The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (April 25, 2015)

By Simon Lewis 25 April 2015

Burmese Tin Production Knocks Global Price

A dramatic increase in the amount of raw tin being exported from Burma to China is causing a global slump in the price of the commodity, leading Indonesia to reign in production in an attempt to drive up prices.

According to ITRI Ltd., a UK-based tin industry group, Burma accounts for more than 97 percent of China’s imports of tin ores and concentrates, which are refined at facilities inside China. In 2014, China’s imports were estimated to contain some 28,000 tons of tin, an increase of 50 percent on the previous year, the group said.

The increase has pushed the price of tin on the London Metal Exchange to its lowest level since 2009.

“Tin’s the worst performing industrial metal on the London Metal Exchange this year after sliding 20 percent amid rising supplies from Myanmar and China,” a Bloomberg report said this week, adding that Indonesia, which is the world’s largest exporter of refined tin, has responded by cutting back production.

“Indonesian suppliers of the metal used in everything from cans to smartphones are seeking to stem the decline by restricting output while the government tightens export and trading rules to limit shipments.”

Tin is still mined at the massive colonial-era Heinda mine in southern Burma’s Tenasserim Division, and is mined elsewhere in mountainous regions of Shan and Karenni states, including in areas not under central government control.

ITRI said earlier this month that Burma’s exports to China were continuing to surge, and had even gained strength this year, partly caused by “some panic selling” sparked by fighting between the government and Kokang rebels in northeastern Shan State.

“Myanmar is expected to maintain the current high production in recent months for a little while, because production is highly seasonal and it is the dry season from November to May,” the industry group said.

“However, the fall in the tin price and the instability to the north of the Wa state tin mining district has adversely impacted new investment in local mining, so any production increase should be limited.”

French Construction Firm Begins Work to Build Next Phase of Rangoon’s Star City

A subsidiary of French industrial conglomerate Bouygues has started work on a project to build six residential tower blocks as part of the Star City suburb development project led by local tycoon Serge Pun, according to an industry report this month.

Global Construction Review reported that the subsidiary, Dragages Singapore, and Serge Pun’s SPA Project Management will design and build the next phase of the Star City development in Thanlyin, where five residential blocks have already been constructed by the same companies.

“Work is now getting under way, Bouygues said, and will last approximately three years,” according to the report.

The companies signed a contract worth US$125 million in December to build the six towers—two reaching 28 stories and four at 25 stories, containing a total of 956 apartments.

Global Construction Review said Bouygues would take a share of about $68.6 million

“The contract also includes the construction of a two-story car park along with a local community building and the development of green spaces, a swimming pool and a leisure activity area,” the report said.

Thai Firms Plan 220MW Solar Plant in Magwe Division

Bangkok-listed company Vintage Engineering has announced it will invest in a project to build a solar power plant in Magwe Division, according to a report.

The website Deal Street Asia cited local media reports in Thailand saying the company would buy a stake in Green Earth Power (Thailand), which signed a deal last year with the Burmese government to build a 220-megawatt solar power plant in Minbu.

Vintage Engineering will buy a 12 percent stake in Green Earth Power for $20.28 million, the report said.

“The first phase of 50MW will start within 12 months, with revenue expected to flow in mid-2016,” it said. “The total investment in the solar plant is $350 million.”

Green Earth Power has been touting the project publicly since at least 2013, and it is not the only solar power project to be announced in central Burma.

In August last year, American private equity fund ACO Investment Group announced that it would fund a project to build two solar power plants in Mandalay Division, producing 150 MW each at a total cost of $480 million. Since the announcement—which was timed during the visit to Burma of a United States trade representative—no more information has been forthcoming about the project.

Three Foreign Banks Open Doors in Rangoon

Two banks from Japan and one from Singapore this week became the first foreign lenders to offer services in Burma following the granting of licenses in October.

The Global New Light of Myanmar reported that major Japanese institutions Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, and Singapore’s Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation all opened new branches in Rangoon on Thursday.

According to an earlier state media report, April 23 was “Yat-Yar-Zar day, an auspicious day for starting a new businesses according to the Myanmar calendar.”

The three are the first of nine overseas banks named in October who have been granted licenses to set up branches in Burma, becoming the first foreign banks to operate in the country for more than 50 years.

The nine banks—include others from Australia, China, Malaysia and Thailand—will initially be barred from offering retail banking, after local bankers raised concerns over unwelcome competition from abroad.

Predicting Continuing Growth, World Bank Hints at Coming Gas Downturn

The World Bank has said that Burma’s economic growth is likely to remain strong, but warned that the global oil price slump could dampen the country’s burgeoning natural gas boom.

In its East Asia Pacific Update, April 2015, the World Bank said that gross domestic product growth—estimated at 8.5 percent for the 2014-15 fiscal year—would likely continue at about 8 percent.

“This is driven largely by the ongoing construction-related boom, continued rebound in manufacturing output, and the resulting expansion in the service sector,” the report’s section on Burma said.

However, it warned of growing “downside risks” from increased public spending and said problems may arise from the sustainability of the country’s public debt if GDP growth does not meet expectations.

“This risk is heightened by recent international commodity price developments,” it said.

“Although the effects of these have not yet transmitted through to Myanmar, there is a major risk that natural gas prices will follow the same trend as oil prices. A sustained downturn would adversely impact government revenues and export earnings, and may negatively affect future investments in the oil and gas sectors.”