia and the potential is there again. The sky is the limit,” he said, “Staggering fortunes will be made in agriculture in Myanmar in the next decades.”
The government has set a goal to increase rice exports by almost a fifth, hoping to reach 1 million tonnes in the 2012-13 fiscal year. The increase is seen as a challenge to Myanmar’s ASEAN counterparts Thailand and Vietnam, which exported 10 million and 7.2 million tonnes in 2011, respectively.
Although new ventures into Myanmar are seen largely as a positive step for the country, some watch groups fear that ongoing ethnic struggles and human rights violations are being overlooked for the sake of business.
The US Campaign for Burma, United to End Genocide and Human Rights Watch widely denounced the US announcement allowing companies to work with Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) on July 13. Opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has criticised MOGE because it lacks, “transparency and accountability at present”.
Mr Rogers disagrees and believes that foreign investment will not only bring with it dearly needed capital for the country, but also more expertise, more competition and a diverse range of view points.
“If you go from 0 human rights to 13 it is better,” said Mr Rogers, “It is better than boycotting and closing the place off. Exposure to the outside world is always better than boycotting.”
With his infectiously enthusiastic outlook and past success, Mr Rogers has undoubtedly set many scrambling to locate Myanmar on the map and he offers some words of advice for those looking to cash in.
“Most people cannot spell Myanmar. They need to educate themselves and find a knowledgeable, local partner.”