A country with frequent power outages, patchy internet coverage and a stock exchange that trades only two securities may seem an unlikely market to seek private equity opportunities, but industry veteran Josephine Price thinks Myanmar is the place to be.
Anthem Asia, a Myanmar-focused investment and advisory firm, was set up in 2012 by a trio comprising Price and Genevieve Heng – who worked together at Hong Kong-based alternative asset manager CLSA Capital Partners for a decade – along with Peter Witton, a public relations and journalism veteran in Asia.
“I’ve always wanted to do something that was independent,” Price tells AsianInvestor during a recent visit to Hong Kong.
Anthem’s arrival in Myanmar followed the end of five decades of military dictatorship rule in 2011. Long-held sanctions imposed by the West have since been gradually eased, opening up a once-isolated country for business. The potential for opportunities was highlighted when TPG co-founder David Bonderman visited the country in mid-2012.
However, having seen capital flow into other frontier countries with varying degrees of success, Price says “there’s often a mismatch between the amount of money that wants to go into the market, and the opportunities”.
Anthem invests from a pool of capital raised from Anthem’s partners, family offices and high-net-worth individuals from around the world.
Price declined to detail the amount, saying that it is has been purposely kept to a relatively small size – with money turned away during the first round of capital-raising – given the small deal sizes in the country. “You don’t need a lot [of capital],” she says. “The average deal size is not big.”
Anthem targets deals requiring first-phase investments between $100,000 and $1.5 million, with a preference towards local businesses in the services sector. They include tourism and leisure services, logistics and distribution, and business services, as well as education. “These enable economies to grow,” says Price.
The firm made its first investment in September, committing up to $1 million to Hintha Business Centres, which runs a 6,000-square-foot serviced office facility in Yangon. Hintha plans to open a network of serviced offices in the country.
Other investments in the pipeline include a joint venture in the leisure and tourism sector, in addition to a deal in the marketing and communications industry.
As for Anthem’s targeted return on investment, Price quips: “As some of it is my money, I hope it’s going to be good.” However, given that there are no precedents in the market, she adds, “I can’t give an answer, because there isn’t anything to gauge against.”
While a few PE deals have been done in the country, it will be at least a few years before the first exit is made.
The IPO route appears unlikely, particularly given that the planned Yangon Stock Exchange – being developed under a partnership with Tokyo Stock Exchange and Daiwa Securities Group – looks likely to be delayed from its 2015 target launch date.
“Our belief is that if we’re in the right sectors, we can exit to companies coming into the market,” says Price, who is based in Yangon.
The firm has been training local Myanmese to fill roles such as analysts. “We’re starting to get known as part of the local investment scene, not the one for foreigners,” she says.
Given the demographics of the country – with 60 million people, it is among the largest in Southeast Asia – and 6.8% GDP growth estimated for this year, says Price, it is only a matter of time before more investors enter the market.