The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (July 23, 2016)

By Simon Lewis 23 July 2016

Siamgas to invest US$48 million in Mon State power plant

A Thai natural gas supplier has announced it will acquire a stake in a 230-megawatt gas-fired power plant in southern Burma’s Mon State.

Siamgas and Petrochemical announced to the Stock Exchange of Thailand on July 18 that it would pay a total of US$48 million for the stake in the plant, which is located by the state capital of Moulmein.

“The company expected that this investment is an opportunity to expand into other energy business. The investment in power plant in [Burma] shall resulting in higher income and returns from investment, which shall create additional value to the company [sic],” the filing said.

According to a report from 2014, the plant was built by Singapore-based Asiatech Energy with finance from the United Overseas Bank, also based in Singapore. At that time, the plan was to supply power to the national grid via the Myanmar Electrical Power Enterprise. The completion of the project was scheduled for the end of last year at an estimated cost of $170 million.

Siamgas said its Singapore subsidiary Siam Gas Power would acquire a stake in the power plant over two transactions that will see it take on shares from three different companies involved in the plant, named as Asiatech Energy, the Burma-incorporated Myanmar Lighting (IPP), and Malaysia-based MSN International Limited. The document shows that after the two transactions, each worth $24 million, Siam Gas Power will hold 30 percent stakes in all three companies.

In each of the three companies, the largest other shareholder (and the 70 percent majority shareholder in the case of Asiatech Energy), is Singaporean oil trader Tang Weng Fei. Burmese individuals named as Sein Wan, Than Soe and Oak Ghar Aye are also shareholders in MSN International and Myanmar Lighting IPP.

Govt aviation agency looks at using satellites for air traffic control

Burma’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) has signed an agreement with a company based in McLean, in the American state of Virginia, to work together on the development of an air traffic system using satellites.

US company Aireon LLC this week announced the memorandum of understanding reached with the Burmese government agency, which it said would enable the country’s airports to safely receive growing numbers of visitors.

“DCA will collaborate with Aireon to develop a concept of operations and benefits analysis for the deployment of Aireon’s space-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) service,” a press release said.

The release quoted Soe Paing, DCA director of air navigation safety, saying that working with Aireon would offer “increased safety and visibility that exceeds the capabilities of ground-based infrastructure” at a time when air traffic is growing by almost 10 percent a year.

“We look forward to working with Aireon on the concept of operations. We have many challenges installing ground-based surveillance solutions, due to the remote and diverse terrain in our region,” Soe Paing said.

“We recognize the challenges that [Burma] faces. The Aireon service will allow DCA to utilize next-generation air traffic surveillance, in real time, without the need for large investments in ground-based infrastructure,” said Cyriel Kronenburg, Aireon’s vice president for aviation services.

“We applaud them [DCA] for focusing on improving safety to meet future air traffic demand both within [Burma] and overflying traffic.”

Japanese ramen chain coming to Burma

A Burma-facing, Singapore-listed investment vehicle is set to bring Japanese ramen chain Ippudo to the country early next year in the hope of tapping into the opportunities created by the apparent growth of Burma’s middle class.

Singapore Myanmar Investco Limited (SMI) told the Singapore Stock Exchange that it had entered into an agreement with Chikaranomoto Holdings Co. Ltd., the owner of Ippudo, to operate and manage restaurants under the brand in Burma.

“Under the agreement, Chikaranomoto will provide training programs and on-going support to SMI to facilitate the set-up and operation of Ippudo ramen restaurants in [Burma],” the statement said.

“The first Ippudo ramen restaurant in [Burma] is expected to be opened in the first quarter of 2017 and SMI has plans to open more outlets in major cities across [Burma] over the next few years.”

There are more than 90 Ippudo restaurants in Japan, and over 60 elsewhere, including in New York, London and Hong Kong. Originating in Fukuoka in 1985, Ippudo claims to be “the most popular ramen restaurant in Japan.”

“We see abundant growth opportunities within the F&B retail market in [Burma] and the time is ripe for us to introduce the popular Ippudo brand and cuisine to a growing middle class in [Burma],” SMI’s president and CEO Mark Bedingham said in the statement.

SMI signed a long-term agreement in December to operate a large chunk of retail space at the new Rangoon International Airport, which is operated under a government concession by local conglomerate Asia World.

SMI is reportedly also going to operate the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf coffee shop chain and Crystal Jade dim sum restaurants in Burma.

Turbine firm declares winning US$8 million power plant contract

EthosEnergy, a company with offices in Houston, in the American state of Texas, and Aberdeen, Scotland, has announced that it will overhaul a power plant in Rangoon after winning a government contract worth US$8 million.

In a statement, EthosEnergy said the Myanmar Electric Power Enterprise (MEPE) had hired it to overhaul one turbine and upgrade another at the Ywama gas-fired power plant.

“When awarding the contract for this project we required a provider that could meet all our expectations; the ability to restore the unit(s) to the original manufacturer’s performance specifications of 120MW coupled with the demanding return to service deadline,” the State-run MEPE was quoted saying in the statement.

“Equally we expected a proven state of the art control system to allow us accurate and efficient machine calibration, monitoring and control.”

It added that the upgrades would increase output at the plant to 123 megawatts.

According to its website, EthosEnergy is a joint venture formed in May 2014 between Aberdeen-based oil and gas company Wood Group’s turbines division and TurboCare, part of Germany’s Siemans.

Telenor sees rising profits as subscriber base keeps growing

Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor has said it made US$72.3 million in profit in Burma during the three months of the Burmese fiscal year up to the end of June.

In a report detailing the company’s global performance for the second quarter of 2016, Telenor said that it had added another 1.4 million subscribers in Burma during the period, bringing its total number of subscribers to 16.9 million. Telenor has been putting on subscribers steadily since launching in 2014, although subscriber gains have been higher in previous quarters.

Operating profits of $72.3 million in the quarter compare with $44 million the company made in the same period in 2015.

The growth in earnings “was driven by the continued growth in subscription and usage, partly offset by increased costs on the back of a larger number of network sites on air,” the report said.

“Capital expenditure remained high in the quarter, with the continued ambition to expand network coverage across the country and enhance capacity to cater for the strong demand for voice and data,” it said, adding that Telenor now has 5,831 cellphone towers “on air.”

Telenor’s rival private operator Ooredoo of Qatar no longer publishes quarterly results where it separates out its operations in Burma. In the company’s annual report for 2015, the firm said it had 5.8 million customers in Burma and made an earnings loss of about $2.1 million in the year.

Ooredoo Myanmar’s CEO, installed last year, has said the company is taking a new approach to the Burmese market—slashing its data tariffs and focusing on improving distribution.

Meanwhile, a new CEO at Telenor Myanmar, set to take charge on Aug. 1, has vowed to keep on with the company’s “proven strategy.”