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Myanmar’s first stock listing gets standing ovation

Myanmar's baby step toward a modern financial system got a big thumbs up, with investors standing in line to buy shares of the country's first listed stock.

Shares of financial services-to-healthcare conglomerate First Myanmar Investment leapt as much 19 percent on the Yangon Stock Exchange from the issue price of 26,000 kyat ($21.50) when trading began on Friday. Nearly 113,000 shares traded hands.

"We had people queuing up for hours to get into the few appointed, few licensed securities firms to put in their bid orders to buy," said Serge Pun, the head of First Myanmar Investment, which became the first listing on the Yangon Stock Exchange. "I actually did not expect there was so much interest."

Pun attributed the popularity to interest from retail investors.

"We don't have institutional investors yet," Pun told CNBC. "One of the main factors is [retail investors] are very eager to have different options to invest their savings, to invest their money and that's what we see. This is one of the more transparent investment vehicles so to speak."

More than 70 percent of the country's adults lacked access to formal financial services as of 2013, according to the Making Access Possible initiative, which partners with the U.N. and the government. Many Myanmarese use gold as a savings vehicle.

The stock exchange's single listing represents another important step for the one-time pariah nation, which is slowly working to open up its economy and its political system after around five decades of military rule that left the country deeply impoverished.

Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in Myanmar, which was formerly known as Burma, was only around $1,200 in 2014, according to the World Bank. This compares with around $1,800 in Laos and $2,052 in Vietnam.

"It's a symbolic event," Bhavya Segal, regional head for Frontier Strategy Group, told CNBC. "It's basically a positive event that certifies that whatever the government has committed to, it is actually on track to doing."

This month, the country's parliament chose its first civilian president, Htin Kyaw, an ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, the storied leader of the country's National League for Democracy party.

Underscoring the symbolic nature of the stock listing, First Myanmar didn't actually aim to raise cash for the company or even create new shares. Instead, the shares were just transferred from over-the-counter (OTC) trade to the new stock exchange.

"The main difference here is that we used to operate with scrip whereas the new Yangon Stock Exchange is all electronic," Pun said.

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—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1